New York City-based salon owner Michael Angelo has long been privy to the beauty industry’s inescapable image-driven, superficial depths. It’s why he has set glamour aside in the interest of putting his hair-know-how to good use through a partnership with the Somaly Mam Foundation. The project, as chronicled Monday by Daily Beast alum Abigail Pesta on New York magazine’s The Cut blog, has Angelo teaching the foundation’s small army of sex slave rehabilitees the skillsets of a proper hairdresser—equipping the girls with a potential channel of income in the outside world.
Angelo first travelled to Cambodian capital Phnom Penh in 2006 to meet with the foundation’s founder Somaly Mam (a former sex trade victim herself), to discuss the ways in which he could help. “She asked me: ‘Do you know how to make a haircut?’” he told The Cut. It’s then that he began his work, teaching the tricks of the beauty trade to Mam’s cycling roster of sex trade victims, many of which she has personally rescued straight from brothels. And their relationship has continued--a trip back to Phenom Penh late last month was Angelo's third. “Some of the girls had never held a pair of scissors,” he said of his most recent experience, in which Angelo instructed 29 young women in how to cut hair and apply makeup.
The program is operated out of a self-sustaining salon run by former sex slave Neang Hok with the help of other survivors. It’s there, with their cooperation, that Mam runs her urban workshops, supplemented with classes in the rural town Siem Reap where Mam is building her own salon to accommodate the growing program. Angelo says that the work he does with Mam is incredibly fulfilling. He says: “The things I learn there are so much bigger than what I teach.”