For many Spanish children, the occasion of their First Communion is as special as a birthday – perhaps even more so – with smart uniforms for the boys and pretty dresses for the girls, a party after the actual church service, and a major feast for all to enjoy. And presents... Lots and lots of presents.
But in the case of Rubén, a nine-year-old from La Pobla de Vallbona in Valencia, he decided to turn down the opportunity to be showered with gifts, and ask his guests instead for donations that would go toward a shelter in India run by the Catholic not-for-profit group Manos Unidos (Hands United).
In total, Rubén received €7,075 from family and friends, all of which he gave to the charitable organization. The funds will be used to install solar panels on a house in Guwahati, which is home to 60 girls aged between four and 18.
While Rubén took the ultimate decision to make the gesture, the original idea came from his mom, Amparo García, who runs a veterinary surgery located 25 kilometers northeast of Valencia. “I’m anti-consumerism,” she explains over the phone from the clinic. “I don’t like giving presents just for the sake of it, collecting things until they end up as landfill. One day we are going to be eaten up by all of our trash.”
García believes that when children receive so many toys and presents they stop valuing them. “If it breaks, they don’t care, because they will get another,” she argues. García also didn’t want her son to think that his First Communion was about getting presents rather than an “encounter with Jesus.”
Last summer, Rubén hand-wrote a letter that his mother later shared via WhatsApp with her invitees: “Thanks to God, I have everything I need, so I thought that if you would like to give me a present on this day, it would be more useful for you to make an anonymous donation to a Manos Unidos project that I am collaborating with.”
The message was sent to the guests along with a scan of the leaflet explaining the work of Manos Unidas and its initiative in Guwahati, a city of one million people close to the border of Bhutan and Bangladesh. The center provides shelter for girls who have been sleeping on the streets and, in many cases, have been abused and exploited. It is looked after by Salesian nuns.
García says that with the exception of three guests with an “older mentality,” everyone invited agreed to exchange presents for donations. Afterwards, she and her son brought the money to a delegation from Manos Unidas, which has a center in Valencia.
One of the gifts Rubén received was a traditional watch, which his mother insisted on giving him, another one was a backpack. No one considered giving Rubén video games – his mother has made it clear that these “little machines” are not allowed in their house.
I don’t like giving presents just for the sake of it, collecting things until they end up as landfill
While today things are going well for them, García says they come from a family that “did not beg on the street but was humble.” As a child she ate little meat and a lot of potatoes as well as eggs from chickens they raised themselves. Well before she turned 16, García was already gathering oranges and helping with the onion harvest. This is where her aversion to waste comes from.
Speaking to the press, Rubén said that he is happy he donated the equivalent of hundreds of presents but for the moment is not thinking about visiting the shelter – despite being its generous benefactor.
English version by Melissa Kitson.