[RECAP] OtherHalf Stem Cell Project

By Claudia Chan

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Did I know anything about stem cells before volunteering with Other Half? Being a science student, I would like to think that I did. But truthfully, I probably knew the same amount as the general public, which unfortunately is not very much. Volunteering with OtherHalf-Chinese Stem Cell Initiative not only taught me what stem cells are, but why organizations like itself are so important.

Why is an organization like OtherHalf so important?

Other Half is dedicated to closing the gap of Chinese under-representation in the global stem cell donor registry by educating the Chinese, and everyone on stem cell donation. I definitely learnt a lot more about stem cells after volunteering! Getting a stem cell match is not as easy as a blood match. In fact, there is only about a 1/750 000 chance in getting a match! However, there is a greater chance of getting a match when it is, for example, between a Chinese patient and a Chinese donor! It is crucial to have a diversity of stem cell donors in the registry that reflect the ethnic demographics of patients in need.

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One team had the job of getting potential donors to come sit down at the booth and register. It was a combination of nicely approaching anyone on Granville Street — holding pamphlets, giving a quick pitch, and marching down the streets with big posters screaming “BE A REAL LIFE HERO”. It was about going up to anyone, and asking if they could take a little bit of their time to be a hope — a hero for someone. Getting the message out was the first step in creating hope for patients. I believe that even if people did not get the chance to register at our booth or quickly walked past our enthusiastic team of poster holders and slogan screamers, we got the message out and spread the awareness. The importance is at least in the back of their heads waiting for them to take action.

The second team stayed at the booth to help registration run smoothly by ensuring that all the essential information is filled out in the forms. They also demonstrated how to swab the cheek cells for data collection. That’s it! The whole process only takes 5 minutes! (Not to mention the free candy and wristband at the souvenir table for all those real life heroes too).

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Over the Labor Day weekend, several Rovers came out to TaiwanFest to volunteer with OtherHalf. Maybe we came out to volunteer for different reasons, perhaps to improve our communication skills or even to enjoy the festivities of Downtown Vancouver. But at the end of the day, I believe we can all agree that it was more than walking around the streets speaking to strangers. It was delivering a very important message that is simply not being heard enough. It was experiencing the sense of teamwork and community. It was discovering the kind hearts of many people who were willing to take five minutes out of their day to understand what a great cause OtherHalf is, to take the initiative to become a real life hero.

For many patients, stem cell transplant is the last and best chance for survival. By the end of the weekend, 187 people registered to be a stem cell donor that weekend. That means 187 more chances. It means more hope for patients and for their families. Let’s continue to raise that number.

A group shot of the Saturday Team!

A group shot of the Saturday Team!

For more information on OtherHalf and the event, check out our interviews — with Gaby Li, the project manager, and Mandy Pui, a volunteer from the OtherHalf.

Sandra Lee

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