Parents see red over pink campaigns

School drives to raise breast cancer awareness among students as young as four and five draw flak

Dubai: Parents are seeing red as pink campaigns to raise awareness about breast cancer peak across schools in the UAE.

While few dispute the seriousness of the breast cancer scourge in society, the question they are asking is whether breast cancer awareness campaigns among children as young as four and five serve any purpose. In some cases, the collection of money, purportedly for charity, is also being met with flak, as parents say it is only adding to their burden.

With October being observed as the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, schools, like many other sectors, have gone on an overdrive to launch a range of themed activities in the hope of driving home their message.

But ask the little ones what the all-important message is, and chances are you would draw a blank.

“I don’t know, I am just wearing a pink T-shirt,” said a five-year-old girl, oblivious to what may have been discussed at the breast cancer awareness event at her school in South Dubai.

The mother of another five-year-old at a Jumeirah school said she ignored the “pink call” and sent her daughter in regular uniform. But she was aghast with the feedback she received.

“When my daughter wanted to know why she had to wear a pink T-shirt, she was told that mums sometimes get sick and should see the doctor.”

“To me, that is not what breast cancer is about. Such statements can only create needless anxiety and fear in a child who is so young,” said the mum.

Parents said such campaigns are often tokenistic and can be commercial too in some cases.

A British dad of two girls, aged three and six, said, “There are so many events in my children’s school throughout the year. Just recently, they were marking International Peace Day and were asked to come to school in white T-shirts. They also had to donate Dh10 each towards a cause. I am not sure which charity they were supporting or whether my kids were any wiser after the event.”

School managements, on their part, maintain the campaigns are well thought out.

Clive Pierrepont, consultant at Taaleem which runs 10 schools in the UAE, said, “Awareness campaigns at our schools are carefully planned, age-appropriate initiatives that are relevant and informative to different year groups. We have the benefit of being able to take advice from our school advisory boards and parent associations before launching campaigns, and these groups are often actively involved in the delivery of them.”

He said the campaigns are not just for students but also the wider community. “Therefore, the consultation process is always an important part of our annual planning, to share important messages and key information to our students and beyond.”

Vandana Marwah, principal and director, DPS Sharjah, said, “We hold campaigns to raise awareness about a number of issues. Recently, we had the ‘Protect Your Mum’ campaign too for breast cancer. It targeted students aged 10-plus. Some of our campaigns are held on what we call ‘Fun and Bonding Days’ where we invite parents to join in. Invariably, an expert holds a talk or discussion on a chosen topic, whether it is breast cancer, health and hygiene or the environment.”

On the issue of commercialisation, she said, “Our campaigns do not involve money. Arranging resources is the easiest thing. What we are more concerned with is how best we can sensitise our students to campaign messages. This is what we must focus on as teachers and parents.”


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