Intentional Acts of Kindness: Canada Meets Cuba
There’s an ancient Arab proverb that says, “If you have much, give of your wealth. If you have little, give of your heart.” Gregory Dennis, a barber from Dudes and Dads Barbershop in St. Thomas, Ontario, has spent the last two years giving from his heart, and learning just how valuable that can be.
Front Porch Barbershop
“It’s always been a hobby to visit other barbers when I go on vacation,” says Gregory. “See their setups, techniques and what they’re doing differently than what we do in Canada. I figure I might get inspired or pick something up.”
Two years ago, Gregory’s hobby led him to Caibarién, a small fishing village in Cuba. There he met Yasmany, the young town barber. Yasmany’s “barbershop” consisted of an old chair set up outside his neighbor’s front door. He took care of his customers on the wooden porch, under a ramshackle awning supported by rusty poles.
Yasmany didn’t have formal barber training—in Caibarién, barbering is handed down through family and friends. It’s a self-taught, watch-and-learn system. There are certainly no barbering schools. Yasmany also didn’t have much in the way of tools—just a rusty pair of clippers, a bed sheet for a cape, an old set of shears and a few combs, passed along by a friend.
But despite their very different circumstances, Gregory felt an instant connection with Yasmany. He regretted that he had nothing to give him, but he left behind one of his business cards, which featured a photo of a traditional striped barber pole. Yasmany proudly hung the card next to his barbering chair—his own version of a barber’s pole.
Part of the Family
Gregory returned home to Ontario, but couldn’t stop thinking about Yasmany and his little porch barbershop. A year later, he decided to go back to Cuba, and this time, he arrived bearing gifts. To Yasmany’s amazement, Gregory unpacked a Paul Mitchell cape, three new pairs of shears, a pair of clippers, a Barbicide canister, a soap puck, a hand mirror, a water bottle, razors, combs and brushes, plus gifts for Yasmany’s kids and toiletries for the rest of his family. He also brought DVDs, books and magazines on barbering techniques. He had paid for everything himself.
“When he opened the bag of tools, he was in shock,” says Gregory. “His grandmother was there, and she started to cry. She didn’t speak English, but [Yasmany’s] wife told me she said I was part of the family now. In Cuba, family is everything. It meant so much to be accepted into their family and into their community.”
Gregory spent that day with Yasmany teaching him how to taper, showing him the basics of clipper-over-comb, how to cut with a straight blade and how to texturize. He showed him how to use thinning shears and demonstrated different point-cutting techniques. Yasmany was eager to learn, and Gregory was moved by his curiosity and hunger for education.
“He was over my shoulder the whole time asking, ‘What is that? What does that do? Why are you doing that?’” remembers Gregory. “You could see the gratitude and excitement in his eyes. He has the same passion for the craft as I do.”
The Busiest Barber in Town
This year, Gregory made another trip to Caibarién to visit his friend and, to his surprise, he found that for Yasmany, business is booming. “I have more clients than I know what to do with!” confirms Yasmany. “It’s been such a blessing.”
The young barber’s busy year has been divided between his new clients and practicing the techniques he has learned from Gregory. “The DVDs, books, magazines and other instruments have really helped him,” Gregory says. “As the sole provider for his family, life is getting better for them. He is making his family proud.”
Another way Yasmany’s keeping busy? “He’s learning English and I’m trying to learn Spanish,” says Gregory. “We talked about him making a trip to Canada, and h wants me to spend Christmas in Cuba.”
When asked how his friendship with Gregory has impacted his life, Yasmany’s answer was simple. “Friend? He’s family!” he declares.
As for Gregory, he hopes to continue his new mission by helping other young barbers in Cuba and in other underdeveloped countries.
“I chose this industry because it allows me to be close to people—people are what matters,” he shares. “I want to make them happy—I want them to succeed. I am glad to know that my heart and my passion were well received.”
Gregory’s message is clear: even the smallest effort can make a huge impact on someone else’s life. Take time to give back. Seek out the less fortunate. Pay it forward. And keep your eyes open wherever you go. You never know who might be in need of a helping hand, or a new friend.
“Meeting Yasmany was one of the most memorable events of my life,” Gregory says. “We changed each other’s lives forever.”