Barber helping youths heal with a simple cut

Peleti Oli at the Got A Trade? Got It Made! Industry Training Awards.
Peleti Oli at the Got A Trade? Got It Made! Industry Training Awards. Photo credit: Supplied

Peleti Oli is a barber who is a cut above the rest, taking in vulnerable youths and giving them a chance to overcome their personal obstacles.

"I get to listen to them, I relate to them through our conversation as I'm giving them haircuts," the Hastings resident told Newshub.

As well being a big brother figure for many people who come through his Flaxmere salon doors, Mr Oli offers free haircutting tutorials. 

"I try and just create an environment for them in the barbershop where they don't feel threatened. In Flaxmere, there's a lot of gang affiliation... I try to create an area where they can feel like they belong, somewhere safe."

The work that Mr Oli does with young people has been recognised nationally. He recently won the Pasifika Community Impact award at the annual Got A Trade? Got It Made!  Industry Training Awards

Barber helping youths heal with a simple cut
Photo credit: Supplied

The recently graduated HITO apprentice told Newshub how his own path to barbering wasn't easy.

It began at Hastings Boys High School when his friend John gave him a haircut before passing the clippers over saying, "Your turn." He quickly fell in love with the trade.

"I didn't know how to cut hair at all and he just said, 'I'll teach you'," said Mr Oli.

"I then taught my younger brother Someh and he went on to become the barber for Hastings Boys' High School... He would cut [the hair of] students who had non-regulation haircuts and [the school would] pay him $10 a haircut."

Peleti Oli competing at BarberCraft.
Peleti Oli competing at BarberCraft. Photo credit: Supplied

Both John and Someh passed away. Before Someh's funeral, Mr Oli said his family asked him for haircuts. He vowed it would be the last time.

"[But] as I was cutting my family's hair, I felt myself feel at peace. It felt really good," he said.

"It was a space where I could be alone with my thoughts and even though the world around me was quite negative and the loss of my brother was weighing on me, when I was actually doing the haircut I felt at peace.

"It became a kind of healing for me. Now that I'm a barber, I'd like for people to feel that same experience with every haircut."

Somehz Touch Barbershop, named after his brother, is now regarded as a safe space for youths who may have otherwise ended up on the streets.

Barber helping youths heal with a simple cut
Photo credit: Supplied

His first two employees came from difficult backgrounds. One had been getting into trouble in Auckland, while the other had been jailed in Australia before being deported to New Zealand.

Mr Oli's shop was their opportunity for a second chance.  Now he's got his certificate, he's hired his first formal apprentice. 

"He used to be my client... I try and find as many youths as I can possible to give them jobs, but mainly find enjoyment for them. I want them feel the same thing that I'm feeling."

Mr Oli has seen a number of his clients grow up over the years.

"Even if I make a difference in one person's life, that's my mission accomplished. Even if it's not related to barbering," he said.

"I'm passionate about our school and get a lot of those boys coming through, and I try to push them in the right direction."

At the Got A Trade? Got It Made! Industry Training Awards  Mr Oli honoured NZ hairdressing icon Ray Astwood, who had offered to taken him under his wing, but passed away while he was still getting his HITO certificate.

"If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't have even got it. And I wouldn't have been at Got A Trade? Got It Made!, because I wouldn't have been qualified."

Now Mr Oli is looking at a future where he can help vulnerable youths, all started by a friend who passed him a pair of clippers.

This article has been created for the Industry Training Federation to raise awareness about the hundreds of trades and job opportunities on offer to young Kiwis. For more info, check out its website, Got A Trade? Got it Made.