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Thu 7 May 2015 03:26 PM

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How a Dubai charity campaign turns sick kids into superheroes

Superhope aims to empower children through the power of imagination

How a Dubai charity campaign turns sick kids into superheroes

Charity comes in many forms. It’s donating money to the less fortunate. It’s giving blood transfusions for the ill. It’s participating in a walkathon for awareness.

For Basma Al Masri and Tarik Batal, it’s turning cancer stricken children into superheroes.

Rather than ask people to give money for cancer research, Al Masri and Batal wanted to create a non-traditional, charitable initiative. And so one year ago, Superhope was born.

“The idea is to empower children through the power of imagination,” says Al Masri.

“We sit with every child and we ask them, if you were a superhero, what would you be?” she begins explaining.

“So as a child sits down and imagines and says I want a cape that’s red and I want a helmet that lights and so on, the illustrator right next to him, who’s a comic illustrator, sketches out the child’s imagination,” she says.

When the illustrator’s done, the child’s measurements are taken and sent to a professional costume designer. After 2 to 3 weeks, once the costumers are ready, Superhope surprises the children with a professional photoshoot day.

“They come and they widen their eyes with surprise, thinking that’s what I created with the illustrator, its live,” says Al Masri.

“He gets to wear it, act like the superhero that he is in front of the camera, and really feel the, not the uniform, but the costume really makes the child feel 'yeah, I’m owning up to the superhero character that I created',” she continues. “So I am a superhero, I’m going to beat whatever it is I need to beat.”

Though their initiative focuses on helping children with cancer, Al Masri and Batal have expansion plans to help children fighting other diseases as well.

It hasn’t been easy, according to her, as the financing comes from their own pockets. But that hasn’t stopped them.

“No sponsors at the moment, but we’ve been very fortunate that every person who’s helped us has helped us pro-bono,” she says.

In order for the campaign to take place, there must be four key people: a comic illustrator, a costume designer, a filmmaker, and a photographer, sometimes more than one comic illustrator and designer.

Despite limited resources, since its launch one year ago, Superhope has completed two campaigns, one in Al Tawam hospital in Al Ain, and one in Lucile hospital in San Francisco.

“So we call hospitals who have a paediatric oncology department and we propose this idea to them,” explains Al Masri. “They then propose back some children that they feel would be good candidates.”

“To be honest, all children are good candidates, but because we just started, we have limits on the resources and so, so far we’ve been able to handle somewhere between ten children with every hospital,” she adds.

Once the marketing department asks permission of the children and parents, Al Masri and Batal come back to the hospital to brief the parents. “[We] brief the parents, as the Superhope initiative rather than the hospital, and then the parents either feel yes I want my child to be part of this there you go, or no,” says Al Masri, “but we always get a yes.”

An important aspect and goal of Superhope, according to the co-founders, is positivity.

“From the beginning until the end of the campaign, we never mention to the child that hey you’re a sick child,” she clarifies, “because the idea is to make them escape rather than remind them of what it is that they’re fighting, and automatically they know what it is they’re fighting.”

After the campaign is completed, Al Masri receives many positive feedbacks from content parents. But she says the real heroes are the children.

“It was difficult at the beginning, seeing those children,” she says. “They seem much braver than you think that they are. They’re walking down the ward ready to go get their chemo.”

“It humbles you so much to see that these children are real fighters and that they know this is just something they have to go through in order to survive,” says Al Masri.

She then adds, “Everybody should think of what legacy can I leave behind? Tomorrow when I’m not here what do I want people to continue to carry on as a good deed that I have done?”

According to her, she and Tarik are not doing anything out of the ordinary. That everybody has the power to create a difference and that nothing should stop them, is her view on charity.

“We are fortunate in a way that we live in a good place where we don’t see disasters around us hamdellah,” says Al Masri. “So you could forget that other people need your help. But if you sit for a second and try to think: okay, I am in peace, but others are not.”

“If I was in their shoes what would I want them to have done for me?” she says.



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