Samuel, studying in class 10, is happy that this year Santa brought him a new set of clothes. But unlike the traditional beard and red hat-toting Santa, his Santa was a code-crunching software professional at Infosys Limited.
This year, around 2000 children like Samuel from orphanages across the state of Tamil Nadu and two orphanages from Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, got their Christmas wishes fulfilled.
This was thanks to the ‘Become a Santa’ initiative of Sneham, the Corporate Social Responsibility wing of Infosys Limited.
What started seven years back has now become a flagship program for Sneham. A few weeks before Christmas, the Sneham volunteers go out to orphanages and collect the wishes of the children. The wishes are mostly for new clothes. Children also wish for items like footballs, cricket bats, GK books and dictionaries. (More here)
These wishes are fulfilled by the employees, who ‘Become a Santa’ to the kids by buying these gifts and dropping them off at the building collection boxes. The gifts are finally consolidated and sent out through various channels to the orphanages.
“This year we developed a portal through which employees can choose which wish to fulfill, see the kid’s photo and other details, and get acknowledgements at each point in the process,” said Sri Vidya Manoharan, a core member of Sneham.
What are the criteria based on which orphanages are selected? “This year, we zeroed in on the beneficiaries only after careful consideration. We selected only orphanages which did not have a website or any other funding and having less than 50 kids,” said Deepak Chakravarthy, one of the organizers of the Become a Santa program.
An employee goes to visit each orphanage under consideration and only after verifying in person that they are indeed in need, wishes of the children are considered.
Treading carefully while selecting orphanages is a lesson learnt from sour experience. In some cases, several orphanage administrators misuse the privilege and ‘order’ gifts for kids who are their relatives and not even part of the orphanage.
“Due to these incidents, we brought down the wishes fulfilled from 5000 last year to 2000 this year. But we have scrutinized and ensured that a very stringent verification process is followed, and only the deserving kids get gifts,” added Deepak.
Celebrating birthdays of the kids born on Christmas
“We have been receiving gifts for three years now, and we are very happy. Last year there was a minor hiccup and about ten children did not get their wish fulfilled, but finally the volunteers arranged alternate gifts and ensured that every child in the orphanage got a gift,” said Franklin Anantaraj, who runs Sirumalargal Home Orphanage in Chengalpet.
“There were some cases where even after repeated reminders a few employees would not drop off their gifts. In such cases, we buy the gifts to ensure that no child goes without a gift,” explained Ilamurugan Kailasam, one of the volunteers.
Samuel’s shy smile and the sparks of happiness in each of the 2000 kids are infectious and ring in the joyful mood of the festive season. The employees, on the other hand, smile through their invisible Santa beards for having played Santa to the deprived children. ‘Become a Santa’ has indeed ripened into a win-win situation. What better way to celebrate the festive mood than to celebrate the joy of giving?