AMMAN, Jordan — Jordanian hairdresser Nihad Dabbas hopes to bring smiles to the faces of cancer patients, particularly children and women.
Dabbas founded the initiative called Hareer (Silk) in 2017, which collects strands of hair from volunteers. The strands are then woven into natural-looking wigs for cancer patients, particularly children, who have lost their hair during chemotherapy.
Dabbas hopes that Wissam, a 7-year-old leukemia patient, will pass a happier Eid al-Fitr when the hairdresser completes a wig that resembles what Wissam’s hair looked like before chemotherapy. Dabbas plans to give Wissam his wig in mid-June, before the Eid.
Dabbas came up with the idea of making wigs when 13-year-old Ahmad walked into the salon with a friend who wanted to get a haircut in early 2017. But Dabbas noticed that Ahmad, who was wearing a hat, looked sad. When Dabbas asked his friend about the boy, it turned out Ahmad had leukemia and used the hat to hide his scarce hair. Dabbas approached the boy and asked him if he wanted his hair to return to the way it was by wearing a wig. Dabbas wove a wig for Ahmad, and the boy left for treatment abroad with his spirits lifted, at least partially.
“That child’s sadness, combined with the fact that he had lost his uncle to cancer as well, got me thinking about how I could support the cancer patients, particularly kids,” Dabbas told Al-Monitor, saying that it is often child volunteers who donate their hair.
Dabbas examines pre-chemotherapy photos of the children. He then weaves wigs as similar as possible to the children’s original hairstyle using strands of hair from volunteers, whom he finds either among the patrons of his shop or in events staged in public squares. Hareer also holds awareness campaigns in Jordanian universities and big commercial centers on how to help parents and society deal with children suffering from cancer at home and in school. The initiative also offers moral support by giving the children gifts and organizing visits and face-painting activities.
Dabbas describes his initiative as a local community service, saying that it brings a smile to “those who need it the most.” The events he organizes in shopping malls include games, face painting and free haircuts, as well as giving information on cancer and how to support cancer patients.
“We started out by making wigs for children suffering from cancer. The Hareer initiative will work with various groups such as refugees, to address their needs,” Dabbas said, expressing his desire to organize a broader-based social responsibility, group that offers psychological support for the elderly, orphans and refugees by preparing visits, offering gifts and raising awareness about their plight through public events.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Jordan, with 5,000 new cancer cases recorded yearly. According to Mosa Riash, the director of Friends of Cancer Patients and a cancer patient herself, 15,000 Jordanians suffer from cancer, and 50% of them are above 60. Riash told Al-Monitor that the figure of 5,000 people diagnosed annually might rise to 6,000 and 7,000 due to the population growth resulting from displacement from nearby countries. According to the King Hussein Cancer Foundation, the cancer types most common among Jordanian men are lung cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer. The three types most common among women are breast cancer, colorectal cancer and thyroid cancer. Among children, leukemia, brain cancer, lymph node cancer and central nervous system cancer are the most common.
Three Jordanian students at the University of Jordan, Sakha'a Al-Za'atreh, Heba Hmidan and Rand Meqdad, also provide wigs for cancer patients. Unlike Dabbas, who works with mostly children, this initiative, titled Khasal (“Hair locks”), targets women.
Hmidan first came up with the idea when she saw a Facebook post of a girl who wanted to give away her hair to cancer patients in 2017, but said that she did not know how to go about it. So Hmidan thought of collecting locks of hair and weaving them for cancer patients in Jordan. Za’atreh and Meqdad joined her a few weeks later.
Meqdad told Al-Monitor, “We started gathering hair from our families and friends, then expanded to schools, hair salons and the community through donation events held in big stores.”
She added, “The initiative is nonprofit. Wigs are given for free to patients who contact us on our Facebook page, then we collect hair and work with a wig maker to weave the wig.”
One wig costs around $70. The three students pay for the wigs from the donations, most of which come from their close circles, such as friends and relatives.
Meqdad said the biggest challenge is raising the money for the wigs. “We haven’t received official financial support for our work. What we spend on wigs is from our personal expenses as university students and from donations we get from our friends, families and some social groups. The funds are not enough to make our initiative sustainable.”
Since its launch in 2017, Khasal has given wigs to 200 patients under the slogan, “It will grow nicer tomorrow.”