By Bay Jia Wei (17S06R), Noor Adilah (17S06B)
Photos by Amelia Lee, Chan Wen Le, Chang Po Chun, Lam Wei Yi, Elizabeth Quek, and Tse Yi Ling of Raffles Photographic Society
What does it mean to shave?
This is a question that gets thrown about every year with each season of Hair for Hope, a nationwide initiative by the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF) Singapore. Within RI, Hair for Hope is an annual satellite event organised by Raffles Community Advocates (CA). By encouraging students to go bald to show their solidarity for children with cancer, Hair for Hope aims to raise awareness on childhood cancer as well as to fundraise for families in Singapore supporting children diagnosed with cancer.
On the 12th of May, from 2.30–5.30, a steady stream of students, parents, Advocates and shavees, not to mention hairdressing staff, entered the hall. Many students came to watch their peers shave, or to simply learn more about the cause. Some parents also attended the event to support their children who were shaving.
The event started off with a speech by Mr. Chan Poh Meng, followed by a heart-warming session in which Mr. Chan put aprons onto the hairdressers, as a token of appreciation for their dedication and willingness to shave students’ hair for the cause. Following that, a few student shavees took to the stage to express the reasons behind shaving and why they found it significant. The shaving commenced soon after.
Booths selling flowers for the shavees, face painting and even CCF merchandise helped to raise funds for CCF. Shavees waited their turn for what Shawn Wong (17S03E) termed the ultimate act of “support for cancer patients”, and wrote personal messages on whiteboards while being shaved. Cheery, upbeat music played in the background.
With any advocacy project comes a fair share of skepticism from the ground. The most popular criticism of the event was the act of shaving itself, which many found showy and, in the words of an anonymous student, perhaps even “a glorification of cancer … aimed to gain more popularity for the shavees instead of awareness for the patients themselves”. These factors could potentially “dilute the advocacy”, and taint the more altruistic purpose of shaving.
Despite this, many shavees, Advocates and students alike expressed their genuine appreciation for the event and their earnest belief that the act of shaving can provide support for children with cancer. Deea K. Dev (17S03L), a Community Advocate, was heartened that the support the shavees received were translated into the support for cancer patients, referring to the throngs of students who turned up to watch their peers shave. Another Advocate, Samira Hassan (17S05A), termed the event as the “materialisation of the conviction in beliefs” that Advocates hold close to their hearts. Andrew Susilo (17S03B) explained that shaving was his own way to help “raise awareness in the [Rafflesian] community about having cancer” and that the event is a way “to accept and to integrate” patients into our society. CA members felt that the effort that they put into the event has been a service in its own right, that “watching the event materialise and witnessing the funds coming in” was a testament to this service, as expressed by Genevieve Teo (17A01C).
However, some felt that the atmosphere of the event served as a distraction from the true cause behind the event. Looking around the hall in during Hair For Hope, there were little to no reminders that all of the activities were for those with child cancer. Instead, having the shavees on the stage “made it look like a performance, with all the focus on the shavees”, as an anonymous student reflected. Tim Min Jie (17S05A) suggested “more visibility of the patients themselves and their stories”, and expressed her belief that “expanding [upon] these stories instead of reducing them to cancer patients” would be key in raising awareness about the cause.
Despite the cynical views that some students may harbour towards the event, the meaning of Hair for Hope still resonates with many – that looking within to understand ourselves and to confront our insecurities may well be the first step at any attempt to understand others.
Perhaps shaving isn’t about fighting against cancer, but fighting alongside those who suffer from it.