Paul Meekin on a Middle East mission to pass on hairdressing skills to children
Belfast hairdresser Paul Meekin is headed for Jordan - close to the border with war-torn Syria - to pass on his skills to some of the world's poorest kids.
The big-hearted businessman was so moved by the plight of the young people he worked with during a similar trip to India last year that he now feels compelled to make the new journey.
The award-winning stylist, who is director of Partners Hair & Beauty, and known in the hairdressing world for his work with celebrities and fashion magazines, is staging an Arabian-themed night in his salon next month to raise funds for his trip in August.
Paul will spend two-and-a-half weeks in Amman with a team of international stylists giving impoverished young people from nearby villages a crash course in hairdressing skills as part of Schwarzkopf Professional's charity initiative Shaping Futures in association with SOS Children's Villages. His trip comes less than a year after he returned from India where all 30 of the young people he helped to train have now secured full-time work as hairdressers or returned to study the craft in more detail.
Moved to tears many times during his visit, Paul found the experience so mentally stressful that he didn't believe he could do another one for a few years.
On hearing that all of the children he trained were now looking forward to more secure futures thanks to his efforts, he said he found it impossible to refuse when invited to lead another team to Jordan.
"I did say I couldn't do it again for some time because it was so mentally exhausting. I just wasn't prepared for the levels of extreme poverty I found. The kids blew my mind. They were so poor and yet I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and gratitude from them and the hunger they had to learn. No matter how poor we are here, we can't even begin to imagine the level of poverty there.
"One little boy I am still in touch with has set up a salon in his home and is making enough money to feed his whole family.
"That's how poor they are. There are days they don't eat at all, but because of the course he is now providing for all of his family, and that's why I feel I have to go out again."
The location this time close to the Syrian border gave him pause for thought, and because of the dangers he hesitated before agreeing to make the trip.
"I pondered it for quite some time, because it is only 50 miles from the Syrian border, it was a big ask. I did my research, though, and Jordan seems to be like a quiet house in a very noisy neighbourhood."
Paul Meekin will cover his travel expenses for the trip. He is hoping to raise up to £3,000 to cover costs of buying hair equipment for the young people and their expenses travelling to the capital Amman during the six-week course. Everyone buying a ticket for the event will be entered into a draw to win a year's free haircare at Partners. The fundraiser is on June 10. Tickets costing £10 are available from the salon.