Pink Sari Inc: Seven years of pink power

A look back at the activities and achievements of the Pink Sari Inc, as it marks its seventh anniversary

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There was pink in every shade as the Pink Sari Inc ladies got together recently – and Margot Robbie’s new film Barbie had nothing to do with it.

Coming together were cancer carers and survivors as well as ambassadors, supporters and well-wishers of the much-loved community organisation Pink Sari Inc (PSI).

They were gathered to celebrate PSI’s seven rewarding years of community service in the cancer space. In this time, it has changed mindsets, broken down barriers, and successfully delivered innovative and culturally appropriate projects, in partnership with Cancer Institute of NSW and Multicultural Health Communication Services.

Pink Sari Inc
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Starting off as The Pink Sari Project with a very specific mandate – to improve breast cancer screening rates among South Asians – its core committee comprising Shantha Viswanathan, Anoop Johar, Dr Rugmini Venkatraman, Aparna Tijoriwala, Viji Dhayanathan and Rupa Parthasarathy has worked tirelessly over the last seven years to develop novel ideas to raise awareness, increase screening uptake and educate community about early detection, with ambassadors Dr Usha Salagame and Padmini Peris, providing advisory support.

The projects have included Portraits in Pink (a photo essay of breast cancer survivors picked from the community, in an endeavour delivered as Pink Sari Project), and Melodies (a nationwide song-writing contest urging women to self-check regularly).

The Melodies program saw them bring home an award from the Australian Multicultural Marketing Awards in 2017 in the Art and Culture category.

Pink Sari Inc
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The secret behind PSI’s success is undoubtedly the care and sensitivity with which its team approaches each project, and each individual, empathetically offering appropriate support.

This attitude stands out in its Beyond Pink initiative, which provides vital assistance for crucial but often overlooked linkages in the cancer journey – care for carers. Numerous on-line and in-person community outreach programs have been organised.

As Pink Sari Inc’s pink blush spread community-wide (its bright saris making the most vibrant pics from the Parramasala parade one year), the mainstream was getting wind too. An impressive presence followed at the Pink Test in 2019 at the invitation of the McGrath Foundation – it saw them splashed across the front pages of major Australian newspapers, resplendent in their silk saris.

Inspired by the success, PSI has also since forayed into screening and prevention of two other cancers – bowel cancer and cervical cancer.  The Pink Bus initiative on Mother’s Day, a fun bus ride to improve awareness of cervical cancer outcomes if detected and addressed early, was but one of the community outreach programs in this regard.

Pink Sari Inc
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PSI has also delivered much needed support for mental health programs, and Covid care.

The community-centric approach is the overarching method, whether the Pink Sari activity is creative writing, art, music and dance workshops, or even psychotherapy sessions designed and delivered to nurture mindful self-awareness, equipping participants with appropriate skills and coping strategies.

Acknowledging the vital contributions of various community members at the seventh birthday event, Aparna Tijoriwala highlighted some of the milestones of the seven-year journey and reiterated PSI’s aspirations to sustain and continue the good work.

To this end, PSI has won new grants from Cancer Institute. It will be leading a two-year-project CanInfo And Care, to establish itself as a channel for culturally sensitive information and support for a target population of persons of South Asian/Indian subcontinental origin who have been diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment, and for their carers.

The project activities are expected to include identification of the target population at several major cancer treatment hubs in Sydney’s west and South-west through a collaborative arrangement with these centres.

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Small group interactive sessions held both onsite and offsite to provide attendees with useful information and available resources in a culturally sensitive manner.

The PSI team are naturally excited and ready to fire.

“To the hard working, inspirational women, I express my deep gratitude for depth and dedication of your service. What started as a group became a movement, and is now a force. We are proud to walk alongside,” Tracey O‘ Brien, NSW Chief Cancer Officer and CEO, Cancer Institute NSW, stated, congratulating PSI on its remarkable journey.

Pink Sari Inc President Shantha Viswanathan said, “We are grateful to Cancer Institute for their support, the recognition from the service providers and the way the community has embraced us and the work we do. We are cognizant of the many challenges and tasks ahead of us to promote cancer screening  and prevention, lessening the impact of cancer and sustaining the momentum created so far.  Pink Sari Inc. exists because we are of the community, by the community and for the community.“

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She added, “PSI will continue to generate social awareness to create open and accepting communities.“

Clearly, pink is more than a colour for Shantha – it’s an attitude.

Lighting a candle on the occasion, Member for Liverpool Charishma Kaliyanda, one of the many ‘pinkaholics‘ present on the occasion, recounted her long-standing association with PSI and pledged support in coming years.

PSI also launched its new website to mark the occasion.

Follow their inspirational journey here.

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