The Festival Of Giving
DaanUtsav—an initiative that aims to spread generosity, kindness and compassion—celebrates 10 years this month.
It was an ordinary summer day in Goa. Pedestrians, shop owners, daily-wage labourers and city cleaners went about their day, trying to survive the oppressive heat. At midday, a small group of children, accompanied by volunteers from the NGO Spending Time and Reaping Smiles (STARS), showed up with three coolers filled with chilled juice and began offering the refreshing drink to everyone, free of cost. The joyful astonishment on the recipients’ faces delighted the kids and soon every drop was given away to the grateful passers-by. It was a simple offering but the children, and the strangers they helped, imbibed a valuable lesson---even a small act of giving can make a big difference.
In an age when virality is amongst the most admired of virtues, imagine if giving went viral? If there’s one thing that could make it possible, it’s DaanUtsav---the annual, open-to-all, celebration week (2 to 8 October) where people come together in a carnival of generosity and kindness to donate time, skills, money or resources to those in need.
Earlier called the Joy of Giving Week, DaanUtsav is the brainchild of a small group of volunteers and leaders from the non-profit sector, who got together in 2004 and developed the idea of a ‘national day of giving’.Although the concept generated much excitement, it was only in 2008 that serious planning could begin and the first DaanUtsav came to life in 2009. “Once the idea was revisited, it simply took off and soon expanded from a giving day to a giving week,” says Venkat Krishnan N., one of the volunteers involved in the initial stages of the event. What began as just an idea among a few like-minded folk, has today turned into a nationwide movement with several millions raised in funds and 500 volunteers across 200 Indian cities organizing 1,500 to 2,000 programmes and activities in collaboration with schools, colleges, NGOs, businesses, housing societies and government departments. This year’s event will mark the 10th anniversary of DaanUtsav.
This festival is unique in that it shifts focus from the person receiving a gift to the act of giving, and how it makes one feel. Reaching out to someone who needs your time, expertise or resources positively impacts your sense of self, boosts compassion and sets goals for generosity that soon become a part of your life. The festivities are deliberately devoid of a rigid framework, explains Krishnan. “There are at least 50 to 100 activities that are run by various organizations and groups.” These include collection drives, donation events, tree-planting, painting murals at railway stations and more. Sara Adhikari, founder and trustee of the NGO Small Change, and a DaanUtsav volunteer since 2013, adds, “We hope that in the near future, DaanUtsav becomes a part of the festival calendar in India like Diwali, Eid or Christmas—and we volunteers become redundant because people won’t need to be persuaded to give.”
“When I was a child, Independence Day was celebrated in homes and schools across the country. I see DaanUtsav there in the next 10 years,” says Mumbai-based Bharati Dasgupta, co-founder of the non-profit Catalysts for Social Action, and a DaanUtsav volunteer for the past three years. The 75-year-old retired professional firmly believes that anyone who joins the movement stays committed. The festival has also changed a lot of popular, but mistaken, perceptions about philanthropy. Donating one’s time or resources is no longer seen as the prerogative of the super-rich or businesses and their corporate social responsibility cells. As Priyanka Awasthy, another volunteer, puts it, “To participate, you need no permissions or contacts. The givers and receivers can be anyone and everyone. Even a slum-dweller will contribute a handful of grain. Just like any other popular festival, people participate because they enjoy it.”
Awasthy feels the festival’s raison d’être is “to help experience the joy of giving by making a difference in someone’s life. To some it could mean a contribution in kind, or it may be a labour of love. Others may just help by spreading the word. Every year brings newer and more innovative ways of giving.”
According to Aarti Madhusudan, one among hundreds of volunteers evangelizing the festival, the team behind DaanUtsav aims to launch a nationwide outreach programme to celebrate its 10th anniversary. This will include initiatives such as ‘A Fistful of Joy’, in which givers participate by donating a handful of grain to someone in need, and ‘Dil Ki Suno, Kuch Karo’ (Listen to Your Heart, Do Something)---a collection drive where people can donate clothes, utensils, food and money. The proceeds of the campaign are to be used by Goonj, a non-profit organization, for its rural development programmes.
Says a pleased Madhusudan, “The most amazing part of the festival is its organic growth … People read about the festival somewhere, hear about it in a conversation at another place and decide to experience it.” Here’s to the next decade of giving!