CHENNAI: It is that time of the year when the entire country discovers the collective joy of giving. What is the country’s largest festival of giving has got a new and, perhaps, politically correct and indigenous nomenclature — Daan Utsav. To add native flavour, every State will additionally have a tag line in the local language. In Tamil Nadu, it is Daan Utsav, Kodduppom, Maghizhvom, from October 2 to 8.
Entirely volunteer driven and publicly owned, the festival provides a platform for every Indian desiring to reach out to the less privileged. In 2013, around three million people across 100 cities and towns in the country participated in 900 registered events from small to those involving a lakh, according to M Aarthi, a volunteer. “Everybody wants to do good at some point. This festival shows them how they can do it. And the benefit goes 100 per cent to the beneficiary and, of course, the giver,” she said at a media briefing here on Tuesday.
In Tamil Nadu, the activities ranged from a family inviting their daughter’s school van driver for lunch to a four-year-old kindergarten student emptying her piggy bank and donating her savings of `100. Add to that employees of a leading multinational volunteering their time to pick up garbage off the beach, to children in villages of Kanchipuram and Viruddhunagar districts engaging in annadaanam and hospital cleaning.
As the festival enters its sixth year, several interesting activities lie in wait for eager and service-minded volunteers. Selva Ganapathy, volunteer coordinator, is planning to mobilise volunteers to offer spoken English sessions in 50 public spaces in the city like parks, beach, railway station. “The small group sessions will primarily be aimed at vendors, auto drivers, and, in fact, any passerby to help them speak some basic conversational lines in English,” he said.
An interesting and unique initiative of the festival is the Children’s Parliament, where young children from villages and towns form themselves into a ‘mock parliament’ and address real concerns of the area they reside in. Take for instance, 18-year-old M Sasikala of Arunvayal village, Tiruvallur district. Presently a B Com student, she has been a volunteer since she was in the fifth standard.
This year, her parliament has ambitious plans: From a `1 campaign in every village, where the collection raised would go to charity, to children in the village helping rebuild the damaged home of a resident, to organising a sports/fun camp for all the kids from neighbouring villages. “We are also planning for a trophy that will be given to the parliament that did the most innovative giving activity,” she said.
Drivers of Makkal Auto will offer free rides to the elderly on any one day of the week. They will also participate in a blood donation drive.
Battle of Buffet
If the joy of giving is here, can the ‘Battle of the Buffet’ — a leading fundraiser for NGOs be far behind? “There will be corporate participation in the event that will see five-star and other hotels in the city coming together to offer a fundraising platform for NGOs,” said M Mahadevan, founder, Chennai Mission Trust. “The event raises over `2 crore for over 50 NGOs and is a zero-cost event for the NGOs,” he adds. A feast to the eye and palate will be a 1,000 kg photocake baked by French Loaf. All proceeds from the sale of the cake will go to charity. “Each kilo will cost `1,500 and the proceeds of `15 lakh will go to two NGOs,” Mahadevan said.
Interestingly, Sankara Eye Hospital, Pammal, has planned a ‘dinner with difference’ on October 8. It will involve guests who will be completely blindfolded from the start of the meal to finish. What is more, they will be seated next to strangers and will need to serve themselves from the buffet table. “The aim is to build empathy towards the issue of blindness,” said V Shankar, executive director, Sankara Eye Hospital.