A unique project for cancer patients

I did not feel ugly. In fact, I felt good that my hair was going to be used to make someone else look beautiful,” says Rennee Saradha, past president of Rotaract Club of Women’s Christian College, D 3232, on her tonsuring and donating all her hair for making natural wigs for cancer patients. The Rotaractors have been donating hair and money for making wigs since 2013, Rennee’s presidential year.

“While browsing for ideas about our project, we came across an organisation based in the US, named Hair for Hope. We thought why not do something similar for cancer patients here and when I discussed the idea, my club members agreed.” They wanted to give the project a positive name. “Disney’s movie Tangled based on the fairytale of Rapunzel was a big hit at that time. The movie was positive and had to do with healing and hair; so we named our project Tangled,” says Rennee, detailing about the genesis of the project.

The idea of going bald wasn’t new but donating the hair instead of giving it as an offering to God was new.
– Rennee Saradha, PP, RAC Women’s Christian College

But at that time, the club was not getting a positive response for the project. “It was only in the initial stage, yet family members and friends we spoke with about Tangled wondered if this was even possible. The idea of going bald wasn’t new but donating the hair instead of giving it as an offering to God was new. To add to it we live in a culture where hair is associated with beauty and in some communities, it involves sentiments too. ‘Can this be possible in a place like Chennai?’ we were asked.”

Rennee Saradha (left) with two other Rotaractors of RAC Women’s Christian College.

They were also told that in India nobody would want a wig. “So, we decided to send it to the US and were looking for options to send the hair across.” Then past DRR-turned-Rotarian and a mentor of the club Solomon Victor suggested that they visit the Adyar Cancer Institute (ACI). “In our interactions with the doctors at the ACI we understood that there is a requirement for at least 100 wigs every month,” she adds. “We also learnt that most of those who underwent treatment come from a financially- weak background so much so that buying a wig that costs anywhere between ₹15,000 and ₹20,000 was totally out of the question.” The project created awareness and helped to provide wigs to those who are affected by chemotherapy.

With the help of Rotary connections, the club slowly began to plan how to go about the project. The past president met Rtn George B Cherian, the CEO of Raj Hair International, a pioneer in the Indian Human Hair industry supplying hair wigs to 56 countries worldwide. “Since he was a Rotarian we did not have to go over the process of telling him what Rotaract was and what we planned to do or why. He believed in us because he knew the power of Rotary. But asked us to focus on different ways to getting hair donors.”

Rotaractors entertain children afflicted with cancer.

Green Trends, the salon chain was roped in as a partner. It was initially decided that the Women’s Christian College will host the donation drive for a month at the college. “But we realised that there weren’t going to be many walk-ins for the donation inside a college.” So, the venue was shifted to the various branches of the salon in Chennai and for a month and more Green Trends collected hair for our campaign.” The club directed prospective donors to the nearest Green Trends salon.

The next step was to raise funds and “what better way than to conduct a cultural extravaganza for college students in the city.” Through the funds raised from the event, and with a donation for making 20 natural hair wigs, “everything began to fall in place.” Phoenix, the fundraising event of the club, is an annual affair now and last year alone RAC Women’s Christian College hosted over 2,000 students from across the city, and used ₹2.5 lakh they had raised, to provide artificial limbs to 24 amputees.

On Feb 4, 2014, 20 members from the club shaved their heads marking a month-long initiative to collect hair for cancer patients. Green Trends salon cut and collected the hair free of cost. “They trained more than 600 stylists to collect 10 inches of hair without changing the donor’s looks,” says the current president Smruthi Dass. The club received positive feedback for the project and Tangled has become its signature project. “Although we do a lot more projects this one is close to all our hearts,” she adds. Recently Rennee was also featured on Rotary International’s Instagram post under #myrotaractmoment.

Most of those who underwent treatment come from a financially-weak background. Buying a wig that costs anywhere between ₹15,000 and ₹20,000 was totally out of the question.

As part of this initiative 100 mastectomy bras were distributed to breast cancer patients at the Adyar Cancer Hospital. Members of the club also visit paediatric cancer patients and spend an entire day entertaining them and giving them gifts.

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