CHENNAI: The hands of a hairdresser swiftly moves as he meticulously cuts the luscious locks off a customer’s head. He quickly bundles the cut hair into a ponytail, tightly secures it with rubber bands at both ends, packs it into a ziplock cover and goes on to shave the head of the 24-year-old. After the sound of multiple snips and the trimmer come to an end, the customer looks at herself in the mirror and smiles.
In January, model-anchor Akhshaya Navaneethan decided to donate her hair to cancer patients. “I had been wanting to donate my hair for a very long time. But my family was against it,” says Akhshaya, who’s from an orthodox south Indian Brahmin family. “According to the customs, shaving the head either meant you are widowed or that you’ve lost a parent. Despite being disapproved, I went on to shave my head. All I could think about was the smile a cancer patient will have on their face after sporting a wig made of my hair. Donating my hair felt like a rebirth and I gained an entirely different level of confidence. After I posted about my experience on my social media page, many people came forward to donate their hair,” she says.
Akhshaya is one among the many Good Samaritans who have been selflessly coming forward to donate their tresses for a cause. While there are several places across Tamil Nadu and the country where one can donate their hair, CE talks to a few city-based organisations that turn your locks into wigs for people with cancer.
Six years ago, a group of medical professionals came together to form Chennai Hair Donation. “We saw many people with cancer being affected psychologically and emotionally after losing hair due to chemotherapy and radiation. That’s when we decided to do something about it,” says Dr Manoj of Chennai Hair Donation.
When the group approached Cancer Institute, Adyar, they realised that there was a dearth of wigs for cancer patients and decided to work towards bridging the gap. “We started as a small initiative. But through word of mouth, the news spread. We went on to create a social media page for the initiative and the response we received was overwhelming. So far we’ve had about 750 donors,” he shares.
The NGO has also tied up with few Toni & Guy franchises for donors who want a styled haircut. “There are discounts for donors. They can get their hair styled here after they donate hair. But it’s not necessary that donors have to cut their hair in this salon. They can follow our guidelines and do it in their regular salons too. The hair can either be dropped off or couriered to us. If people are hesitant to do it outside, we have a team who will go to the donor’s house and cut it there,” he explains.
While the standard hair length for donations varies from anything between eight to 10 inches, Manoj says it also changes according to hair quality, density and texture. “Even people with up to 50 per cent volume of grey hair can donate,” he says. The NGO also receives hair donations from Visakhapatnam, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. “Once we collect a certain amount of hair, it’s sent to our wig-making partners who have units in Yercaud and Vellore. The wigs are done by women from rural areas. This way, they are provided with a livelihood too,” he shares.
While the awareness on donating hair has increased, Dr V Surendran, assistant professor and head of the department of psycho-oncology at Adyar Cancer Institute tells CE that making a wig costs a minimum of `4,000. “Since it requires manual labour, the labour cost is high. But in 2014, when Women’s Christian College extended their support through their initiative Tangled and Cherian Foundation, Raj Hair International extended their support, we were able to collect hair and at the same time make enough natural wigs for patients. But we need more people who work towards it as a charity,” he shares.
The Cancer Institute has installed a hundi where donors can drop their cut and sealed hair. “The hundi gets filled on a monthly basis. So far we have had over 300 donors,” he shares.
Adding, Charles, coordinator of the hair donation project at Cherian Foundation, says that they receive a minimum of six calls per day inquiring about guidelines for donating one’s hair. “We also provide a certificate of acknowledgement to the donors. After the hair is donated, it’s segregated according to the hair texture by our wig-making partners. The moisture is removed and then made into a wig. If a wig is used for a long time and needs to be restored, we do that too,” he says. The foundation has so far provided 573 wigs to Cancer Institute, Adyar, and a few to Sri Shankara Cancer Foundation, Bengaluru.
Priya, a donor who shaved her head for the cause in April says that it was the best decision. “I did it to create awareness on cancer and Parkinson’s disease. I didn’t have any second thoughts,” she explains.
For Anmol, growing long hair started as a style statement but after he stumbled upon Chennai Hair Donation’s page, he decided to grow it for a cause. “I grew it for four years and when the time came, I donated almost 30 inches,” he says.But the journey wasn’t easy for Anmol. He was called names and ridiculed for growing hair “like a woman”. “It didn’t stop me from doing it. Ultimately, I donated it and I know it will benefit those in need. More people — men, women and children — should come forward to donate,” he shares.
Chennai Hair Donation also receives hair donations from Sri Lanka and Malaysia. “Once we collect a certain amount of hair, it’s sent to our wig-making partners. The wigs are done by women from rural areas,” shares Dr Manoj.
The Cancer Institute has installed a hundi where donors can drop their cut and sealed hair
For guidelines, visit Instagram Page Chennai Hair Donation; call Cherian Foundation at 9566000976; visit Cancer Institute , Sardar Patel Road, Adyar