Picture this: as you walk around in a mall you come across a personable youngster carrying a poster that says ‘Do you want a hug!’ What would you do? Probably shy away at first, and wonder what the catch is?
Then you see someone accept a tentative hug from him, feel reassured, and rush in to receive a bear hug from the youngster.
This is the scenario that a group of Dubai residents – Rohit Sharma, 23, Hardeep Singh, 23, Robson Correa, 24, Shweta Pujari, 25 and Sabah Beloushi, 25 – envision when they set about putting this particular Pink Mango project into action in the coming months.
So, what is the Pink Mango Project, and why are these youngsters spending their time and money to make it happen?
‘The Pink Mango Project is nothing but a celebration of life, organising events to spread happiness,’ says Rohit, who along with Hardeep first initiated it, and keeps it going. ‘Dubai has different nationalities, different cultures, and the UAE is said to be one of the world’s happiest nations. We just want to carry it forward. The idea is to bring the synergy back into the system.’ The genesis of the project, which was showcased in a television programme Salaam Namaste UAE on Rishtey Asia TV in April this year, goes back to when as a student of the Manipal University in Dubai, Rohit used to volunteer with the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR, at Humanitarian City.
‘That stint was a life-changing experience for me,’ Rohit says. ‘The refugees used to come from all conflict zones in the region. Meeting and interacting with them changed me. There were also training sessions where we were taught to do all the basic necessities when you are in a disaster zone. It was an eye-opener for me and has stayed with me ever since. That’s what has sensitised me towards the needs of others.’
Rohit wanted to continue there, but was unable to due to financial issues. ‘I had to take up a job, but the idea of helping others had taken hold,’ he says. So, when his friend Hardeep told him about an India-based charity he was involved with that provided financial support to families in villages to help sustain themselves and educate their children, an idea began to form in Rohit’s mind.
‘Hardeep chanced upon two families in Dubai that had lost their earning member, the father. They were stuck in limbo. They were trying to get in touch with charity institutions to fund them. So we decided to fund their monthly expenses, which came up to about Dh3,500.
‘Since we all earn a decent salary and don’t have many financial responsibilities, we decided to fund the families on our own steam since last August. These families are getting financially more secure now, but we wanted to give them some breathing space.’
That marked a beginning of sorts for the Pink Mango Project.
Why Pink Mango? ‘Well, pink is a very attractive colour, and mango is a fruit that is liked by and accessible to most people!’ says Rohit.
In January, the project took off on a larger scale with a weekend programme for 100 labourers from Sharjah. ‘We just wanted to do something locally, so we focused on the idea of happiness because it’s a very basic thing to deliver to anyone, it’s easy and at the end of the day it’s just a random moment that gives you pleasure,’ says Rohit. ‘We got in touch with some close friends of mine – Sabah, Shweta and Robson – as we wanted to finance it out of our own pockets. And before we realised it, we had enough to launch our first initiative.’
Rohit had a reason for choosing to take labourers out. ‘I had an uncle who used to stay in a labour accommodation some years back. Every Friday we used to go to meet him, and take him out with us. He was lucky he had relatives who could bail him out. We used to see the other labourers line up to play carom at a single board they had there at that large camp. They did not have the option of going out, because of transportation and finance issues. They would just mill around, with the more fortunate calling their loved ones back home. I saw the life they led through my uncle, and wanted to give them a break.’
Rohit and his friends got in touch with Novo Engineering, a company that had 107 staff staying in camps in Sharjah, to take them to Burj Khalifa on one morning in February. ‘We negotiated a discount with Emaar on tickets to At The Top. We hired two buses from Millennium Transports to take them around, and when they heard about our project they gave us a discount too. That was the best thing about it, everybody was very sympathetic and encouraging.
‘We were there at the camp by 8.30am, and their supervisor told us they were already ready by 7, waiting eagerly for us! We made special T-shirts for them to wear on the trip, and several of them ran up to us when they saw us struggling with the packets. They were surprised, and overjoyed, and that was the beginning of their day of surprises. Their enthusiasm was contagious and they were like little kids on an outing.’
After the At The Top visit, the men were taken to The Dubai Mall for prayers and then to The Walk at JBR for lunch at Barbecue Delights. ‘The restaurant provided us with a special buffet at a discounted price.’
The group also tied up with The Walk cinemas for discounted tickets to a Hindi film, Airlift. ‘They provided us with popcorn and drinks, and when we took the men back to their camp at the end of the day, the look of gratitude on their faces said it all,’ says Rohit.
‘It’s not something that you can describe, you have to be there to see it, feel the emotions. It cost us Dh24,000, and wiped out our savings for the month, but the look on their faces was worth it. We all felt it. After we had sent them off on the buses to the camp, and we gathered at the cinema, we couldn’t talk, we just sat there, lost in the moment.’ And that first effort was to cement the project further. ‘My friends who were part of this effort were like, wow! It fully sunk in that our little bits of savings could add up to something big – the possibilities seemed endless. That single thought, emotion and feeling that we felt then is what drives us even now.’
The Pink Mango Project’s second programme was held on March 20, which was also World Happiness Day. ‘It was a great opportunity for us to go out there and spread some love and happiness. We decided to target a general audience this time, and chose some locations to do it from. We tied up with Meraas Holdings to hold the event at The Beach and The Walk cinemas at JBR, which are common weekend spots where people turn up.’
They chose yellow as the colour of happiness, tagged it the Yellow Project and sourced a company that supplied small yellow rubber stress balls with the smile emoji. ‘We also bought 3,000 roses from a supplier in Sharjah. The idea was random moments of surprise and happiness – if you get something you are not expecting and it brings a smile to your face, that’s happiness.’
The five friends loaded their car boots with the stress balls and roses, drove to various locations around town and handed them out to perfect strangers. ‘It was lovely!’ says Rohit. ‘It was different from our first event. There were some funny moments too – some husbands asked us to present their wives with roses! It cost us around Dh8,000, and was worth every dirham.’
The events, or projects as the group prefers to call them, are so few and far between because they refuse to accept sponsorship. ‘We want to keep this private because we feel sponsors would take over the effort completely eventually. Also, happiness is a tricky thing, and can be commercialised by sponsorship. We’d rather keep it small and personalised. We don’t want to be dependent on anyone.’
The group usually meets on Saturdays at some coffee shop, and brainstorms their projects. The free-hug idea they came up with recently was based on the Hindi film Munna Bhai MBBS.
Another idea they want to implement soon is the ‘Before I die’ project. ‘This is a global public art project that invites people to reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations in a public space,’ says Rohit.
The idea is to have a massive chalk wall at an open area where people can just chalk down their wants and aspirations in life.
‘We will be seeking volunteers to help maintain the wall as it will be active for one month and is expected to be the biggest of its kind,’ says Rohit. ‘We are again trying to reach out to the common man, aiming to base a synergy within the society we live in. We believe that with events like this; more than anything else, it makes people feel more important and connected to society and makes them contribute even more towards its prosperity and development.
‘A simple thought – what you want to do before you die – and it brings joy and creates a lot of synergy when you do it.
‘It spreads happiness, and that’s how it should be.’
Those who wish to help can register as volunteers at http://www.pinkmangoproject.com/the-project