Smile Please, It’s Your Birthday

What excites you about birthdays? The gifts? The party? The time that your loved ones spend with you that shows that you care?

Most of us spent a childhood in which we marked the calendars and maintained a countdown before months to this special day. Feeling special wearing the birthday dress, distributing chocolates with the melody of ‘Happy Birthday’ sung in chorus by our classmates with our teachers standing by our side, blessing us, and wishing us an amazing year. The evening a get-together with the loved ones and a not so big cake with candles lit would end our perfect day the perfect way.

But not all of us had the privilege to enjoy such colorful birthdays. Here is an enthusiast who identified this, empathized with those kids whose days were counted and illness took away the joy from their lives. She did not take a rear seat but actively set forth to solve this problem with her NGO TRST. In conversation with Suleka Ashok on how she tried to bring in some color to the lives of kids diagnosed with terminal illness, by celebrating their birthdays.

Tell us about yourself, your background, and your previous ventures.

I am Suleka, a final year Pharm D student from Kochi. Currently, I’m doing my internship in Coimbatore.

What made you go out and start the NGO that you founded? Is there a story behind it?

Birthdays were something that always made me and my family light up. We always made sure even during the toughest of times we got a cake, lit a candle, and at that moment there was nothing but happiness. This is when I felt concerned about those kids who don’t get a chance to celebrate their birthdays and then TRST was born!

Could you tell us about the initiatives that are taken up by your venture?

We celebrate the birthdays of kids with terminal illnesses at the hospitals. Currently, we work with three hospitals in Coimbatore, and in the future, we hope our family gets bigger and better. 

The lockdown has led to a spike in screen time for both kids and adults with them living virtual life. How has the reception been for the online mental health campaign? And what were a few steps that you took on your part to get the idea to a larger audience?

During the lockdown we started an online mental health campaign for adults and teens, we got a lot of questions and responses which were answered by a clinical psychologist in our team. The reception has been good so far. I think it’s not the numbers but the quality of work that matters and we’ve been able to help some kids who really needed it. ☺

What are some of the challenges you faced in setting up this NGO? How did you overcome these?

Getting hospitals to trust and work with us, to begin with, was a struggle. We were just a bunch of kids but, the kind of response we’ve got from the very beginning has been absolutely heartwarming.

What other passion do you pursue? What intrigues you as much as serving one’s own community?

I am an avid reader, I also dance and paint. But, nothing gives me happiness like TRST.

Do you have a role model you look up to? If yes, what are the qualities that you admire of that person? If no, then why?

I do not have a particular role model in the NGO sectors and volunteers, but I have a role model, and her name is Deborah Sonia Meaden, a British businesswoman. I love the fact how she blooms effortlessly in what she does.

What are your future plans?

Personally, I am not a long-term goal setter but I do have one for TRST, which will be put to action in a while.

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