Shereen Naaz Charles Syariff
Founder of Eiding The Feast

Assalamualaikum Shereen! You started Eiding The Feast. Could you tell us more about it?

Waalaikumussalaam Alia! I’ve always been driven by the desire to make changes in the lives of the less fortunate. I love the idea of volunteer work and being able to help people in my community. As an educator, I hope to be able to inspire and encourage my kids to open their hearts and spread the love. However, my work schedule was not as flexible before this. Thus, I wasn’t able to participate in projects that interested me like Books on Wheels or other humanitarian trips to help people abroad who really needed it. I’m trying slowly but surely to make giving back a more permanent part of my life. To be honest, right now, I’m still trying to be the best version of myself – both in this world and for the Hereafter.

Eiding The Feast is, and always will be, one of my greatest accomplishments. Eiding The Feast is a self-funded, self-run, completely voluntary charity bake sale that I came up with two years ago on the night of Laila Tul Qadr. The proceeds from the sale of the baked goods have gone to supporting two children’s homes – Pertapis Children’s Home and Jamiyyah Children’s Home. We give the kids meals during Ramadhan and even after Ramadhan when we raise more than we aimed to raise.

What do I love? Hmm… I love many things – from personalized knick knacks to chilling with my loved ones and cat. I loveee hugs. And food! I mean, who doesn’t love food right? I believe in ice cream on cold rainy days. I believe in enjoying your food and not rushing through your meals. I take my one-hour lunch break seriously.-grin- On a serious note, I believe that everything happens for a good reason. I believe in Allah SWT and that His plans are the best.

I’m an early childhood educator. I’ve been in this industry for seven years! People keep telling me to teach the upper levels because it pays more but I smile and decline. I think I’m meant to teach preschoolers. It gives me more satisfaction and I get to play while I teach. When you’re a child, you spend hours exploring, with such curiosity and wonder. Kids don’t love because they expect something from you, they just love. I’m the teacher, but you know what? I’m the one who learns life lessons from my little ones.

How did the idea come about?

My friend Kit Ying and I absolutely love food. In late 2013, we started an online halal and/or vegetarian food blog to help make such information more accessible to the masses. During that time, there was an influx of online bake sales and pop-up stores by local home bakers. Kit and I talked about the possibility of holding a bake sale but I couldn’t see the value in it, beyond just money. I never pursued the idea and it simply got lost somewhere in the recesses of my brain. It wasn’t enough for me to organise a bake sale just for profits. I wanted it to mean something and make a difference. I wanted it to change someone’s life, somehow.

On the night of Lailatul Qadr in 2014, I had just finished praying Maghrib and was reading Surah Yasin. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the reality that we would be welcoming another Ramadhan in just a matter of weeks. Ramadhan and Eid always remind me of my late grandmother, Hajjah Khatijah Bee Bte Sahibjan. She died in 2013. I love her so much and I miss her every day. She would always go the extra mile for those around her. She fed the needy, donated food to mosques during Ramadhan and maulids and opened her doors to everyone. I thought of people who didn’t have much to eat during the fasting month. I thought of children in children’s homes who didn’t have parents to cook for them. As I came to the end of the surah, the idea became clearer and clearer to me – I could marry my passion for food with my passion to help others. I could carry on my grandmother’s legacy. As a child and even as an adult, the one thing I looked forward to during Eid was the food. Besides money, I have always associated Eid celebrations with sumptuous delicacies: biryani, lontong, sambal goreng, ayam masak merah, lepat, serunding, and particularly, Semiya payasam, an indian, slightly milky dessert dish that my grandmother used to serve for breakfast on the morning of Eid. Trust me, my list can go on forever. -laugh- Because food is so special to me, I wanted it to be central to the project. I also wanted to give the chosen beneficiary wonderful meals. Alhamdulillah, Allah reminded me of my grandmother’s selfless ways and constant insistence on feeding people, and inspired me to come up with Eiding The Feast.

What exactly does Eiding The Feast mean?

Eiding The Feast is a play on the word ‘Aiding’. When I came up with the name, I wanted it to send a few messages out to the world:

People want to contribute in some way to helping the less fortunate but sometimes, they do not know how or where to start.
People are generous and are so willing to help others – especially if they are given the opportunity.
It is not difficult to help people. Sometimes, all it takes is a tiny cupcake.

Every year, Eiding the Feast continues to grow. I am continuously inspired by the world around me. Last year, while on holiday in Australia, I thought of a bigger and better Eiding The Feast. With the help of my partners, Kit and Yasmeen, I managed to turn my dream into reality. We started with a small dream: to donate 10 iftar meals to the children at Pertapis Children’s Home. They have about 60 people so the aim was 600 meals! Alhamdulillah, we made a lot more money than expected. 10 days turned into 20 days and we ended up donating 1200 meals in total. Ma shaa Allah, how amazing is that?

This year, I wanted to try something different. I wanted to reach out to more families and empower people to help. I came up with the simple idea of gifting every family, under Pertapis’ purview, a goodie bag with basic essentials for the month of Ramadhan such as oil, sardines, rice, and cans of milk. Also, I encouraged people to bring a can of milk when they go for Eiding The Feast 2015. It doesn’t cost much to buy a can of milk, and we really wanted to help people see that the small actions do make a huge difference to someone’s life! By the grace of God, we collected more than enough cans of milk. We were floored by the generosity of Singaporeans who brought more than just milk. Every single food item was donated to Pertapis who gifted those bags to 600 families during their Annual Iftar for the needy. Kit and Yasmeen were so touched when they saw the families during distribution. In addition to this, we donated 10 days of meals to Pertapis Children’s Home and Jamiyah Children’s Home for at least 50 people on each side. That’s 1000 meals for hungry children!

How is Eiding The Feast organized?

Since it’s easier to have one contact person, I generally coordinate the efforts. I am supported greatly by my two amazing partners, Kit and Yasmeen who are on the ground to ensure the event runs smoothly. As I used to be a classroom teacher, I brought my students on board to help me on the event day. We started with 3 volunteers last year. However, more and more students found out about Eiding The Feast. The number of volunteers keeps increasing. I am also blessed with a supportive family who is there from the moment we set up till the moment we tear down our structures. My mother and brother are the cashiers while my younger brother oversees the student volunteers. Although my husband is based overseas, he is always there every step of the way, encouraging me and cheering me on. On the event day, I stand by the side and watch my team of amazing people run the show, doing what they do best. Most people don’t even know who the actual organisers of the event are. To be honest, Yasmeen, Kit and I don’t even care! We’re just happy that people are buying cakes off the tables!

What’s the most touching incident that you’ve experienced in your Eiding The Feast journey?

There have been so many different things that have made the Eiding journey so memorable. For the most part, participation in this project is entirely voluntary. That in itself is such a huge deal because we have people from all over who volunteer their time and energy to help in some way or another.We have designers and artists who volunteer their time and energy to help us design posters and don’t ask for anything in return. In 2014, we had The Dapper Paper Co. (https://www.instagram.com/thedapperpaper/) who designed and sponsored some money packets for those who spent above a certain amount. In 2015, a good friend of mine, Aida Azlin from The Shawl Label helped us with designing some beautiful money packets, that my team and I printed out.

I think two incidents moved me a lot – the first being the astounding support I’ve gotten from my ex-students. They spent the entire day helping me and prepping for the bake sale. These students are from all walks of life, Muslims and Non-Muslims, students who travel across the Causeway just to help me. Every time think about it, I am overwhelmed with a lot of emotions.

The second is the spirit of generosity of each baker. I’ll always remember this one baker (@shinyhappycakes). I had shared a story on Instagram about a boy who told me it was his birthday and that he really loved kit kats. She baked an entire Kit Kat cake and passed it to me when I was delivering food. I didn’t expect anyone to pick up on that, let alone make a whole kit kat cake for the boy. I was speechless!

I am always humbled by the things people do. I constantly tell anyone who asks about Eiding The Feast that the true heroes of this project are the bakers, the volunteers and the people who come and buy cake. My team and I just work out the logistics and we let the magic happen.

What is the greatest challenge you faced? How did you overcome it?

With regards to the bake sale itself, I think one of the biggest challenges that constantly plagues my partners and I is the lack of space. We are so grateful for the generosity of the bakers and want to provide them with enough space and air conditioning to keep them comfortable. People also tend to come in throngs and when they do, there can be bottlenecks and space constraints. By God’s grace, we have been so lucky to have two venue sponsors over the past two years namely, Working Title in 2014 and Al Qudwah Academy in 2015. Both our venue sponsors have been so generous and have not taken a cent from us for using their space. It always overwhelms me how generous people can actually be!

My greatest wish is that we could have a big enough space for us to house at least thirty bakers, enough air conditioning and a venue that’s easily accessible to the general public. We want people to know that we value their support and we want to try and make it as comfortable for them as possible.

In 2015, I started hunting for a venue in January and only stumbled upon one in June. I hope, insya’Allah, this year’s journey will be an easier one. Right now, the biggest challenge I am facing is how to make Eiding The Feast even bigger while still keeping the essence of the event. I don’t want it to become something so commercialised that it loses its meaning. That would make me extremely sad.

What drives you to strive for excellence?

I know that I’m not perfect, and neither is the work that I do. Every time we hold Eiding The Feast, I spend the next few days just reflecting on it and trying to see what we could do better. When I think about the project, I think about how many people it can benefit, how many families will have a better Eid because of this, how many children will have a smile on their face, how many bakers will feel a sense of connection to this project, how many patrons of our bake sale will feel like they contributed in some way or another to another person’s happiness.. and that always spurs me on. I know Eiding The Feast has not reached its peak yet.. and there’s a lot more that we can do to improve but I do hope people will stick around and support our cause.

Who inspires you the most? Why?

I am inspired greatly by the people around me every day. They are also my sources of strength. I think there are four main people who inspire me in different ways but who are all so important in my journey as a person in this lifetime.

My parents: I think my parents have always believed in my dreams and goals. When I first told them about Eiding The Feast, they never said “no” and they never doubted my ability to make it happen. They were there every step of the way, right up till we counted the very last coin. Their belief in my abilities continues to inspire me to want to do more and be more. Every time they tell me they know I can do it, I feel even more inspired to push the boundaries a little bit more and try a little bit harder. Both my parents work and they have always reminded me that money isn’t everything. They’ve instilled in me this idea of charity since I was young and it’s something that I’ve always carried with me. It could be as simple as buying that packet of tissue paper from the old uncle at the MRT station or making a big sizeable donation somewhere.. I’ve watched them do it and grow richer in so many other ways.. Truly, money isn’t everything.

My husband: My husband is one of the most supportive people in the world. He is patient and kind and has never belittled my dreams. Every time I share with him something or the other about Eiding The Feast, and how I want to make it bigger and better, he always says “You can do it. Go for it!” It’s a really amazing feeling knowing that he’s always there. Because he is based overseas, he can’t always be there for Eiding The Feast, but the emotional support that he provides me with is more than I can ever ask for. I’ve known him for 11 years now and he continues to show me how to be kind and stay grounded, how to treat others with love and compassion, how to give and not ask for anything in return, how to always strive to be better. I guess we’re all only human and that we have our bad days but I know that when I talk to my husband, he always puts things back into perspective for me and reminds me of the bigger picture. For that, I am always grateful.

My late grandma: I think this is self-explanatory. After all, she inspired the project. 😉

What is your hope for your community?

My hope for the community is faith. I think with all the things that are going around in the world, I hope we all hold on to our faith. Whatever version of that it is. -grin-

Eiding the Feast 2016 will be held on Saturday, 18 June. Stay updated here!

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