By Sol Freire
Unlike most people who think of how their next haircut will look, Paula Espinoza thinks about how her haircut will look on someone else. Espinoza donates all of her hair to children who have none.
"I was 13 when I donated for the first time,” says Espinosa, whose hair is used to create wigs for young cancer patients. “Since then, I loved it and decided not to go back to cut my hair until I got it long enough to donate.”
The “Draw a Smile” foundation (“Dibuja una Sonrisa” in Spanish) collects and prepares wigs that are donated to children with cancer. Each wig requires three donations of hair. Every month the foundation receives between 75-80 donations, enough for 25 wigs.
In 2011, 97 wigs were delivered while last year the number nearly doubled due to the increasing popularity of the program. Still, Draw A Smile Foundation is able to fill only about 10 percent of requests.
The wigs are delivered based on doctor requests that identify children who need them most. Ultimately, the foundation’s goal is to create a bank of wigs so that patients who need one can obtain it without waiting. However, more donations still are needed.
According to data collected in 2008 from the major cancer hospitals by the Society for the Fight Against Cancer (SOLCA in its Spanish acronym) in four Ecuadorean regions – Quito, Loja, Cuenca, and Manabi – there are approximately 2,000 existing cases of cancer in patients under the age of 20.
Data is collected every four years. Updated information will be released in February 2013.
Espinoza has made three hair donations and says she was touched by how her hair was received by the patients. "This third time I met the two children who received my gift. Two wigs were made for Lucas and Joaquin. It was an amazing experience to meet them,” she says.
Espinoza has decided to make a fourth donation, scheduled for May 2013, when her hair is once again long enough to cut. And she is not the only one who has been impacted by the emotional power of donating hair.
Ramiro Villacreces, a professor at the San Francisco de Quito University (USFQ), is making his third donation in two years. "The first time I donated was because my mother had cancer. When I discovered that, I decided that if everything went well with my mother, I was going to grow my hair to donate it," he explained.
Estefania Egas, a communication student at USFQ, grew her hair for four years and gave a donation of over forty centimeters. "Before donating, I spent a week in SOLCA (the cancer hospital). I met and talked with children with this sickness. I found the mom of a five-year old little girl and I said I was going to donate my hair to her daughter. She was very happy. With me the process was different because I wanted to do it specifically for this girl," she says.
Short Hair, Big Reactions
For some, donating hair is not simply an act of giving away something that would normally be discarded. Though Espinoza said nonchalantly, “Hair grows back, it’s not that bad," the truth is, many of the young women who donate their hair give far more than they would lose with a regular trim and, as a consequence, find themselves the victims of their own traumatic experience.
Hair donors, particularly women, are often exposed to unpleasant reactions, even discrimination.
Carolina Loza, multimedia journalism student also at USFQ, tells of her experience: "I decided to shave my head without thinking much about it. It was something I always wanted to do. I work in customer service and my supervisor wasn’t happy with my change. He said that it didn’t look good on me. He tried to make me wear a headscarf or a wig until coworkers expressed their disagreement with this," she recalls.
She said the problems were not limited to her work. "While I'm at the bus stop, men in the street and passing cars feel they have the right to make fun of me. They have called me tomboy and even said that I have lice. I ignore them but I never expected such a backward reaction just for wearing short hair,” Loza says.
Another student, a 20-year old female who preferred to remain anonymous, told of another bad experience: "I cut my hair a couple months ago ... I got quite uncomfortable comments, ranging from ‘you look like a boy’ or ‘what were you thinking by losing your femininity like that,’" she regretfully explained.
Ironically, she continued, "This was just a way of feeling more feminine than ever, despite the comments received on the street, or from my close friends and family."
Fortunately, for both donator and receiver, hair eventually grows back, but the trauma and scars faced by each often remain far longer than anyone can see.
COLLECTING AND DONATING HAIR
Parameters for hair donations:
- Hair must be well-kept and not have come into contact with the floor.
- Hair may be natural or dyed. Grey hair is also accepted.
- Hair must be a minimum of eight inches in length.
- Hair must be delivered as a ponytail inside of a plastic bag.
- Hair accompanies a $10 cash donation to offset the cost of making the wig.
To make a donation contact “Dibujo una Sonrisa”:
Republica del Salvador, between Naciones Unidas and Suecia.
Mezzanine office Ed 213 Metro Plaza
Phone: 098-777-6642 / 02-332-5826