Giving for the love of it

2011-10-03 00:00

OURS is a world of taking. We have forgotten the gesture of giving. The world of giving has become corporatised. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and I suppose many organsations would have to close their doors to the needy if it were not for these philanthropist companies. But there remains a nagging suspicion that these large companies give in large part because tax breaks are offered on donations. They give in the name of corporate social investment to add a bit of shine to their image. In short, many give because it has become a euphemism for advertising. I am also reminded of Nelson Mandela’s birthday. On his birthday, newspapers are full of stories about celebrities “giving” by going on bike tours of South Africa and painting a school for 67 minutes, for example. I suppose this is well and good, but giving is about sacrifice, not enjoying yourself on what is essentially just a bike trip. Well, at least that’s the way I understand it.

And I am happy to say that there are others like me, who still remember the essence of the term giving. One such person is my neighbour, Uncle Suresh Ramsundar. He is, strictly speaking, my Dad’s neighbour, but when I had a burglary at my house and my family were in Port Shepstone, it was “my neighbour” who helped me.

And he has not only helped me in his 72 years on this Earth; for the last decade, he has been giving through an organisation he founded, God’s Glory Feeding Foundation. Over a card game called Thunee, he and his extended family were talking about the forgotten people of society. How their numbers had swelled in a period when people thought their lives would improve. They were concerned about the burgeoning numbers that found themselves in old-age homes, the orphaned children, the frail. People who had literally been given away by their families. This culture must have been alien to Uncle Suresh. His mum lived out her century visiting her many children for protracted periods, as my grandparents lived with us until they died.

And so, with just R500 collected over a game of Thunee, they decided to start feeding the forgotten. In their first year, they feed a mere 50 people. Humble beginnings yes, but it was a start. Like all great ideas, it needed a leap of faith. And commitment. Ten years later, they fed 1 200 people. No matter how much the heart specialists tell Uncle Suresh to slow down, he and his dedicated team are committed to the cause.

Now I know God’s Glory sounds like an organisation for christians. But in the words of Uncle Suresh: “we transcend race and religion…we are an organisation founded on love…for all mankind.” Of course, being a doubting Thomas, I was skeptical. Until he invited me for their gala dinner last year. True to his word, I saw it for myself — black, brown, white; abled/ disabled; mentally and physically challenged; the blind and the deaf.

Their act of giving is now an annual affair, a dinner held on one night. For many people, it might be a tedious evening. It goes on for about three to four hours. But it is an evening not about us. It is an evening for the forgotten — when they get a chance to see that people care, are willing to hear them sing, dance, act. When they are handed presents and have a sumptuous meal. And it must be a highlight for many of these people who feel forgotten by loved ones and society in general.

All of this is made possible by people who don’t ask for glory. Not by local government, not by the Lotto. They give of their time, money and expertise because they understand the genesis of the word “giving”. These are people I don’t know, but without whom the event could not take place: members of TPA who serve the food; Mahesh Sewcharran for décor; Pravin Singh for the disco; Moira Patak who does the décor for the tables; Indrani Moodley for the table cloths; Mrs Bridgelall for tables and chairs; Anup Jhagroo for the fairy lighting. All these people, and the 35 faithful who collect money during the year to feed the forgotten, are the unsung heroes of the evening. They don’t ask that they be featured on Top Billing; they get no tax breaks — they do it out of love.

One day, when I say my goodbyes to Uncle Suresh as he lies in his coffin, I will think back to a man who would lay out a large table of documents in the sun during winter. Planning for God’s Glory’s vision of feeding the forgotten. And to ward off the winter chill, no doubt. And how he would, hours later, warm the engine of his 20-year- old Honda Ballade before setting off to cajole money out of those more fortunate, yet kind enough to care about those less fortunate. But most of all I will remember a man who warmed the hearts of thousands in the winter of their lives. Even if it was for just a moment – at least they knew, someone cared, they were not forgotten. If God’s glory could work through all of us in this way, the world will be a better place.

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