Charity champion Seema Haqiqi talks to Behnaz Sanjana about a project to benefit orphans and the environment.
Candle artist Seema Haqiqi diligently works away in the tiny pantry on the premises of the Tree of Life Charity Society every evening, melting old candles and moulding them into pretty new ones for the Candle of Hope project that she has spearheaded.
All proceeds from the sale of the recycled candles will be donated to the 550-odd orphans that the Tree of Life Charity Society supports. “We sometimes have students, housewives, working and retired individuals volunteering,” she says, removing her apron to sit for a chat. “The project has brought together people of all nationalities, religions and abilities. One of our most active volunteers is wheelchair-bound.”
This idea of altruism germinated in August last year, when her environmental activist friend Nasra Bu-Ashwan, a great proponent of ‘zero waste’, asked her if she could make use of old candles. “Well, not for my own handmade candles, but I thought: why don’t we collect more and recycle them for charity.” With Nasra and the charity society on board, the action plan kicked off later that year. Seema has put the work of creating her own designer brand of candles with bespoke Arabic fragrances on hold to prioritise this philanthropic endeavour.
She says: “People are unaware that candles can and should be recycled. We spread this awareness, and encourage people to buy recycled ones or safely make their own. Discarded candles just lie in landfills and, wax being highly flammable, can burn the garbage around and produce toxic fumes in the summer heat. Also, birds and stray animals can die of eating it.”
Besides unwanted / leftover wax brought in by individuals, there are collection boxes set up at large organisations like Gulf Air, ALBA, BAPCO, Batelco, Credimax, Bahrain Credit and ABC. “A major retailer has given away thousands of candles that are unfit for sale to us to make into new ones. We have also received our raw material from churches and Ma’atams, and have collected over 5,000 various candles thus far.”
The initial plan was to have a charity sale in April, coinciding with World Orphans Day and Arabic Orphan Day. But the lack of suitable equipment, space constraints, corporate sponsorships falling through, and the labour-intensive nature of the project have thrown a spanner in the works. She says: “We have not seen much luck with the venue for our sale either, which will be a uniquely interactive event, where people can even make their own candles. Children can play around with and decorate differently-shaped, ready wax pieces for a safe, fun experience.”
With the influx of so many candles, the need is for more volunteers and funds to buy better equipment. She explains: “We only have two sockets to plug in our hot plates, and I can melt half a kilogram of wax at a time. It would be easier with more funds to buy a large wax melter to start with, and a bigger place to work.” She hopes to reach out to large corporate and government entities to support this project, and definitely needs more helping hands aboard, besides people enthusiastically buying the final products to help the beneficiaries.
The mother of four juggles the marketing, communication, meetings with prospective sponsors and managing volunteers along with her household duties. She says: “I’m lucky to have a patient and supportive husband who was the one to encourage me to learn the craft of candle making some years ago.
“It is tiring, but when I think of the kids who need all the support they can get, it keeps me going. I’m also setting an example for my children by using my skills for good, not just for monetary returns. No one knows how long they will live. I should at least be able to speak of good deeds on my judgment day.”
People are unaware that candles can and should be recycled.”
and @treeoflifecharitysociety on Instagram