SINGAPORE – About 160 Josephians comprising students and staff shaved their heads to raise
awareness of childhood cancer in Singapore in partnership with the Children’s Cancer Foundation’s (CCF) "Hair for Hope".

This unorthordox act of charity attracted 11 teachers, including two La Salle Brothers and three female teachers, and some 150 students to part with their hair.

Hair for Hope is an event whereby members of the public are invited to shave their head as a symbolic gesture to create awareness of childhood cancer in Singapore. As patients suffering from cancer tend to lose their hair after chemotherapy, the campaign aims to show solidarity with children suffering from cancer and educate the public that there is nothing wrong with being bald.

The idea for involving St. Joseph’s Institution (SJI) in Hair for Hope came from the school’s Prefectorial Board. The event was planned and organized by the Prefects Exco with guidance from Head of Character Formation Dominic Ang.

Students agreeing to shave their heads were required to pledge a minimum sum of S$20 to show their commitment and pen their reflections before the shave as it was deemed important that the boys understood what the act of shaving their head represented. Students could also approach their friends and family to donate towards their cause, which in turn helped to spread awareness of the event.

The presentation of participants with their bald heads at the school assembly on Jul 24 made a powerful impression on all present.

Choo Ruizhi, SJI Head Prefect, said, "The event also aimed at bringing the school together for a cause: to build a ‘community of care’ and to ‘imagine, inspire and ignite’. This spark of altruism would hopefully turn into a fire that would burn brightly."

Before the event, Event and Project Manager for CCF Cheong Kok Hwee explained to the boys why people supporting CCF shaved their heads and about CCF’s role in raising awareness of childhood cancer in Singapore.

Participants were required to get written consent from their parents. Joshua Goh said, "Initially I questioned if such an act would really benefit the children. In the end, it was really a matter of awareness. The plight of children with cancer struck a chord with many of us."

The boys understood that while monetary donations is the usual way to give these days, they were being offered another option that required a greater commitment. Compared to an act of kindness or charity that last perhaps 15 minutes, the consequence of shaving the head would last at least three months, the time taken for their hair to grow back. Participants would thus be alive to the message embodied in the act for that duration, in school, at home and wherever they went. Some 150 students took up the challenge. Their generosity pesuaded 11 teachers, including two La Salle Brothers and three female teachers to join them.

Brother Michael Broughton, Brother President of SJI and SJI International, and Brother Jason, who teaches the lower secondary students, were both loudly applauded when they had their heads shaved.

Brother Michael said, "I was not ready to cut my hair last year. But this year, I was inspired that more than 150 of our school community were ready and willing to cut their hair for a good cause. Just watching these young boys, I felt I had to support this worthy cause as well."

Teacher Teresa Lim has been part of Hair for Hope for the last three years. Joining her this year were Daisy Chia and Melissa Yam. All shared that with support from family and friends at SJI, they could carry themselves with pride. The
boys in one of Teresa Lim’s classes applauded when she came in with her head shaved at the start of class.

Christopher Thian, a Primary Two student from SJI Junior came to SJI that morning with his mother and sister. He wanted to have his head shaved with his elder brother Brian at SJI. His mother and sister were very proud of the two boys.

The mission of SJI is to empower its students to become men of integrity and men for others. The hope is that, like De La Salle the Founder, the students will be conscious of the last, the lost and the least in their midst. By shaving their heads, these boys show that they stand in solidarity with children who are suffering from cancer.

About S$16,000 was raised by the school community from the project. CCF plans to compile all the reflections of the boys into a journal. They were advised to pen their thoughts a week into the exercise to see how they were adjusting to the change. Later, the boys will each receive a certificate to recognize their contribution. They were also encouraged to write messages on postcards which would be delivered by CCF staff to children in the cancer wards at National University Hospital and Kandang Kerbau Hospital.

The call from the Prefectorial Board to bring together Josephians in a community of care has worked brilliantly. This is in keeping with the Religious and Moral Education (RME) programme in SJI. During the four years of secondary education, SJI students learn how different segments of society suffer materially, physically, emotionally and socially. Being involved in the Hair for Hope event presented students an opportunity to translate social awareness into social action.

The RME team comprises School Chaplain Friar Michael D’Cruz and 20 teachers. This team reaches out to Josephians young and old to live as De La Salle did. He was a man from a privileged background but he saw the needs of the poor people in Rheims, France and decided to serve them by becoming one with them instead of just making donations from his considerable fortune. The RME team teaches a similar empathy to Josephians and encourages them to stand in solidarity with those who suffer.

On the SJI project, CCF Community Partnerships Manager Kim Ng commented, "This is the
first time we are seeing participants coming to shave their heads with reflections already written down. This means that the message of the campaign has reached these young hearts and they fully comprehend why they are doing this. This is something we will look into for our subsequent events as well. It’s also good to see children engaged in a good cause to help other children." n

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