Led by a child—and her hair

Alycia Stuart’s haircut is at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17, at Milka’s Hair Design in Old Town Mall. If you’d like to contribute $10 to dig more wells, e-mail Wongstuart@aol.com or call (775) 828-5143. Visit Lifewater International at www.lifewater.org.

The 12-year-old girl guides adults through the First United Methodist Church to Nevada Shakespeare Festival’s production of Stille Nacht.

Alycia Stuart, a seventh grader at Swope Middle School, is confident, articulate. One woman carefully repeats Alycia’s pronunciation of the play’s title—Steel-ay Knocked. Another looks down at the girl’s long hair, swaying near the bottom of her skirt.

That’s not unusual, Alycia says.

“People say, ‘Oh, your hair is so beautiful,’ and ‘How long did it take you to grow your hair?’ That’s a big one.”

Alycia’s knee-length brown mane has never been cut. Hair care requires economy-sized bottles of shampoo and 45-minute showers. She sits on her hair, catches it in zippers. Friends play with her hair.

“That’s OK,” she says, “but it does get a little annoying.”

She shows me a computer printout of her face with three new hairdos. She’s leaning toward a fashionable eclectic-length look. After all, she is turning 13. Her first-ever haircut is Saturday.

Her ponytail will go to Locks of Love, which makes hair prosthetics for needy children afflicted with long-term hair loss. Alycia also wanted to raise money for Lifewater International, a non-profit that provides access to drinking water in developing nations.

So Alycia asked friends and family for $10 pledges, hoping to raise $500. Her parents, Jay and Nancy Stuart, planned to match that amount—giving Lifewater enough for 10 hand-drilled water wells in Africa. Alycia learned about Lifewater through a friend from church, Cathy Fitzgerald, a UNR hydrology instructor who’s made more than two dozen trips with Lifewater to places like Sudan, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Bolivia.

Alycia sent a letter to friends with compelling stats:

One-sixth of the world’s population lacks access to clean, safe drinking water.

Every 15 seconds, a child dies from water-related disease.

The average American uses 50 gallons of water per day.

In Africa, an entire family uses about five gallons.

So far, Alycia has raised $785. As we walk through the church, Alycia stops to hug Cameron Crain of the Nevada Shakespeare Festival.

“I think it’s great what you’re doing,” he says. “Like O. Henry, but in a greater way.” In O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” a woman sells her hair to buy a fob chain for the watch of her husband, who has sold his watch to buy her a set of tortoise shell combs for her hair.

For Christmas, Alycia will receive ("like Jesus") three gifts—a bean bag chair, a candle and a llama.

A llama?

That’s for Heifer International, another group provides livestock to impoverished communities. Giving a llama to a Latin American family is like giving them a pick-up truck that grows marketable fur.

Now I’m wondering. Is the saintly Alycia a human child or a magical creature sent from Narnia to guide Daughters of Eve?

Alycia feels down-to-earth. She’s nervous about our interview because reporters can “blow things out of context.” She learned this from reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Alycia wears Chucks (Converse tennis shoes) and likes to hang out with friends. Her career plans range from anime artist to marine biologist. She likes the music of Sum 41, Weezer and a band called I Hate Kate, which was playing that night at the New Oasis in Sparks. “I’m sure I’ll hear about it Monday,” she says.

Alycia’s commitment to combat poverty intensified with a family trip to the Chinese village where her grandfather had lived. The lifestyles of Chinese villagers were notably less cluttered. Alycia plans another trip to China this year.

She’ll probably miss her hair. But for a few days, Alycia expects to feel free.

“I’ll be like, yes! I don’t have to spend so much money on conditioner and so much time in the shower.”