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Turning a charitable cheek for Bangladesh orphans

By Doug Snover

April 29, 2006

Zeshan Dhanani says his face annoys him. Shehran Islam still had “breakfast on my face” when he went to class the other day. Some of their friends say people they don’t know are coming up to them to ask questions.

Sheehan Alam was surprised that “a lot of my friends are saying that I look good.”

Apparently, it is a rare thing these days when a college man grows a beard.

About 15 young men at Arizona State University stopped shaving March 19, the last day of Spring Break. Most have vowed not to apply the razor until May 14, the last day of final exams.

It’s not a fraternity prank or stunt. The guys have good cause for growing their whiskers. Dhanani, the 2003 senior class president at Corona del Sol High School, explained.

“Dear Wrangler News,” the email letter began, “My name is Zeshan Dhanani. The reason I am contacting you is that my friends and I started a cause called Beards for Bangladesh, in which we are raising money for an orphanage in Bangladesh. We are collecting pledges of various amounts for however many days we can go without shaving.”

“We have a non-profit business account at Wells Fargo called Beards for Bangladesh, and anyone can go in and make a deposit into it,” Dhanani’s letter continued. “We are raising the funds for an orphanage called Agrasara, which cares for over 500 orphans. It is truly a great cause, as twenty dollars gives shelter, food, clothing, and medical care for a child for an entire month!”

The goal was to raise about $1,000 for the orphanage, according to Shehran Islam, who hatched the idea along with Ryan Islam. Both young men (not related) are sophomores with an eye on medical school after graduation.

And both their families are from Bangladesh.

Even Ryan’s younger brother – Robin Islam, a senior at Marcos de Niza High School – is participating.

Who would have guessed growing whiskers could be so lucrative? At the latest count, the beard growers had collected pledges for about $4,000, Shehran Islam said.

Hasan Chaudhry, a Pakistan native who came to Arizona in 1985, said the appeal is similar to the popular “walk for” charity drives. Here, sponsors pledge money to a participant for each day that he goes without shaving.

“What we are doing is basically very simple and very easy,” Chaudhry said. “It’s not that difficult. It’s just a method … to get people to pledge for every day that we don’t do something that we normally would do every day.”

Dhanani, an ASU junior whose parents both are from Pakistan, sees no confusion in raising money for an orphanage in Bangladesh.

“To me, we’re raising money for the orphans, and it’s borderless,” he said.

“It’s not just an excuse not to shave,” he said. “Actually, I can’t wait to shave it. It’s kind of annoying – all this facial hair just hanging from your face.”

But, “it’s been a great conversation starter,” said Dhanani, a future lawyer, who uses every question about his new beard as “a perfect opportunity to start talking about the cause.”

“I haven’t had to much negative reaction at all,” he says of his new look. “There is curiosity as to why I’m doing it. Once we tell them about the cause, it’s positive reactions.”

The beard-growers’ website -- -- includes photographs of the transformation from smooth-cheeked to hirsute.

It also links to a website for the orphanage, which was established in 1944 as World War II ended.

The awkwardly-translated website explains that the orphanage was “established … by His Holiness Most Venerable 24th Mahasnganayaka late Visuddhananda Mahathero, an Internationally Reported Humanitarian Leader and Supreme Patriarch of The Buddhist of Bangladesh, after the holy demise of his preceptor Agrasara Mahathero. It has been rendering manifold benevolent services for the suffering humanity especially for the most unfortunate destitute, helpless and parentless children irrespective caste creed and religion from the very beginning … .”

The orphanage “provides free food, shelter cloths and medicine along with free education from primary to higher secondary level. It also provides free general and technical education to the female students up to degree (Graduation) level who may stands on her own footing.”

According to the Beards for Bangladesh website, a $20 donation gives shelter, food, clothing, and medical care for a child for an entire month.

Dhanani works as a teller for the Wells Fargo Bank branch office in the ASU Memorial Union. He used his banking knowledge to set up the Beards for Bangladesh account.

His job may force him to cut short (pun intended!) his beard-growing effort, however.

Dhanani, who turns 21 on May 6, is headed to Cancun in the first week of May as a reward for being one of Wells Fargo’s top performers. He plans to face the Mexican sun with bare cheeks.

Shehran Islam plans to shave on May 14, the last day of the fund-raising drive.

“I most definitely am (shaving),” he said. “Living in Arizona it’s just ridiculous to keep something like this on your face when you don’t have to.”

He’d let his whiskers grow in the past, “but never to this extent,” he said. “For the most part, it’s just unkempt.”

“We started off thinking it’s a crazy idea,” Islam said. “But it’s a product they (sponsors) can’t refuse. It’s entertainment and a good cause.”

“We get to look ridiculous,” Islam said.

And some orphans in Bangladesh get food, clothing, shelter and an education.


Photo by David Stone


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