“Movember” is about the people, not your half-grown moustache

By: Sean McMahon

As I look around, I see men and boys walking around with scruffy, unshaven faces. Welcome to “No-Shave November,” or “Movember.” But what is it all about?

Movember started in the late ’90s as a way to raise awareness for male-specific cancers, such as prostate cancer and testicular cancer. Today, a quick Google search shows a number of organizations that have adopted No-Shave November as a means for their own fundraising, such as the American Cancer Society.

But chances are if you ask anyone trying to grow out a beard what this month is about, they will give you a blank stare.

Movember and other awareness campaigns have ceased to be about the charities and morphed into self-indulgent fashion statements. Movember now signifies a rebellious youth growing a beard in defiance of his girlfriend or parents. Even if he does know about the awareness campaign at the heart of Movember, he probably doesn’t actually embrace it. Instead he just uses it to justify growing a beard, whether he is capable or not.

I say forget about awareness. Today cancer awareness campaigns are a dime a dozen. Once, these campaigns were truly about helping people, but now that seems to be the exception. Most awareness campaigns seem to focus more on capitalizing on a tragedy rather than helping those affected, which is especially true of the NFL’s pink campaign, which donates little of its revenue to cancer research. The same can be said for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which has sued other smaller charities for using the pink ribbon.

It is not enough to just raise awareness, especially when the system is about making money. So take money out of the equation. If you give your time and volunteer, you will find the benefits are far more rewarding.

Hospitals are always looking for volunteers, and you don’t have to go far to find the opportunity. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has a section of its website devoted to recruiting volunteers. Don’t be turned off if you are not a nursing or science major; anyone can volunteer as long as you have finished the ninth grade and are older than 15.

Volunteering isn’t difficult either. All you are asked to do is make a child’s day a little brighter by bringing in toys and playing with them or reading a book. Overall, you are just trying to make them forget their illness and remember what it means to be a kid.

Volunteering puts faces with these charities. It makes them real. Once you start, you cannot sit quietly on the sidelines. When you volunteer, you are making an emotional investment. You care for the people you see on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis. You start forming relationships and realize the impact you make. For some patients, your visits are the highlight of their week, making them forget even for a little while that they are seriously ill.

Time is a precious commodity, and as college students, it seems even more precious. But we will never have enough time. There will always be something you would rather do than volunteer. Yet we have to and need to do it. Just like the body needs exercise to stay healthy, so the soul needs volunteering to stay charitable. To exercise well, you have to be consistent. The best strategy is to exercise a little every day and slowly increase the duration. If you remain disciplined it becomes habit and you might just enjoy it. Volunteering is the same way. It’s difficult to find the time initially, but with practice it becomes part of your routine.

Who knows? It could be the highlight of your day.

When you volunteer, the cause is more important to you, and when several volunteers join together, they have more impact in terms of awareness than any foundation can because volunteers have stories. They have emotions. Volunteers don’t care about the bottom line; all they care about is helping people.

This Movember, don’t just grow a beard or leave yourself unshaven just because it’s this month’s fad. Do it so you can share your story with others. Share what it is like to volunteer and how it makes you feel. If you can move just one person to join you, you have done more than any awareness campaign has ever done.

Sean McMahon is a junior from Riverside, R.I. majoring in English and advertising.