They looked a bit disheveled at first, but midway through the Movember Foundation campaign all of the participants are beginning to get a pronounced upper lip.
"I had not expected that there would be such a response," said Geir Mathiassen. "The response was limited when I first hung the posting, but on Saturday it took off with a bang."
On Oct. 30, he used a razor to let his mustache start anew. Most of the other residents subsequently followed and now there are 17 of them walking around with Movember mustaches in the world's northernmost village.
Arild Domaas, a spokesman for the Norwegian Cancer Society, said they were shooting for a record to generate awareness.
"Last year we had the world's oldest Movember mustache with Carl Falck at 108 years and this year we wanted to set a new record," he said. "Therefore I checked around a little on Svalbard and got lucky with the Norwegian Mapping Authority."
Now there are Norwegians, Chinese, Germans and Frenchmen walking around with beards in Ny-Alesund, Mathiassen said.
Is the total of new mustache growers confirmed statistically?
"Yes, I'd have to say that. I think there are just two or three that are not included. They had a long beard and wanted to keep it, and some come and some go. But those who are included will all be here for the entire period," said Mathiassen, who was designated head of the local campaign by the mapping authority, which he works for, who told him it would be easier to generate publicity by emphasizing the participation at 79 degrees latitude north.
Mathiassen agreed and the mapping authority donated 5,000 kroner to the campaign, which is a worldwide event.
The goal of Movember is to draw attention to prostate and testicular cancer, and mental health. Prostate and testicular cancer has major health and quality of life consequences. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men worldwide and the number of cases is expected to double to nearly 1.7 million by 2030. Men also cope with mental health problems worse than women, and 65 percent of all suicides are committed by men, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
"This is not just an issue for men," the Movember Foundation states at its website. "In order to tackle the problem and work towards a world where future generations of men are not faced with the same issues as today, we need to take action at both an individual and community level. This means engaging men and women, businesses, sporting groups, community organizations, governments, health policy makers and healthcare providers in the efforts to reduce the current gender inequality in health outcomes."
Lost a brother
Mathiassen lost a brother due to lung cancer. He emphasized, however, that loss isn't the main reason he's participating in the campaign; rather, he's hoping to raise awareness about prostate cancer.
"But I had that in the back of my mind," he said. "I compare the campaign with the pink ribbon campaign against breast cancer, and then it's also kind of neat to have something to joke about during the dark season."
What does he think about the mustaches?
"I definitely notice them. These are people who have not had mustaches before," said Mathiassen, who's originally from the Lenvik area and has been in Svalbard since 2001, first with Telenor and, since 2008, at the mapping authority's geodesy station.
Translated by Mark Sabbatini