Since July this year we have begun to celebrate every JOYNer’s birthday in office. We do a special birthday lunch, get our co-worker to wear a special birthday jacket all afternoon and say things we like best about her/him. I love to tell the story of how everybody pitched in to make this happen.
All of us celebrating Sarita's birthday
An email that started it all
“…One thing I've begun to notice about JOYN over the past few months…” Mel’s email to all of us began, “is how important our culture is. We aren't American, Indian, Nepali or Tibetan, we're JOYN. We're creating a new, revolutionary CULTURE - and we all need it. We all need to feel a part of it. It brings us life, hope, joy.”
The email went on to suggest a list of things we could do to develop our culture: outings, team-building exercises, lunch and tea time activities, celebrating birthdays and others.
The idea of celebrating birthdays appealed to all of us instantly. There was a lot of discussion on what we wanted to do for the birthday. There were emails flying back and forth for several days as we talked through one of the first office traditions that we were ‘consciously developing’. Should we have one ‘birthday’ day each month where we do a combined celebration for all people whose birthday it is in that month, or should we celebrate individual birthdays? Should we do a fixed tea-time tradition of cake and chai or should we do a special lunch?
Why celebrate birthdays?
These decisions became easy to make after we laid down our reasons for celebrating birthdays.
Having seen exclusion and marginalization all their lives, our artisans and employees struggle with identity and self –worth. To have a day dedicated to an individual to make him/her feel special could be a step in encouraging them to realize their significance.
Birthdays and other such get-togethers are also a celebration of the relationship that we build with each other at the workplace. Sitting together to eat lunch, to celebrate with a co-worker and to exchange wishes and greetings strengthens bonds.
Thus came about the JOYN birthday plan.
The JOYN birthday plan
- Every JOYNer’s birthday will be celebrated individually
- There will be a special lunch, the menu of which will be decided by whoevers birthday it is. We had to restrict the choice of meat to chicken and fish only because beef and pork is religiously offensive to some of our people
- A ‘birthday committee’ will oversee the planning of birthdays and getting ingredients in time for the preparation of the desired meal.
- Before the birthday meal, all people will gather at one place to formally wish our co-worker and to say a few things that they like best about the birthday girl/boy.
- A birthday vest of our block-printed scraps will be stitched and has to be worn by the birthday girl/boy during the course of the day.
Carrie sporting the birthday vest
“I don’t know when my birthday is”
“I don’t know when my birthday is. I have never celebrated it”. This was the standard response from a lot of our people here and it was not surprising. Earlier in the year, most of our artisans were taken for bone density tests to determine their age! So the next few days were spent, going around the office and fixing birthday dates for those who did not know theirs.
Step one: Get the individual to pick a number between 1 and 30.
Step two: Check which month has few or no birthdays.
The sum of step one and two becomes the birthday for that person and is entered in our ‘birthday calendar’!
How it turned out
The response of everybody to this birthday culture has been amazing! There is love, laughter and a chance for everybody to celebrate! The lunch plan has turned out to be a big hit! It is endearing to hear our artisans talking about what they would want for their birthday, even though it may be months away! Masterji’s birthday, for example, is in December but he has already decided that he gets enough meat in his Tibetan meals so he wants to eat ‘daal-makhani’ and ‘naan’, which is very Punjabi and North-Indian!
Delicious matar-paneer made for Sarita's birthday lunch
Culture and family
What Mel said about JOYN having a unique culture is true. We are people as diverse as can be. We speak different languages, we come from cultures that are at times polar-opposites, we have different ideas about everything big and small and we practice different faiths. But we are still thriving.
We are together, we love each other and we are learning from one-another in the best way there is to learn. There are goods and bads in every way of living and thinking. At JOYN, we value the fact that we have so many different ways of living and thinking and thus, so many opportunities to take the good from each of them.
The JOYN birthday committee