Social care program for cancer survivors in Kuwait

KUWAIT: Being diagnosed with cancer is a life-changing experience not only for the survivors, but also for their families, and many will tell you that their greatest fear was that of the “unknown” given the insufficient information available to prepare them for the side-effects of the treatment. Loaay Ahmed, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in early 2005, recognized this problem when he started doing research about his condition and preparing himself and his family for what was up ahead for them. “It w
as important for me to know what was going on, but while doing my research online I realized that we don’t have sufficient information in Arabic about what happens before, during, and after treatment and the social care involved,” he said.

To me, it was alarming, and being a problem-solver in life, and given my work in the field of strategic management, I decided to do something about it if I was given a second chance,” he said. Loaay’s solution lays in ‘Najee’, meaning ‘survivor’ and also ‘he who worships God’ in Arabic. This is a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program for supporting people with cancer, with the slogan ‘Fighting Cancer with Care’. Once the support of ten companies for a three-year period is secured, he hopes to form
ally launch the program in the final quarter of 2010.

As a program, we are responsible for offering professional help to survivors and their caregivers,” he said, explaining that this social care program would give information in Arabic, as well as support services to improve the quality of life of the survivors and those around them.

To do this, Loaay has plans underway to set up a helpline. People taking the calls will be employed full-time, and need not have experience in this area of work, but must be cancer survivors or have had someone close to them go through the experience.

The callers, whether survivors or caregivers, will be able to call us for information, support, and guidance from the convenience of their own homes, and we will guarantee their privacy,” Loaay said.

As for the employees, he explained that these will receive special training to guarantee that they do not prescribe their own experience as the best method for emotional survival of cancer. When he was first diagnosed with cancer, Loaay contacted several international cancer support organizations in the course of his research, among them Macmillan in the UK, Livestrong in the US, and the American Cancer Society (ACS). Macmillan has offered to conduct a four to six week training program for Najee’s call cen
ter employees, who will then go on to train their peers.

Another source of valuable information will be the ‘Najee.org’ website which, once activated, will be “the first cancer website to be built with the survivor in mind,” he explained. The website will include information in Arabic, answers to questions that the survivors or their caregivers may have, tips on food, where to go for help, and much more. Some tips will be videoed to make it even easier to follow. ACS has given Najee permission to translate its publications into Arabic, and these will be availabl
e on the website as well.

A chatting service in Arabic will also be made available on the website, managed by helpline staff. This, Loaay explained, would be a useful tool to use for people who are deaf, as well as to reach out to people outside Kuwait who may also be in need of assistance.

Other interactive services related to the improvement of life styles and reaching out to survivors will be revealed at a later stage, he said, and this is where full-time and part-time volunteers will be needed.

As to collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Loaay said that in the research phase, he was in contact with the ministry and especially with Hussein Makki Juma Cancer Center. “We are just an extension of the treatment program, and so we need to be in touch with all the other relevant parties.” In terms of funding, he explained that Najee needed the commitment of ten companies over a three-year period, to run this as a CSR program by the private sector, in order to secure the salaries of the helpline emp
loyees and their necessary training, while very little will be used for printing material.

He said that the program had the blessing of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, but that licensing was not needed because Najee would not be collecting donations from the public.

We are trying to make sure that the money raised from our partners is spent wisely, and we have auditors who will keep our records in order to make sure our partners are confident of where and how the money is spent,” he added.

The financial data will be posted online for the public every quarter. “We don’t want Najee’s integrity to be questioned,” he stressed. After the initial three-year period, Loaay hopes that the project will have achieved financial sustainability through selling Najee merchandise, setting up small businesses, and investing funds through a committee formed especially for this purpose.

All of this will allow Najee services to be offered free of charge to the public, because cancer does not differentiate between classes or nationalities. The service is for all members of the society,” he emphasized.

Although the website will be mainly in Arabic, 20 percent of the content will be in English – enough to give basic information to foreigners and to direct them as to where they need to go to get help.

As for the Najee Board of Trustees, Loaay said that its Chairman is Ambassador Majdi Al-Thifeeri – a cancer survivor. Former minister and former MP Abdulwahed Al-Awadhi – who has had people close to him suffer from cancer – is a member, alongside Waleed Al-Marshoud of Atyab Al-Marshoud Co. – who lost five of his brothers and sisters to cancer. Loaay, as the founder of the program, is the fourth member, and he is still looking for one or two more members.

We are looking for people who will add value to the program; people who are motivated and want to genuinely make a difference,” he said. Loaay invited people willing to join the program as call center employees or as volunteers to fill out the form on the Najee.org website.

Our goal is to have a ratio of one employee for every two volunteers by the end of the third year, at 20 employees to 40 volunteers,” he explained. “This is a fun and energetic program, not boring and depressing. It will be very rewarding for people involved.” He noted that what made Najee unique was the international collaboration “so that we are not reinventing the wheel,” focusing on social care and filling the gap in this area, and finally the strategic managerial experience “whereby the program is ru
n efficiently like a business, the only difference being that it has no commercial product and its services are for free.” Courtesy Kuwait News Agency KUUNA

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