Grinchmas No More

Juan Manuel Rodríguez, Marketing Manager

“Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!” In Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the main character comprehends the real meaning of Christmas towards the end of the book. The organizers of “Cartas al Niño Dios”, a yearly event organized by the Soñar Despierto Foundation and El Tesoro, should read and memorize the story. Perhaps then, they’ll understand what the holidays are all about. “Cartas” has tried to give the children a day to remember along with a gift of their choice. It fails to do so. The project clearly lacks systemic analysis, as its leaders have encountered many unintended consequences that place the volunteers and staff members in unjust and uncomfortable positions. I vividly remember how Sebastian, one of the children at Cartas al Niño Dios, ran away from me as tears streamed down his face. “You are a liar. Santa doesn’t exist. If he did, he would have gotten me a bike.” This event needs an urgent redesign or else, it will be one more day where the kids are reminded how others are privileged and they are not.  

The project’s lack of volunteer training and dependence on teenagers causes a lack of organization. At the end of the day, the vulnerable kids, coming from foundations around the city, receive a gift that they asked for in advance. In 2019, Maria Cuartas, TCS senior and head of the Sustainability team was assigned a child called Sara. Upon opening the gift, Sara realized that she had received a piece of clothing that did not fit her, instead of the green bike she had asked for. In response, Cuartas angrily demanded that “They [Soñar Despierto volunteers] should know what they’re giving out to the kids.” Not only did Cuartas express her discomfort towards this situation, but she also hinted at the tremendous chaos of this project. Any person who is 16 or older can join as a volunteer, and they are given no training or instructions as how to act during the day. This is reflected in cases similar to the one above and lends itself for miscommunication between the kids and volunteers. Case in point, how I lied to Sebastian by telling him that Santa was real. Even though these issues could be seen as minor and usual setbacks to any project, they indicate the lack of empathy the project creators had. A study done by Prather, Walter, Golden, Jeannie indicates how small let-downs in the life of vulnerable children could have a major impact on them, and exposing them to unreliable and unprepared and temporal authority/paternal figures is a dangerous action. 15 kids out of 500 might have been disappointed, but the pain inflicted upon them cannot be measured.

A proper process of systemic thinking and empathetic analysis before launching the project could have prevented some of its issues. The organizers should have considered using the spectrum of social change to dive deep into the impact of the project. Had they done that, they could have realized that real change can never be accomplished through a “savior complex” role. Meaningless gift-giving falls into that category, especially since the kids are not getting what they want and their precarious situations are not being altered in any way. Cartas al Niño Dios could potentially fall under the Allyship role, but due to a lack of empathy and long-term planning, it is not. This is further supported by the organization’s need to be in the spotlight. As Amalia Jaramillo, former Staff member of Soñar Despierto mentioned, the event’s main purpose is to advertise El Tesoro. If done under the wrong motives and with the wrong attitude, it is impossible for a project to have the desired impact. 

Despite its jolly nature and overall charitable deeds (which don’t necessarily mean good), an event with such importance in the city could have a significantly greater impact on society. Some modifications to the project’s preparation and structure could turn this Christmas party into the majestic event it seeks but fails, to be. A serious mindset change is required for such undertaking, but are the board of El Tesoro and Soñar Despierto willing to do so? Can their hearts grow three sizes like the Grinch’s heart did?