Wi(n)gs of Hope

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  • Premi Mathews while at the Femina ME 4 Cancer event

  • A Protect Your Mom campaign event at Heriot Watt University

  • Before and after

  • Dylan, who inspired Hair For Hope

  • Hima Ann Joseph is one of the youngest to organise the biggest Hair for Hope mass hair donation event in her school

  • Nikhil, Emirates International School, Jumeirah student goes bald. He was the first to support Protect Your Mom in 2011 when eight boys went bald. He is now studying in MIT, USA

  • EIS pays bills of a cancer patients

  • Protect Your Mom brand ambassadors, Stefy and Nayna, held one of the biggest event at OOEHS, Sharjah when 50 girls donated their hair

While checking out the latest hair trends, have you ever paused to think about those who may have lost theirs to chemotherapy? Would you gear up to give all you have for the cause? Well, if only in each of us was a little of what Premi Mathews, founder of Protect Your Mom campaign and Hair for Hope, India, has found in herself – empathy and the will to initiate a change. She shares with Yasmeen Maqbool her journey from being a marketing professor to a social entrepreneur

Premi, a marketing professor for 15 years, found hers when cancer hit too close to home. She, along with her husband, Dr. Mathews had been researching extensively on the topic. The results indicated that there was a lack of awareness about cancer, its early detection and preventive actions that could save million of lives.

Around the same time Premi was also working on her thesis about using Facebook as a marketing tool. For her project she had asked her students why mothers do not go in for regular mammogram tests. She realized that although there were a lot of awareness campaigns, the message of regular self-examination might not be clearly communicated. Protect Your Mom (PYM) campaign is the outcome of the results put together.

It is interesting to note that cancer can kill only a person who doesn’t recognize the early symptoms. The survival rate goes up if it is detected early. “This makes us wonder why in the age of Twitter and Facebook, people still die just because they don’t recognize the early signs like a tiny lump.”

PYM was started in October 2010 using only Facebook and PR to do exactly that. Premi points out that PYM decided to reach women through their children. “Borrowing the strategy used by famous companies like Maggie and McDonald’s, pester power was used to beat breast cancer.” She details that PYM is a campaign that targets students and coaxes them to pester their mothers to do a self-examination through social marketing tools as music, dance and art.

Premi is convinced that the PYM campaign has the potential to be a global movement of students. “To have a student in every school and college in the world to promote the cause and spread the word until we educate the every mother about breast cancer awareness.”

Hair for Hope (H4H) is a related campaign, which was triggered by Premi’s eight-year-old nephew, Dylan. “When I first saw little Dylan with his long, flowing locks, I wondered for a moment if the Hippie movement was back. Naturally, I was too polite to ask, but my cousin sensed my curious looks, and explained why her eight-year-old son was sporting the long curls. He was planning to donate his hair to make wigs. It was truly commendable on how this young boy had opted to brave bullies and teasing to grow it for four years.”

Dylan’s passion towards this social cause inspired Premi to launch a similar campaign where participants could donate their hair to make wigs for cancer patients. Thus Hair for Hope was born.

“Watching a close friend of mine go through hair loss to chemotherapy, I understood the sheer pain of losing hair. To see it fall in clumps, and hate your own reflection in the mirror. Just three weeks after the first chemotherapy session a patient can lose every single strand of hair, sometimes within a matter of as little as two days. It just rains hair – on your pillow, in the bath, when you run your hands through your hair, or even when you’re sitting very still indeed, hoping your hair will stay on if you do – until you get tired of it and just shave it off.”

Today, Premi is striving to make wig donation a movement, creating waves across Middle East and India. Both Protect your Mom and Hair for Hope have dedicated Facebook pages where patrons post their videos supporting the cause and sharing their stories. Existing Protect Your Mom brand ambassadors – students who volunteered for Protect Your Mom, were given the additional task of organizing Hair for Hope events. Seven of them organized hair donation events during the summer of 2015. Many of them also organise events across India and today H4H, India has reached states as Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Kerela.

If you would like to donate your hair, make sure to grow them longer than 15 inches/ 38cms. “Our PYM brand ambassadors from various schools in the UAE organise hair donation events and submit their donations to Friends Of Cancer Patients who send it to Children’s Cancer Centre of Lebanon.”

One of the best events was by Our Own English High School, Sharajah where 50 students donated and the Indian School, Sharjah were 90 students donated. Men and kids as young as three-year-olds have donated in the UAE. So although they do not donate to Hair for Hope India, PYM continues to create awareness and thus save hair from the bin.

Premi concludes, “Somehow people think that cancer is something that happens only to others, that it is hereditary, that only old people get it. Yet everyone knows someone with cancer. It is time we fought back.”