Niharika Jadeja and Amatullah Vahanwala are dedicated to bringing smiles on the faces of children suffering from cancer. This is how they are trying to help as many children as they can.
Every day – 43 children are diagnosed with cancer. Every year – 15,700 parents go numb as they hear the words, “Your child has cancer.” These children stand to lose everything – their health, their friends, their school work.
After the initial shock fades away, parents begin to focus on the rounds of chemotherapy, the hospital bills, the lapses in their child’s education, and the most heart wrenching thought of all – the very real possibility of losing their child. No parent ever expects to outlive their offspring. These parents deal with that overwhelming fear from the minute they hear the diagnosis.
What goes on in the child’s mind is often far simpler. All the child seems to think of is, “How will I look without my hair?”; “Will they make fun of me at school?”; “I want to be attractive!” Many of them are unable to comprehend this massive turn and worry about the immediate reality of losing their hair.
My friend Amatullah Vahanwala and I felt strongly about wanting to do something that would lessen this dread that a child feels about losing his/her beautiful hair.
We may not be able to help find a miracle cure for cancer or any other disease that leads to hair loss in children, but we can put a smile on their faces. We can lessen their fear of going to school and we can make them happy. This is the thought with which we started Hair for Happiness.
Hair for Happiness is a hair donation initiative through which we encourage people to donate their hair. We then send the collection to Little Princess Trust in the UK, which provides free wigs to children suffering from cancer across the UK and Ireland. People can donate at one of our donation drives or privately, using our “Kits to Cut”. In these kits we mail donors a Ziploc bag containing a certificate, a sheet of instructions, a few rubber bands, and clips.
Donors braid and cut their hair according to the instructions, place it in the Ziploc bag, and mail it back to us. It’s really that simple!
We have conducted donation drives in apartment communities, schools, and hair salons. We have partnered with two salons – Fringes in Koramangala (Bengaluru) and All About U salon (Mumbai) that offer discounts to all Hair for Happiness donors. We are also happy to be part of the corporate social responsibility initiatives of two companies – Akamai Technologies (Salarpuria soft zone) and Oracle. They have invited us to conduct donation drives at their offices in Bengaluru. We now have chapters in Mumbai and Hyderabad as well.
As Rousseau argued, people are born good, instinctively concerned about the well-being of others. Our success proves this. Everyone who hears about us and our cause wants to help in some way or other. If they can’t donate hair, they help by volunteering, by offering discounts, by providing food at donation drives, etc. Our parents have donated their time and have pledged their support towards the cost of mailing the hair to Little Princess Trust.
We also raise money to conduct our drives (and to mail our donations to the UK), through cookie sales, donation drives and individual donations. All monetary donations are sent to the Trust.
People often ask why we are not working with an Indian NGO. We wanted to, but everyone we approached required individual donations to be a minimum of 15 inches, and it had to be non-coloured and non-treated hair. These requirements ruled out almost all our donors. Today, teenagers to adults, almost everyone has colour treated or salon treated hair. Also, most of our donors can donate at most 8-9 inches of hair. So we came to the conclusion that we would rather make wigs for many children than make fewer wigs with longer hair.
For most of us, hair is just keratin. It will grow back. It may grow back slowly; it may even grow back thinner; but it will grow back. And it will be there.
There are children struggling to appreciate themselves and to love what they see in the mirror, because their disease is taking away what they think makes them beautiful. If giving them some of our hair helps them rebuild the self-esteem that their illness is taking away, why wouldn’t we?
We want to help as many children as we can. And you can too. Please contact us here if you are interested in donating your hair or holding a hair donation drive at your school, apartment, or office.
– Niharika Jadeja