They sit in front of the camera, heads shaved. Some wear hats; others cover their heads with beautiful turbans. They named their group Bank Gisoo (Hair Bank): a grassroots drive to support people who have lost their hair due to cancer and the effects of chemotherapy.
They ask their compatriots to donate their natural hair to Hair Bank, or else to help them make the wigs and take part in online turban sewing training classes. Those who can are even encouraged to set up a hair bank in their own city and continue the cycle of kindness.
Bank Gisoo is a non-governmental organization in Iran, most of whose members are affected by cancer themselves or know someone who has been. Through this fledgling institution, they try to make a difference through simple acts of giving.
With the support of people inside and outside of the country, the NGO buys wigs for cancer patients in Iran who have lost their hair as a result of chemotherapy. People across Iran are invited to create their own local hair banks with the participation of fellow citizens.
In turn, cancer patients who lose their hair can choose their wigs from those available at these local hubs. The wigs are loaned to them for as long as it takes for them to regrow their hair and feel comfortable again.
Bank Gisoo was established just two short months ago. It is being supported by Iran’s Eight Women Campaign, a public information and awareness campaign set up by a handful of women who survived breast cancer. Mitra, an early member of Bank Gisoo, told IranWire: “I have cancer myself and I have been using a wig for several years.
“When I came across the idea of a hair bank, the first question that came to my mind was, Why didn’t I think of this? I decided to help as much as I could and became active in Tehran along with some friends. But we still have a long way to go before we reach equilibrium between the number of applicants and the bank's capabilities."
Mitra believes that Bank Gisoo has a larger, more holistic goal than wig-sharing alone. “This campaign introduces people who are in a similar situation to each other, creating a kind of empathy. The service is a complete cycle of kindness."
Beneficiaries can choose a “package” of several wigs that they hold onto temporarily, before returning them once their own hair has regrown. They are asked to leave a letter full of well-wishes for the next borrower to read, together with instructions on how to keep and clean the wig. Everyone who uses the service also receives a turban, a hat or a cotton hand-made scarf free of charge.
Another member of Bank Gisoo, who asked not to be named, said: "If we can, we will also put a book in this package, which is also on loan. You won’t always need a wig, and when we no longer need something, we do not keep it. In the cycle of love, it reaches another loved one to make him or her happy."
One of the main questions that has arisen about Bank Gisoo’s initiative is whether or not it is hygienic. Particularly in the time of coronavirus, the NGO has to keep health and safety in mind if any item is passing through multiple hands.
“In each city,” the Bank Gisoo representative explained, “members are required to fully comply with our health protocols. The wigs are thoroughly washed and disinfected, and we ask all loved ones to keep them clean during use. ‘You trust us, we trust you’."
The locations of centers are chosen based on their appropriateness. Ideally, they should be spaces that people can enter by appointment only, and in the most discreet way possible – and with mirrors installed for them to try the wigs on. Hairdressers, sports clubs and clothing boutiques have been among the early locations.
The person in charge is also fully trained in how to interact with cancer patients and uphold best hygienic practice, especially with their more vulnerable immune systems in mind.
Maryam, who helps run a Tehran hair bank, tells IranWire: “We hold a specific set of classes for the center staff. But friends who wish to participate in more generally can take turban sewing classes, and then play an effective role in supporting us by producing turbans.”
Bank Gisoo representative Anita says Iranians can make use of the hair bank with the bare minimum of bureaucracy. They can get a letter of referral from their doctor, or provide any documentary evidence to show that they are undergoing chemotherapy.
Meanwhile, she says, people wishing to support Bank Gisoo’s activities can also donate money for the NGO to buy wigs or help buy buying them turbans, wig bases and softeners. “Thank God,” she says, 2the contribution of the people in all fields in Iran and abroad has been very satisfying."
"A number of people have sent their own hair to our centers to weave wigs for cancer patients. But due to the long time it takes to weave a wig with natural hair, we do have to think about selling the natural hair and buying a wig from this income. No final decision has yet been made on the donated hair."
This article was written by a citizen journalist in Tehran under a pseudonym.