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Holding Little Hands

December 2017 NGO Patient Care

Holding Little Hands

CanKids not only cares for little children suffering from cancer but supports their families in order to create a more inclusive society

By Anjali Kurup

Poonam Bagai, the founder of CanKids, always knew that she wanted to do something for the general good. Diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 38, Bagai, haunted by the fear of death, went through a phase of deep depression. Once she got past that phase, she swore to be a terrific mother to both her children and to serve cancer-afflicted kids in the world if she survived the disease. Together with Sonal Sharma, also a cancer survivor, she decided to support families facing this terrible disease. Thus was born CanKids in January 2004, under the aegis of the Delhi branch of the Indian Cancer Society. The NGO takes care of kids suffering from cancer and aims at creating a more inclusive society that is sensitive to the needs of cancer-afflicted children.

CanKids: The Story

Holding Little Hands 1
CanKids Founder, Poonam Bagai
  • Founded by Poonam Bagai in January 2004
  • Works under the Delhi branch of the Indian Cancer Society
  • Set up the country’s first pediatric palliative care unit
  • Formed Canshala, a school in Mumbai for children with cancer
  • USP: Supports both cancer patients and their families

Their motto: Because you are able, you can. Begun first at AIIMS in New Delhi, CanKids is now active in 45 cancer hospitals. “Our team has grown to a size of over 400 people, including staff and volunteers,” says Bagai, reflecting on the growth of her NGO. “We have set up many sustainable low-cost models of support including the ‘Home Away’. We can boast of the only pediatric palliative care center in the country and a special school in Mumbai for children with cancer called Canshala.” CanKids has set itself apart from other NGOs, not just providing treatment for cancer patients but also supporting their families in a time of distress. One of their key awareness programmes is to make people understand that cancer is curable if detected early and treated promptly at a cancer center. Bagai’s guiding motivation includes her own journey of overcoming cancer.

“India is a country of a million causes. Pick a cause. Make it yours. Believe you can make a difference. Reach out and find other like-minded people.”

Poonam Bagai

On returning to India after her cancer treatment, Bagai volunteered at Cancer Sahayog (the emotional support centre of the Indian Cancer Society), at CanSupport, which provides palliative care, and a youth initiative known as Kidscan Konnect, which constitutes teenage and young adults who are childhood cancer survivors, their siblings, and friends. “We encourage young people who want to make a difference to join Kidscan Konnect,” says Bagai, who is also the vice-chairperson of Pallium India and a board member of Childhood Cancer International, an umbrella organization of the 188-member organization CanKids. CanKids includes parents of children with cancer, survivors of childhood cancer, school and college students as well as adults who want to give back something to the society and make a difference. CanKids has a strong volunteer program. Every summer, it runs a summer volunteer and internship program, encouraging young people from India and overseas to volunteer or to intern with them.

Holding Little Hands 2
Poonam Bagai, spending quality time with the kids

“India is a country of a million causes,” says Bagai. “Pick a cause. Make it yours. Believe you can make a difference. Reach out and find other like-minded people. Work hard, systematically and structurally. From there, you can make a difference to whatever you choose to,” speaks the woman who has successfully walked her talk.

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