Big-hearted people in Madurai ensure that Festival of Lights is celebrated at orphanages and old age homes

When asked what their favourite festival was, the reply from the 40 children at Bethany Children’s Home near Kalavasal was unanimous: “Deepavali,” they shout in unison with shining eyes and wide smiles.

The festival of lights sees crowded textile shops and jewellery stores and most people are constantly planning on what to buy next and thinking of how to grandly celebrate the festival.

For the many people who can only dream of a celebration, big-hearted people in the city are seeing to that festivities take place in the many orphanages, justifying the spirit of the joy of giving.

Most orphanages and homes for children have a long list of requirements during Deepavali — oil for the auspicious oil bath, provisions for special meals, sweets, crackers for the children and new dresses. “Since all the children here go to school, they know how the other children in their classes celebrate with their families. We have to make sure that they are not deprived of anything during Deepavali and ensure that they are just as happy as anybody else and get to partake in all the festivities,” says Joseph Benziger, founder of Bethany Children’s Home

The home which houses orphans and destitute children has been able to celebrate a grand Deepavali in the past decade thanks to generous donors and sponsors. “We had three special meals on Deepavali last year and received new dresses and crackers,” recalls S. Muthupandi, a student of class VI at the home.

Not the first choice

Old age homes are, however, not the first choice for many people during a celebration. “Most people prefer to commemorate sober events such as death anniversaries by sponsoring a meal. We get very few requests from people who want to celebrate their birthdays or such festivals with the elderly,” rues K.V. Vijaya Praksh, Manager at HelpAge India, Madurai.

“If people visited the home and spent time with the inmates during festivals and birthdays, the celebration will bring them happiness and we hope more people consider spending Deepavali with old age home inmates,” he says.

Most old age homes, however, prefer contributions in the form of financial aid or groceries. “When people chose to distribute sweet boxes during Deepavali or bring rich food, they overlook the fact that many inmates are diabetics while others cannot eat spicy food,” explains Mr. Prakash.

“Financial aid or provisions can ensure that a healthy meal is cooked according to the requirements of the inmates. Provisions can also be used over a period of time,” he adds.

While a few Trusts and homes are able to afford advertisements and pamphlets during festive occasions, a few others say that maintaining websites and posting contact details online has helped benefactors find them. “We maintain a functional website for the home as well as have our contact details listed on an online directory. Many of our donors have found us on our website and we haven’t had the need to advertise,” said Mr. Joseph.

Many organisations maintain a detailed record of donors from the past and send out letters during the festive season. Organisations such as HelpAge India maintain a detailed list of old age homes in the city. “When we get calls from people willing to donate fund or provisions, we put them across to old age homes as people aren’t sure of the homes in the city or where they’re located,” explains Mr. Prakash.

While some people offer to sponsor a meal during the day in advance, many others offer to bring food or sweets and distribute them to children in the city orphanages or inmates at the old age homes. “Many chose to come in person and distribute the food and sweets to the children and inmates as well as partake in celebrations with them since they feel immensely happy to see the joy on the children’s faces,” says Pauline Rani, Managing Trustee of Pneuma Trust, a home for orphans and abandoned children.

“We encourage people to come directly as well. While we do have benefactors who donate and sponsor, many do believe coming as a family and especially bringing along their children is valuable,” she explains.

Echoing her point, a class VIII student from a children’s home in the city says visitors who came to the home last Deepavali celebrated by bursting crackers with them and that they had a great time.

Making cards

The children at Bethany Home have already started to paint and make colourful greeting cards for their school friends and neighbours. “We also give them to people who come and visit us on Deepavali,” says a child as he confidently holds up a stack of cards made for the people who are going to brighten up his day.