Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugee shaves head to raise funds for cancer research

20 March 2019: A young Bhutanese refugee has bid goodbye to her thick, black and beautiful hair aiming to raise funds for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF).

Bidhya Karki, a 2nd year nursing student at the University of Adelaide, has poignant and personal reasons to join fight against cancer.

Her grandfather passed away when she was only seven or eight year old. He lost his battle against bowel cancer when she was still a child, Ms Karki told Few years later, she lost a school friend when she was in Year 6. She lost another good friend, a boy, when she was attending her High School in eastern Nepal. Then she lost one of her aunties. That’s way too many friends and family to lose, specially for someone who is just 24 years of age.
Bidhya Karki considers cancer a personal enemy and is committed to help fight it by any means possible – including shaving her head I Photo: Supplied

All up, she has lost at least four-five people she personally knew and was close to.
United for the shave: Bidhya Karki, her brother Drona Karki, Ninglen Shwebeth from Burma, her former teacher Nick Antoniades and Taha Shabibi from Iran I Photo: Supplied

Years later, after having settled in Australia in 2015, cancer is still the same mean monster to Ms Karki. Her vendetta against the disease is too powerful, personal and poignant to forget. An enemy she is determined to fight against. 

As a nursing student, she goes out to hospitals for work placement during which she comes across cancer patients in palliative care. This reminds the Adelaide woman of those friends and family who also fell victim to the same scourge of cancer. Therefore, when she came to know about the Head Shave Challenge of ACRF, she knew she had to do it. “I did it because I am hoping one day we will have a cancer-free world,” says the 24-year-old student.

However, it took her few years to muster the courage as shaving head is culturally challenging for Nepali-speaking women. Back home, only widows are supposed to shave head. It can be a real challenge even to a man due to aesthetic reasons; needless to say, the challenge is far greater for a woman because hair is undoubtedly the most important factor of her personality.

Her determination to enter the fundraising challenge got a boost when her friends decided to join in the worthy cause. She eventually ended up having a truly multi-national team: her own brother Drona Karki, Ninglen Shwebeth from Burma, her former teacher Nick Antoniades and Taha Shabibi from Iran.

ACRF was founded in 1984 by late Sir Peter Abeles and the late Lady Sonia McMahon. It runs variety of donation campaigns to fund researchers as they strive to “outsmart cancer”. The well-respected organisation uses the donation to provide “world-class scientists with the equipment they need to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all types of cancer”.

She and her team are about to hit the $5,000 target. Anyone wishing to contribute to the noble cause can visit the ACRF website to chip in.

Bidhya Karki lives in Adelaide with two siblings and her mother who, a Bhutanese refugee in Nepal, was married to a Nepalese citizen.

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