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Natural Awakenings San Diego

Gratuities at Ubuntu Hair Studio Help Build Bottle Schools in Guatemala

Jun 28, 2013 10:06AM ● By Erin Lehn Floresca

On April 27, 2012, Joshua Talmon, Secretary/Treasurer on the Board of Directors for Hug it Forward decided to get a haircut at Ubuntu Hair Studio. This spontaneous decision sparked a chain reaction that could best be described as magical. He was matched with stylist and colorist, Serena Jenichs. “Through our conversation, we discovered we had such similar interests and values,” she recalls. Jenichs was also introduced to the mission of the grass-roots organization. “I learned about how they collect funds and organize volunteers to assist the community of San Martin Jilotepeque, Guatemala in building ‘bottle schools’ made of eco-bricks.” Once the pair realized the synergistic potential between Ubuntu Hair Studio and Hug it Forward, Jenichs was matched up to a future voluntourism trip to Guatemala.

Jenichs’s trip was entirely funded from Ubuntu Hair Studio client gratuities. “We’ve always had a no-tipping policy,” says Studio owner, Dawn Ellinwood. “However, many clients have wanted to show their appreciation, so they are able to add gratuity knowing that it gets donated to a non-profit organization.” In this case, most of the client gratuities collected from May of 2012 through January 2013 helped fund the voluntourism trip to Guatemala that took place from April 25-May 1.  “The trip covered all of my expenses including hotels, transportation, meals and tours,” says Jenichs.

While on the trip, Jenichs and the other volunteers that included Solana Beach/Encinitas locals, Rotary Club members and Hug it Forward team members spent their time mixing and spreading cement, sorting stuffed bottles, and placing the eco-bricks in the walls. “The ‘bottle schools’ are built using plastic bottles filled with inorganic trash,” says Jenichs. “The school helped to strengthen the infrastructure of education for the people of Chisunuc in San Martin Jilotepeque.”  Her group also performed a funny, educational skit on proper oral hygiene and passed out toothbrushes and toothpaste afterward.

Not only did Jenich’s enjoy getting a chance to tour many of the community member’s homes, she also got the opportunity to cut several people’s hair, including the Vice President of Hug it Forward.  “My favorite part was connecting with the little kids,” says Jenichs. “These children just wanted to be around us; to make a connection with us. I have a very fond memory of placing bottles into the wall and just enjoying the company of the little girls that were there helping us out.” But what truly stands out the most to Jenichs is how the trip really redefined the meaning of community to her. “It was just people supporting people. All language or cultural barriers came down and we were all just connected to one another by being human.”

Ellinwood, who is no stranger to international voluntourism, adds, “That was my experience in Kenya. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, when you come from the heart instead of the head that is the magical piece where all barriers melt away.”

While this was the first international volunteer trip Ubuntu Hair Studio team members and clients have manifested, it’s certainly not the last. Future plans are already in the works for return visits through Hug it Forward. “They are such a great organization,” says Jenichs. “They are so well organized and take such good care of the volunteers and the people in the communities they are assisting.”

Ubuntu Hair Studio staff and clients will be able to go on future trips in groups of 10 to 25 people. If there is one aspect about these trips and others like it that stands out the most for Dawn Ellinwood it is how aware she becomes of other people’s generosity. “It’s really a perfect trip to experience Ubuntu. From the donations from our clients, to Hug it Forward, to the volunteers and the community members, it’s a perfect blending of everything that Ubuntu Hair Studio stands for.”

Hug it Forward bracelets are available for purchase at the studio and at A portion of the proceeds go to the Hug it Forward organization. Serve the World Today is the organization that manages the trip. For more information, call 858-792-5959 or visit the Ubuntu Hair Studio website.

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