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Why is This Expat Shaving Her Head to Help Her Helper?

There are many, many tales of helpers and families — some heartwarming and sincere — some, not so much. The story of Mariza Canete and Isabelle Claisse is one that will restore your faith in humanity.


Mariza is Isabelle’s helper. Mariza’s son has recently been diagnosed with cancer and she cannot afford the exorbitant cost of treatment. Isabelle feels compelled to help, not just because of the special relationship they share but also because the situation only highlights how brutally unfair life can be.

In an effort to raise awareness and funds, Isabelle will be shaving her head.


KS: How long has your helper been working with your family? Where is home for her?

IC: Mariza is from Bohol in the Philippines. She’s been with us for almost six years – since my son was 4 months old. Mariza is very special to me. She takes care of my kids, one of whom is extremely challenging. She is capable, smart, kind, tough. I have always said that if she had been born where I was, rather than in a village in the Philippines to a mother who is also a domestic helper here in Singapore, she would be doing my job right now, rather than running my house. I feel lucky every single day to have her because she makes my life as I want to live it possible.  


KS: How old is her son and for how long has he been sick?

IC: Dave is 10 years old. He had been complaining of pains in his leg for a while (assumed to be growing pains) before he was taken to the doctor in October, after which he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma within a couple of days. He is very lucky that the cancer had not metastasized – bone cancers often spread to the lungs. Bone cancer is relatively common in children because their bones are growing so fast, so the cells are multiplying rapidly giving rise to greater risk of cell mutation.


KS: It must be extraordinarily difficult for her to be away from her son. Is she still here or with him?

IC: Mariza was on a plane back to the Philippines within hours of Dave visiting the specialist. She was there from the end of October until last Friday, when she flew back to Singapore to renew her work permit. She’ll be here for a couple of weeks and then go back for Dave’s surgery which is scheduled for the end of January. I don’t know when she will be back after that – it depends on some medical decisions that will be made over the course of the coming days.

I find it hard enough being away from my kids for work trips (max two weeks) so I don’t know how these amazing women leave their families behind and come here to try and make better lives for the next generation. It must be incredibly difficult even in the absence of a potentially terminal illness.

She’s also going to shave her head too.


KS: There are many, many ways to raise awareness and funds. How did you decide to shave your head?

IC: We need a lot of money! So it needed to be something really extreme. I thought about a sponsored run as I’ve been long distance running for years, but I didn’t think that would have the necessary shock factor.

I want to make people really sit up and listen. Believe in our cause. It has to represent a personal sacrifice. I have about a foot and a half of hair that I reckon would take at least two years to grow back, and I am willing to whip the whole lot off and be a skinhead if it means this kid can not only live, but have the surgery he requires to live the life he would have had if cancer hadn’t come and run him over.


KS: How much money are you hoping to raise?

IC: Our target is USD100k. It’s very ambitious and I don’t expect to raise that, but it’s good to set your goals high! I have been truly amazed and humbled by people – friends and strangers alike – reaching out to help. This story has touched people. It’s something that could happen to any of us, at any time. If we don’t raise the target, my husband and I will pay the difference. Obviously, it would be great to raise as much as we possibly can but whether we achieve that target or not, Dave will get the treatment he needs.


KS: Where can people go to donate or show support?

IC: To donate, I have set up a page on Generosity (the charity sister site of the business crowdfunder Indiegogo) – link is here. We are also having a fundraising event TONIGHT (13 Jan. 2016) upstairs at Harry’s Boat Quay, from  9.15pm (ish) onwards. There’s a quiz which is at full capacity now but after that, the doors will be open. Harry’s is donating a percentage of F&B spend to us so the more the merrier!

Read more about Isabelle, Mariza and Dave’s story here.

By: Kathleen Siddell, January 2016

Photo: Isabelle Claisse


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