A group called Rasta spreads joy on Christmas day every year by playing Santa for street kids.
For most of us, Santa Claus might look like a portly old man, riding on a sleigh with a red suit and snow-white beard, but for most street kids in Mumbai, Santa might look like a bunch of 30-something youngsters that drive cars full of goodie bags.
Rasta — a journey towards smiles, is an initiative taken up by a group of friends in Mumbai who come together every year to play Santa for the street kids. Two friends — Neha Lohia and Rehmat Abdul — who wanted to do something good for society, started this initiative in 2014. As they gear up for their fifth year today, Rehmat tells us about how it all came about, “We initially thought of reaching out to children in NGOs and organisations that worked for the underprivileged. But then we realised a lot of people contribute to NGOs either way. It is the children on the street that often get left out. So we wanted to go out on the streets and experience this joy of giving. That's also why we call our group Rasta.”
Food is man's basic need and there could be no better way to celebrate Christmas than to feed hungry children and put a smile on their faces. This year, 15-20 volunteers that helped them with cash contributions, packing, and distribution, joined the duo. “Hunger is something that is man's basic necessity, so the basic idea is to try and cater to the people on streets and spread a little festive joy,” says Rehmat.
This year, the goodie bags will include a soft drink, noodles, cookie cakes, cornflakes, Cadbury bars, cookies, dal, rice, theplas, fruits, chikki, and more. "We always try and give something healthy and add in some sweets because kids must feel happy receiving them. There's also a small toy we put in every year, this year we put in toy cameras.”
With the contributions collected this year, the group has managed to collect goodies for around 150 street kids. While they have no specific areas, they usually start from Kandivali and drive right up to Churchgate, “Last year, we went through the entire Chembur route. We also go under bridges, on the Western Express Highway or wherever we find children,” shares Rehmat.
Since these bunch of Mumbaikars are not government recognised or registered, they also have to be mindful of what goes into these bags, “we really contemplate about what items go into the bag. The intention is good, but we cannot risk the health of these kids. We can't give them glue or something like toothpaste that they would end up eating.”
Most of the times, the distribution does get chaotic. Here children get anxious and management can become a problem. “A few times people from our group have been mauled because everyone wants to grab the goodie bag before the other. But we come prepared for this.”
The only message team Rasta has for fellow Mumbaikars is to contribute to society in their own way, "Our only aim of doing this is to tell people that you don't have to do something big. Everyone can start by doing this in their own area and give something back to the community."