HONG KONG (AFP) – Gently unwrapping clingfilm covering the old man’s damaged feet – skin darkened and cracked, nails lumpen and deformed – the Hong Kong beautician doesn’t flinch. Instead she picks up her tools and starts working.
Once to twice a month, Cass Ng and her team of beauticians swap out their nail polish collection for tough scissors, nail files, an electric drill.
Her initiative CHANGE (Caring Health Anywhere Nails Goal Elderly) offers free pedicures for low-income elderly people who cannot afford healthcare and do not have family to fall back on.
“We want to serve these people the most because they lack others’ love the most,” the 37-year-old told AFP.
After three years of giving volunteer manicures, Ng was inspired to start her own social enterprise to help those – often over 65 and on social benefits – unable to afford the city’s expensive private healthcare.
While Hong Kong has a public healthcare system, many complain they have to wait for long periods to be seen with various ailments getting worse.
One of those visiting Ng’s free clinic for the first time was Martin Sun, 71, who said he had been troubled by ingrowing toenails and fungal infections for years.
He described that day’s treatment, a full pedicure, as a blessed relief.
“If not, I would do it myself, bend down, then take a deep breath, and endure the pain,” he said of trying to do the same work himself.
Kwan Lung, 86, gave a thumbs up and beamed during her visit to the clinic at the Kwai Chung community centre.
“The more they (the manicurists) come, the happier we old people are,” the grandmother explained.
She described “sweating like it’s raining” when she tried her own pedicures before.
Although the day seems light-hearted, Ng explains, when the elderly don’t treat their fungal nail infections – the most common problem – they can face difficulties walking.
“Slowly, they might tend not to go out and they will become lonelier,” she said.
“If the nails are fixed, they feel more comfortable with their feet and can… take a walk and chat with friends.”
“When you manicure, the smell and level of dirtiness are very difficult to accept,” she said, describing how difficult it was to help one man who was particularly filthy.
“But after half a year to a year, his situation has changed,” she said.
Ng said, “This service should not be just a small thing in community centres, but a service that might be needed by people from all Hong Kong,” adding that she hoped everyone could one day be set on equal footing.