Deepavali may be a celebration of light triumphing over darkness, but Mr Logapreyan Renganathan found that to many low-income households, especially the elderly and single parents living in rental flats, it was a time of loneliness.
“Deepavali is a time when families get together. There’s lots of laughter, love and care given. Through my interactions with elderly, single-parent families living in rental flats, I realised that despite the support they receive, there’s a sense of loneliness. Some told me that they have not had a good Deepavali for a very long time,” the 44-year-old civil servant told The Pride.
Determined to bring festive cheer to needy families during this season, Mr Loga started knocking on doors in the lead-up to Deepavali in 2013, with little more than a sincere desire to help spruce up their homes for the festival.
It was a rocky start. An elderly woman, suspicious of his motives, shut the door on him. She was cross and wary, as a previous experience with volunteers from a company had left a bad taste in her mouth. Recalling the encounter, Mr Loga said, “She asked if I wanted to take photos, and despite me telling her that I just wanted to help clean up her house, she told me to leave.”
Rather than being disheartened, the incident reinforced his belief that volunteering should make an impact beyond a fleeting donation or CSR initiative. “We’re so quick to open our wallets, but I think giving time to invest in others is also something we need to learn.”
Wanting to help 20 of these families, Mr Loga took to Facebook to appeal to his friends and family. The response was overwhelming. Within 18 hours, a total of $14,500 in cash and kind was raised, far beyond the $2,000 target he had set out with. His supporters also threw their weight behind the initiative, helping to pack festive provisions for 54 homes and spring clean for some of the households.
Touched by the gesture of care, a beneficiary said to Mr Loga, “You light up my heart, and inevitably, you light up my home.” Her powerful words inspired him to keep the initiative going. Since then, one small act of love has evolved into a significant community initiative.
In the early years, packing was conducted at Mr Loga’s own living room, and his home became a makeshift warehouse when a generous donor contributed 200 bags of rice. Four years on today, help has come in many forms – from providing space for the mass packing of some 730 festive packs to the 168 folks who have offered their own vehicles to deliver the packs islandwide.
Wanting the deliveries to go beyond just a courier service, Mr Loga encourages the volunteers to interact with the families to understand them better. The friendships built has seen an estimated 10 to 20 volunteers even going back to visit these families in their own free time.
Many have returned to help out year after year, even bringing their families along. 22-year-old student M Vikneswaran has been involved with the initiative since its very start. After his parents donated 100 bottles of Murukku last year, he is now helping Mr Loga to co-ordinate donations of the traditional Indian snack for the upcoming Deepavali. The joyful reactions of the beneficiaries fuel his desire to help.
“Through the hugs they give you and how they bless you, you realise that you’ve done something good for them and it’s a feeling that doesn’t come around very often.”
With the view that volunteer work is a lifestyle, Loga believes a family that volunteers together, understands one another. As such, he consciously introduced his two daughters to volunteer work from a young age.
On their first visit to a beneficiary household as a family, the elderly couple embraced his daughters and overcome by emotions, began crying profusely. Despite not understanding a word of Tamil, Mr Loga’s daughters sensed the mixture of joy and pain behind their tears and were deeply affected. Initially worried that he may have exposed them to too much, he was heartened that after learning the significance of the elderly couple’s words, his daughters declared that they wanted to ensure their parents never ended up in the same situation.
That moment also crystallised certain values in them that go beyond the spirit of volunteerism. Mr Loga observed, “I see it when they come home and speak about their peers, how they’ve stood up for friends who were being bullied, or even themselves.”
This year, Lighting Hearts Lighting Homes is also working with MINDS and Cerebral Palsy Association to extend the initiative to their beneficiaries. In addition to the regular festive pack, these individuals will also receive useful toiletries such as adult pampers.
For volunteers who are unable to donate, there are alternative ways to make a difference. Close to 2,000 bottles of cookies and Murukku are being prepared across the island in the home kitchens of volunteers this year, each to be accompanied with a handwritten note offering messages of warmth and hope to the recipients.
Despite the impact that Lighting Hearts Lighting Homes has had on the community, Mr Loga insists that he has gained as much as he has given. The scale of his brainchild has expanded and the responsibility to oversee the project has gotten heavier. Yet, he never misses the opportunity to visit the families himself, keenly aware that any meaningful connection cannot do without a personal touch.
“The hugs and kisses, the tears of joy… They’re priceless. In no way am I under the illusion that I’m saving the world or saving them from any plight. I’m just giving them that short reprieve that somebody does care for them and that there is light and hope at the end of the tunnel.”
To learn more about Lighting Hearts Lighting Homes, visit the website.