Community comes together to bring joy of Diwali to DTES residents

Nov 13 2020, 6:54 pm

Diwali’s message of hope was shared with Downtown Eastside residents this week, as they were able to join in on safe celebrations.

Diwali at Carnegie Community Centre took place on November 12 and 13, and residents were treated to special sweet treats and a freshly cooked Indian to-go lunch.

Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists across the world. It also coincides with the Sikh holiday Bandi Chhor Divas.

This year, Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas will take place on November 14.

Both festivals centre around the theme of light, which symbolizes the victory of good over evil.

Amal Ishaque of Cambium Arts & Education explains that her organization teamed up with Carnegie in order to bring Diwali to the Downtown Eastside.

“Carnegie Community Centre approached us (Cambium Arts & Education) about doing Diwali programming with them in a COVID appropriate manner. We were artists in residence at Carnegie last year,” she told Daily Hive via email.

Carnegie received grant funding from the Vancouver Foundation for arts activation during the pandemic, which has been used for community outreach.

During the Mid-Autumn Festival, the centre prepared culturally centred care packages for Chinese elders.

“We were inspired by this when curating a COVID safe program for Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas at Carnegie,” said Ishaque.

“As a queer South Asian Muslim artist, I really love that Diwali is celebrated by so many different parts of our communities across the world. We really wanted to emphasize this.”

The Carnegie and Cambium Arts & Education teams worked together to organize Diwali festivities to be enjoyed in the community.

Due to the pandemic, health and safety measures needed to be implemented. On Thursday, Carnegie distributed individually packaged mithai (sweets), made by Chef Nafisa Sultana, and chai to residents.

On Friday, an Indian to-go lunch cooked by Andeleep Raez was served. Residents were able to pick up the meals from the patio windows at the centre.

Aside from the delicious food, the centre will be decorated to showcase the festive colours and lights of Diwali.

People will be able to view mandalas made by artist Sandeep Johal on the centre’s windows and lanterns crafted by Cambium will also shine bright.

“These will be lit each evening along with diyas (oil lamps) on the outdoor patio with electric tealights. DTES community members are free to take a diya with them. These will be up till the end of Diwali,” said Ishaque.

The quick turnaround couldn’t be possible without help from the broader community.

“I put out calls on social media to get help sourcing women-owned small businesses who might make us a large order of mithai, where to get diyas, etc. So many amazing community members supported us, from the wonderful women at Didihood to the Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective and countless other people,” notes Ishaque.

Diwali’s message of shining lights of hope in times of darkness is something Ishaque thinks is a universal sentiment that deserves to be shared with everyone.

“Everyone deserves light, love and opportunities to feel special. The people in the DTES constantly remind us of the true meaning of community. In return, we hope to offer a little bit of Diwali joy and light to everyone.”

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