Shaving for Syria

New Mexico med student grows massive beard for charity

With a beard that’s over 600 days in the making, Kareem Shahin, OMS II, plans to shave his face this month to raise money for Syrian support charities.

Kareem Shahin could really use a shave.

In fact, the second-year osteopathic medical student at Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine (BCOM) in Las Cruces, New Mexico, hasn’t shaved since his first day of medical school in 2016.

What began as a lark turned into a mission, with Shahin deciding along the way that he was going to grow—and eventually shave—his beard, which is now over 600 days old, for a cause. Last month, he launched a fundraiser via Facebook asking friends, family and classmates for support for two organizations close to his heart: The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a medical relief organization dedicated to crisis relief in Syria and neighboring countries, and the Karam Foundation, which develops innovative education programs for Syrian refugee youth while distributing aid and fostering sustainable development for Syrians in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Shahin hopes to raise $5,000 for his causes through his campaign. He plans to shave his bushy beard this month, when he finishes his second year of med school, in an act of solidarity with the millions of people affected by Syria’s ongoing civil war.

In his Facebook shave-a-thon post, Shahin explained why he chose the two charities he picked: “They do fantastic work in two fields that are very near and dear to me: health care (SAMS) and education (Karam Foundation). If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of Syrians afflicted by the war or just think my beard is a disservice to humanity and think I should take it off, please consider donating! It would mean the world to me.”

Kareem Shahin, far right, and his fellow OMS II students at BCOM take a selfie celebrating the last day of their class. (Photo provided by Kareem Shahin, OMS II)

Home is where the heart is

Born to Syrian parents who emigrated to the U.S. during his father’s medical residency in the 1980s, Shahin, who is 27, and his two younger siblings spent many of their summers back in Damascus visiting friends and family. So when war broke out in his family’s homeland, Shahin felt a personal connection and a desire to help those whose lives were torn apart by the war, including those of his own family who have relocated around the world—from the U.S. to Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

“My grandparents and two aunts came to the U.S. in 2013 and 2014 because the situation in Syria was escalating and became too dangerous,” says Shahin.

2.0: Bigger, better, bolder beard

This isn’t Shahin’s first foray into growing a beard for charity. During his undergrad years at the University of California, Riverside, he grew his beard out for six months and decided instead of just shaving it off, he would raise money for a charity. He chose SAMS and raised over $1,500.

“This was before I was active on social media, so it was a small campaign aimed at family and friends,” says Shahin.

This time, with no end to the civil war in sight, Shahin knew he wanted to create a bigger, better version of his fundraising efforts. So, instead of six months, he grew his beard out for nearly two years.

The response from his classmates at BCOM has been resoundingly positive. “They’ve been super supportive,” says Shahin. “A little over 50 people have donated to date and I’m very thankful. It’s been an amazing experience.”

You can visit Shahin’s shave-a-thon fundraiser page here.

More BCOM student stories:

BCOM students cast in a Chris Hemsworth movie filming in New Mexico

We’ve come a long way, baby: Student life then and now

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