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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Thursday, 15 October 2015 16:16

Gift Packs of Blessings for a Happy Deepavali

Written by  Yong Siew Lee & Yen Yu Chu, Melaka / Translated by Goh Hwe Yong

Tzu Chi volunteers giving out gift packs to pupils of SJK(T) Jasin. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

There were families that turned out in full force, waiting expectantly to receive their Deepavali gift packs; and there were some children, who did not know what to expect at their first participation. However, when the gift packs that were full of goodies were finally in their hands, happiness was all written on their faces. For these underprivileged families, to enjoy a happy festival was no more wishful thinking.


 
Since 1997, Tzu Chi Melaka has been giving study aid to needy school children to encourage them to study hard and continue schooling despite their families’ financial difficulty. The beneficiaries came from all races; and out of the students of all 18 Tamil primary schools in Melaka, 14 schools have benefitted.
 
Through years of interactions with school authorities, it was found that many school children from the low-income families were facing problems like lack of canteen money, and fees for transport and tuition. As such, they were forced to attend class in hunger, or worse still, stay away from school. This situation necessitated a “Happy Schooling Scheme” on the part of Tzu Chi. Hence, besides the study aid, some students also receive monthly transport fee and canteen money subsidies. Later, as a follow-up, second-hand computers were donated to the schools concerned, and school uniforms and shoes were given to students in need.
 
Deepavali is a grand annual festival for the Hindus; but this poor section of the Hindu community would face the dilemma of not being able to celebrate the festival due to poverty. To enable them to have the festive joy as others, Tzu Chi volunteers have, since 2013, started giving Deepavali gift packs to families whose children are receiving help under the Tzu Chi Study & Awards Scheme and Happy Schooling Scheme.
 
Gifts of joy
 
This year, on October 15, the volunteers left early in the morning for SJK(T) Ladang Bukit Asahan, located in remote areas of the state. The one-hour journey took volunteers through rubber estates and oil palm plantations. Half of the total student population of the school was from poor families. They were going to receive for the first time Deepavali gift packs besides the usual study aid. In the gift packs were carefully selected festive goodies, such as, ingredients for traditional Deepavali cookies and biscuits, curry powder, nutritious mixed nuts, cocoa beverage powder, biscuits, chocolates and fruit juices.
 
“The Deepavali festival should be a season of happy celebration for the whole family, but this is wishful thinking for some. So we made special collective efforts to distribute these gift packs in the hope that they could also enjoy a happy Deepavali,” said volunteer Saw Bee Tin.
 
The gift packs maybe very heavy for those small in stature, but all the same, they gave their happiest smile ever. As soon as they returned to their seats, they could not wait a moment to open the gifts. Sritharan’s eyes opened wide in excitement when he found chocolates among the gifts. He exclaimed, “I only get to eat chocolates once in a long, long… while! And I never had such a huge box of nicely packed chocolates before!” He added that he would wait until Deepavali day to enjoy the chocolates with his family.
 
Sritharan’s family consists of eight members. His father is a road surfacing labourer, while his mother is a dish-washing helper. With a meagre family income, life is a heavy burden, not to mention, the school fees to pay. It is natural then that chocolate is a luxury to them. It is natural also that Sritharan was so happy to receive such huge gifts, which would in a way relieve the family’s financial burden. When asked, he said he wished to become a doctor to save lives. Other children talked about their ambitions of joining the police force, or becoming teachers…
 
A gift of love
 
“We had never ever received this kind of aid. I am so thankful to Tzu Chi for this timely gift. I was almost in tears watching the footage of what Tzu Chi volunteers do. I hope that one day I would be able to join the voluntary work.”
 
Victoria a/p Manakunan and Vasu a/l Krishnan were at the Deepavali distribution event that took place at SJK(T) Jasin. As parents, they were there to witness students from 51 families receiving their gift packs, and they felt thankful deep down.
 
Their child, Jagathiswaran a/l Vasu passed the gifts to them after the ceremony. Upon reaching home, Victoria arranged carefully all the food items at one corner of the house. “Normally, we would have to spend RM300 to RM500 on food for Deepavali. I usually could afford only a small can of butter for daily use. There is a big can in the gift pack, and that would save me a lot of burden,” she said happily.
 
From study aid to family aid, love and care was extended
 
“My children were very happy to see their favourite food in the gift pack just now. So I arranged the gift items so that when the children get home, they would be very happy to see all these goodies,” she smiled as she imagined the excitement of the children upon their return.
 
Life is difficult for this family of six. Vasu is the bread winner, but his income as a rubber tapper and extra earning from occasional palm kennel harvesting work, is only a few hundred ringgit per month. Fortunately, Victoria is a good housekeeper, saving all she could to allow the family a decent life.
 
However, the fluctuations in rubber prices have affected the family substantially to the extent that there was no means to buy food sometimes; and Victoria was prepared to go hungry in order to feed her family. Vasu has not much choice in getting a job due to his level of education. The whole family was in dire straits at one point last year, when Vasu fell ill for a month. They were lucky to have help from relatives. This incident made Victoria realize that education is the only hope for a better future. Thus, she wants her children to be diligent in their studies, and is strict about it.
 
Victoria feels fortunate that three of her four children were able to get study aid for schooling. This has greatly reduced the burden on school expenses, and there was some extra left for rice and groceries, and children’s clothing. Recalling the footage she saw that morning during the distribution, she realized that there are still many others in similar predicament. She expressed, “May god bless Tzu Chi, so that many others like us would be helped too.”
 
Spreading love with a touch of Indian culture
 
For Tzu Chi volunteer, Ng Chui Pin, this was her third involvement in a Deepavali distribution. It was also the first time she took up the task of planning for the event. Using the experience of previous Deepavali distributions, she made a special arrangement by blending in some Indian colour of culture into the ceremony. This included a Tamil voice over of an animated film featuring the origin of Deepavali festival, lamp lighting ritual, and a news clip on Indian volunteers who reached out to needy people. Prior to the event, Kamala Dharuma Lingam, an Indian Tzu Chi volunteer, had also joined the discussions and contributed ideas on how to blend some Indian cultural touch into the event.
 
Chui Pin shared that the Great Love spirit portrayed in the movie is in line with Tzu Chi’s ideology, and the significance of the lamp lighting ceremony is also closely similar to “lighting-up the hearts” as propagated by Tzu Chi. The children were made to understand the meaning of compassion when they participated in the candle lighting. Through lighting the candle in his/her hand, followed by the lighting of the candle of the one next to him/her while saying, “I love you”, each child was made to see that love is to be shared, and that love and kindness are the guiding lights that lead them to a bright future. This was exactly the theme of Deepavali, which is to “let light rid the darkness, let the good defeat the evil”.
 
Love is to be expressed verbally, and though the children were a little shy about it, they did it all the same. With guidance from the volunteers, the children learnt to say aloud to their parents and teachers that they loved and respected them.
 
Teacher R. Sarasvathy from SJK(T) Ladang Bukit Asahan appreciated and greatly praised the well-designed and well-planned event. She shared, “The inert nature of human kindness could be rekindled, and so the children would be aware that they are able to help others more in need. It is good education for the children, while the gift packs take a load off the parents’ shoulders.”
 
 
Since October 15, Tzu Chi volunteers have been going to various Tamil primary schools to give out Deepavali gift packs. So far, they had been to nine schools, including SJK(T) Pekan Tebong, SJK(T) Ladang Bukit Asahan, SJK(T) Jasin and SJK(T) Alor Gajah. It is estimated that by November, 230 families would have benefitted from the event. Volunteers have actively involved themselves in the activity; some took leave from work and some made time to transform the well-wishes of the donating public into gift packs of love to be given as festive joy.
 
 
A day before the event, Kamala, an Indian volunteer, discussed with a fellow volunteer to ensure a smooth running of the forthcoming distribution ceremony. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]   Teacher Sarasvathy (1st right) appreciated the well-planned distribution ceremony. She is seen here discussing certain points of the event with volunteer Ng Chui Pin. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]

A day before the event, Kamala, an Indian volunteer, discussed with a fellow volunteer to ensure a smooth running of the forthcoming distribution ceremony. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
Teacher Sarasvathy (1st right) appreciated the well-planned distribution ceremony. She is seen here discussing certain points of the event with volunteer Ng Chui Pin. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]
 
Volunteers reached out to several Tamil primary schools to give away gift packs, and they held relevant activities with a touch of Indian culture. [Photograph by Teng Swee Ueng]   Through the candle lighting activity, young children learnt the meaning of light offering. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]

Volunteers reached out to several Tamil primary schools to give away gift packs, and they held relevant activities with a touch of Indian culture. [Photograph by Teng Swee Ueng]
 
 
Through the candle lighting activity, young children learnt the meaning of light offering. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]
 
Happiness was written all over Sritharan (front) and his friends’ faces. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]   Victoria (middle) was thankful for Tzu Chi’s gift pack that would enable her family to have a very happy Deepavali. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

Happiness was written all over Sritharan (front) and his friends’ faces. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]
 
 
Victoria (middle) was thankful for Tzu Chi’s gift pack that would enable her family to have a very happy Deepavali. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]