Christmas is the season for giving, sharing and spreading love. Almost all communities are engaged in some sort of giving during Christmas. Giving back to your community or society is as good for you as it is for those you are helping because giving gives you a purpose. Giving can take many forms. It can be your time, your energy, your expertise or even material goods.
This year in particular has been a harrowing year for Sri Lankans due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Just before the country went into lockdown we witnessed those less fortunate pawning their precious jewellery in order to buy a few grams of essential goods. Moved by the plight of those who have little or nothing, many people have been helping those less fortunate than themselves. In the run up to Christmas there were many appeals on social media inviting people to lend their support to various charity initiatives. Life spoke to Azhara Careem, Stefan Joachim and Dheeshana Amarasekera who individually initiated charity drives which provided goodies to those in need.
Azhara Careem who lives next to Dabare Mawatha in Colombo was moved to assist the helpless people in Dabare Mawatha when the area was locked down and put into isolation. Commenting on what prompted her to start the project, she says “many of them are daily income workers and are the most needy. This made me think why don’t I do something for my neighbours. My school motto is also 'We Scatter Light' and I thought what better to scatter light than to provide for those in desperate need.”
For Azahara giving those parcels to people who received them with tears in their eyes gave her and her team “immense satisfaction”
With the help of her family and cousins Azhara decided to embark on a herculean task of providing dry rations to 250 families. “We spoke to the Chief Incumbent of The Sri Gautham Vihare on Dabare Mawatha and he said he will give us his fullest support including PHI, Police and the manpower to distribute the goods, but we had to provide for 1160 families in that area, which was a huge task for us.” Azhara circulated an email amongst her family and friends both in Sri Lanka and abroad and was thrilled when the contributions started pouring in. “By the grace of God we were able to give each family Rice, Wheat flour, Sugar, Dhal, Noodles, Milk Powder and Tea leaves. Our task was made easy as we had generous sponsors and the other goods were given to us at cost price by the relevant companies.” For Azahara giving those parcels to people who received them with tears in their eyes gave her and her team “immense satisfaction” that they had fed families in need of food which is the basic need of humans that have no division of race or religion” Her belief she stresses is that by “sacrificing your own meal to someone in need fulfills ones hunger and more meaningful when you know that you have fed another person’s hunger.”
For Stefan Joachim who does not believe in charity, his philosophy is to share whatever he has with others who are a little less financially fortunate than he is. Stefan came up with an idea called ‘Operation Secret Santa” mainly because he did not want the receiver or the giver to be identified. Explaining why he decided on doing Operation Secret Santa, Stefan says “two years ago I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Rome because I was planning the wedding of Stephanie and Dushyanth. I met the Sisters of the Fraternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Bagnoregio. They truly inspired me with their kindness and their giving mentality. I wanted to do this project in their name.
2020 was also a year where it was the most trying for me personally and all I could think about was that if I found things difficult I couldn’t even comprehend what it must have been like for the people who were finding it difficult even at the best of times.”
His support network was wide with many people supporting the project in some way or another. His appeal on social media helped garner more support and even strangers who has seen the shared posts volunteered to drop off goods. “We wanted to make it festive rather than only basic staple food. So we had Breudhers or fruit cake or butter cake. Biscuits savoury and sweet. Milo, milk, puddings, jellies, Jam, fruit cordials marshmallows. Some had donated Soya, noodles and tea which we included as well. There were gift boxes also given to orphanages.”
“Doing this project made me feel massively fulfilled but it’s given me this strange energy to create something that is permanent. So many people have been in touch with me after this discussing how we can continue this project.”
For Stefan this is not a one off project, instead he wants to continue. “I would like very much for this to contribute to support the daily living and education of children. I’m also setting up an ANDRE ESTEFAN trust for children to be educated in the creative and technical field. I honestly believe that as a country on the whole from all governments to private donor organisations, we have inherited a beggar mentality where we are constantly looking at the international community with a begging bowl and a sad face. We have the power in our hands right here to help our own people. All it takes is for one family to commit to helping ONE child of another family. The total cost of that would probably be the price of a half decent bottle of wine on a weekend. There is no question about it. If we have the capability to do then without question we must do it.”
Hotelier Dheeshana Amarasekera was inspired to begin her initiative “Reverse Advent Calendar Giving Box" when she started to notice kids in her family and friend circles writing Christmas lists by November to fulfill their wish list. She explains “during this process I saw families indulge in treats and goodies and that inspired me to begin an initiative that expanded our circle of giving to include other families beyond our social circles. I also noticed that some families have advent calendars, where each day leading to Christmas, they wake up to receive small toys and chocolates. Children from a certain socio - economic group enjoy these gifts but sometimes have no value for how very special it is to receive. And I noticed too that sometimes kids and some adults also have no concept of someone else having less, but once they are made aware that someone needs their help, they are often very happy to share with other less fortunate families.”
“I thought this was an opportunity to expand our circle of giving to other families and communities who may not be able to spend on “gifts”. I believe teaching kids this valuable lesson of sharing joy is one of the most rewarding things you can give them. Our human nature is to love abundantly and share” she added.
We have the power in our hands right here to help our own people. All it takes is for one family to commit to helping ONE child of another family
Explaining the concept of the Reverse Advent Calendar Giving Box Dheeshana says “The Reverse Advent calendar is different because it switches the process, so that rather than taking something each day for yourself, you put something in a box for someone else. The Reverse Advent Giving Box is a perfect opportunity to teach your children not only the importance of giving, but to put love into action. I started this in 2017 and I am so happy to say that every Christmas since then, with the support of many beautiful people, I have managed to make Christmas a little extra special for some less fortunate communities.”
Dheeshana chooses a community who is struggling to afford the basics at Christmas time, either through a spiritual institution, charity organisations or community support group. In the 20 days leading close to Christmas, supporters are asked to get an empty box and each person in the family takes a turn to add an item from the recommended list to the box. At the end of it the box is wrapped up and delivered to a drop off point after which Dheeshana collects all the boxes and distributes them to the families at a Christmas Party!
This Christmas, the beneficiaries of Dheeshana’s project were the Pre Schoolers (age 3-5 years) at the Tiny T.E.A Preschool run by the TEA Project Hantana, who work to empower Sri Lankan children from poverty. They provide training, support and guidance to schools, orphanages and grass roots organisations; working directly with marginalised, vulnerable children and young people from poor communities. Parents of these children are estate workers who struggle to survive with poverty.
Commenting on the success of the initiative Dheeshana says “we had unbelievable support for this year’s Reverse Advent Calendar, we made more than 100 kids smile with joy this season! We were able to not only support the Tiny Tea Preschoolers but also support many other tiny little kids from other schools that work with The TEA Project Hantana! The Tiny Tea Preschoolers and their parents were speechless by the gifts and thoughtfulness that has been put to each box.”
Dheeshana sums up the spirit of giving by saying “There is no greater way to live a life than be of service to the less fortunate and to create even one smile, one moment of magic in their lives. “