An Unseen Problem | Birthday Celebrations At Orphanages | What could be the solution?
By celebrating our birthdays at an orphanage, we make the orphans feel like orphans.
Why this post?
A few days ago I shared a post on Facebook talking about ‘How right is it to celebrate a birthday at an orphanage?’ In the post I talked about ‘Why do I not invite or accept people who want to celebrate birthdays at our learning centre with our children?’ The Facebook post generated an overwhelming response from people.
The discussion (on the post) led to something very important that changed my mind. I’ve decided to invite everyone to celebrate their birthdays with our children. Though we do not run an orphanage, we run an After School Learning Centre at Munirka Village and that is why I could relate to the Quora post.
About Centre for Education and Health Research Organization’s (CEHRO INDIA) Learning Centre
CEHRO INDIA is a registered non-profit organization based in Munirka Village, Delhi. In the learning centre we support 150 children from the first day of the school to the first day of the college focusing on their education and health and around 150 children through our bridging programs. We also run co-curricular activities such as Drama, Dance, Music, Sports, Art and Craft etc. The children who come to the learning centre are from varied social and economic backgrounds within a broad low-income segment. Some of the kids do not have biological parents and live with their close or distant relatives, few others have a single parent and still, few have both the parents but have a dismal economic condition at home. We try to make their time at the learning centre which is around 24 hours every week as interesting, productive and joyful as possible.
My experience with the birthday celebration at a Shelter Home
A lot of time, in centres such as ours, what happens is that we celebrate the birthday of some child/adult not a part of the centre as a grand occasion distributing various things to the children at the centre. The same centres either do not care or do not have resources to celebrate birthdays of all the children within the centre itself. I agree to the point that if a child is asked to attend a birthday party every week and never of his/her own then just imagine what kind of damage we can have to the child’s self-image. A particular instance I’ve witnessed this year could be described as such; parents of a 5-year-old child decided to celebrate their child’s birthday at a shelter home. The birthday child was all dressed up and the children from the shelter home were wearing whatever they had. It didn’t feel like they dressed up for the occasion. They were there just waiting for the chocolates, cake, and goodies coming to them during the celebration. Children wished and sang the usual happy birthday song while standing in a perfect circle, the birthday child and his parents, at the centre, with the cake. Later on, children sat down in the same circular arrangement and received goodies they were waiting for. The children are used to it as this happens almost twice a month there. Children look forward to it as the celebrations bring things which they do not get otherwise. It is a good day for them but over time it can impact in negative ways. The children will still sing happy birthday song but without joy and enthusiasm. A sense of disbelief appeared on their faces. I am not saying this is always the case but you must have got an idea that it can go wrong if not that particular day then later on.
Due to my own experiences so many times, I denied everyone who wanted to celebrate something at the centre we run. I took to Facebook to post about it when I came across the Quora post talking about the same thing. I quoted “By celebrating our birthdays at an orphanage, we make the orphans feel like orphans. Instead of celebrating your birthday with them, why not celebrate their birthday with them?’ It made perfect sense to me but I was also aware that by denying the birthday celebration I am also denying a day of some kind of happiness to my children and to the person who wants to do it. Not everyone wants to celebrate their or their closed one’s birthdays with someone else’s children. It is an appreciable intention and maybe in the process, we could harness support from various people for the education of the children at our centre. There were few questions that were raised both in the Quora post and in my Facebook post such as
- Should we change the way we celebrate birthdays at such centres or should we completely abandon the idea?
- Should we celebrate a grand birthday with expensive cakes and gifts or a humble one?
- Even if we decide to celebrate the birthday of one child at a particular place instead of ours then what about other children?
- Taking the example of our centre, how can somebody have time and resources to celebrate birthdays of 300 children?
To answer the first question, I was of the opinion that I won’t make happen such celebrations at our centre by refusing politely and by explaining my points to the kind and nice people who want to do it. There were mostly two reasons to not to engage with it first one was that it may push our children to feel jealous and neglected. The second one was about the impact it will have on our schedule and daily activities of children. I made a decision about my centre and I had very little opinions about what others should do. But then posting about it publically made people discuss it and the discussion led to an idea. Find a child whose birthday falls on the same date as yours or your loved ones. Celebrating both the birthdays together will be a win-win situation for everyone. I will call it a ‘Shared Birthday Celebration’ from now on. In this way, the child at the centre will be made to feel special and friends of him/her will be very enthusiastic about it. The idea struck me and I changed my mind that it is possible to celebrate birthdays without the harm done due to it. So the answer to the first question would be to continue the celebrations with some aberrations. I have found my aberration and you can think of yours or take mine and implement it.
For the second question, if we are doing Shared Birthday Celebration then I think there will be no problem in a comparatively grand celebration happening. This depends on the centre and the schedule it follows. It is not about how grand the celebration is but about the feelings people leave with (especially children) at the end of the day. In our particular case, we’ll take care of everything from the timing of the celebration, to space, gifts, and cakes. You do not have to worry about anything we will do it for you. You just have to prepare a list of things you want and provide us necessary funds; we will make the arrangements and provide you with the bills.
I will answer third and the fourth questions together from our context. After the idea of Shared Birthday Celebration stuck, we have noted down birthdays of each and every child at our centre. We have 203 odd dates to celebrate birthdays. We have decided that we will invite people to celebrate Shared Birthdays with us. We have also made one very important decision that we will celebrate the birthday of each and every child without fail whether anyone is joining us or not. We were celebrating birthdays of our children (thanks to our partner Flying Cakes for sending Birthday Cakes) in very humble ways from last five years but this is the first time we are going to invite others to it. So in this way, you do not have to worry about the celebration of birthdays for the rest of the children. You can celebrate one birthday with one child and hopefully, there will 202 other people who will celebrate their birthdays with other children; in the long and short run, it will make a positive impact.
How to participate in Shared Birthday Celebrations?
If you think it is a great idea and worth participating then please read a very simple process below. If you think it still needs improvement then please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or please inbox me. We would love to co-create something wonderful.
The process is very simple as described below;
- Fill up the interest form
- Discuss your requirements with us
- Attend the celebration
At the end, I would like to thank all the people who participated in the discussion and the people who are going to be the part of it. I would like to thank Rahul Gautam sir for bringing such important point and not taking things on the face value.
Let me know in case you run a similar center like ours and want to implement the same procedure and also if you’re interested in volunteer work.
#ShareTheJoy #ShareYourBirthday #SharedBirthdayCelebration
- To celebrate a birthday with us you do not necessarily need to invest any money or bring gifts. We are anyway going to celebrate birthdays of the children and you are invited. Just fill up the form so that we can get in touch with you.
- There will be restrictions in with respect to time and space. Once you fill up the form we’ll send you the document describing the restrictions.
- We are just inviting birthday celebrations. We’re not open to celebrations such as an anniversary yet.
Shiv is the core team member of Centre for Education and Health Research Organization. He executes and conceptualizes programs running at the after-school learning centre in Munirka Village, Delhi for CEHRO INDIA. Reach him at email@example.com
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