Walkathon in Aid of Local Good Causes

Report by Rajendra Mistry

On Friday 9th June Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (Rugby & Coventry), in association with Sewa International UK held their 3rd annual SEWA-WALKATHON event at the picturesque setting of Draycote Waters reservoir near Rugby.

The event is growing and this year family members of all ages took part in an evening of walking the 5 mile perimeter walkway around the reservoir, followed by picnic and a sampling of home made Indian cuisine and then playing of various games to end the evening.

The evening was thoroughly enjoyed by all and the event helped raise over £600 for the chosen local charity Walsgrave Hospital Kidney Patients’ Association (WHKPA) and also over £100 for the Coventry Sewa Shakti Project (a lunch club for Asian Elderly Men & Women).

In the picture, some of the participants who took part in the walk present a cheque for £655 to C. Meyrick (Treasurer of WHKPA) and Mahendra Patel (Fund-raiser for WHKPA) both of whom have received kidney transplants many years ago.

During the presentation they raised awareness of their work and more importantly encouraged more people amongst the ethnic communities to become Kidney donors.

We would like to thank all the participants for taking part in the Sewa Walkathon and raising money for a worthwhile cause.

Home2Rome

 An adventure, driving journey across Europe in a £100 car

Facts

  • Took place in September 2007 
  • £967 raised to date
  • Raising money for Sewa International

 


Report
On the 21st September 2007, Nayan Mistry, Kedar Shukla, Tejas Mistry and Ash Mohamed (aka the Sagdiyev Brothers – named after the Kazakhstani legend Borat Sagdiyev) embarked on the the road trip of a lifetime. We took part in the Home2Rome banger rally, a 1500 mile, four day drive from Calais in Northern France to Rome the capital of Italy. The catch was that our mode of transport was to be a car bought for no more than £100… They don’t call it a banger rally for nothing. Our aim was to make it to the finish line in one piece and to raise money for Sewa International UK. The fun started a day before the event as we drove our 1987 Mercedes 190 (198,000 miles on the clock, a little but of rust, but otherwise a fine example of German engineering) to Dover to catch our ferry to Calais. We registered by the midnight deadline in Calais, signed our away our rights to sue the organisors in the event of crashing/dying/hurting ourselves/ending up in jail etc and tried to get some sleep before the mammoth journey ahead!

 

Day One – Calais to Montelimar We arrived at the starting line to be met by an awe inspiring sight: 200 cars of varying levels of roadworthiness, revving up huge plumes of oil filled smoke. We were taken aback by the efforts of the other teams to decorate their cars – Volvo’s painted like New York taxi cabs, a Sierra painted like a cow, a BMW covered in laminate wood flooring and many others covered in graffiti and spray paint. Our effort was looking a little bland in comparison (i.e. nothing but the red paint it came with) but thanks to some last minute ingenuity and some strips of speed tape we managed to enhance our vehicle with go-faster stripes over the bonnet and boot-lid. We were ready to go! Day one was a long motorway slog through much of France. We headed initially towards Reims and then turned south towards Dijon. The organisers had set challenges for each day, the idea being to gain points, with a prize for the team with the most points at the end. Our first challenge was number plate scrabble, i.e. take pictures of French number plates and use the letters on a scrabble board to make words for points. We soon realised that the challenges were a great way to keep the boredom of non-stop driving at bay. Another less successful way was to take shortcuts – we tried some smaller roads through Champagne country towards Dijon, but ended up wasting time through small French villages. From Dijon we hit the motorway again towards Lyon but got stuck in a major traffic jam due to an accident which required a large detour off our route towards Grenoble and the edge of the Alps. Eventually we reached the first checkpoint in Montelimar at around 10pm, after 590 miles and 12 hours of driving!

Day Two – Montelimar to Villefranche-Sur-Mer and the Gorge du Verdon
Today was all about pure driving pleasure. We were heading off the beaten track and taking some of the best driving roads in Europe, culminating in the Gorge du Verdon – the mountain road you may have seen in Top Gear, where Jeremy Clarkson raced a mountain climber (unsuccessfully) in an Audi RS4. The challenge for today was simple – get your car to the end! Half of the challenge was to navigate successfully through the small winding roads, no small feat considering that our large scale maps didn’t show sufficient detail or name the smaller roads. We had decided against Sat Nav and had opted for the cheaper and more challenging Prat-Nav (i.e. us!). The initial going was good through the beautiful countryside, but it soon got tough as we started long, arduous climbs which were a real strain on the engine. However, the Merc just kept on going up without a hint of protest and we began to realise how lucky we were to get such a solid car. We got a little lost at one point, but a local French farmer with a sheep in the back of his car (don’t ask) helped us out and we eventually reached the Gorge. It had taken hours to cover barely a hundred miles but the fun had only just begun. The drive through the gorge was truly awesome. The road wound around the edge of the mountains with a sheer drop on the other side into a beautiful canyon filled with trees and rapids. Whilst going up was hard on the engine and clutch, we soon found that going down was even harder on the brakes which were starting to fade from overheating. Just when it seemed the winding mountain passes would go on forever, we eventually hit something resembling a main highway and picked up signs towards Nice and the famous Cote d’Azur. A quick cruise through the streets of Nice to show off our banger to the rich and famous and we headed along the coast to our stop for the night in Villefranche-Sur-Mer.

Day Three – Villefranche to Sottomarina
Today we were back onto the main motorways, but these were far more interesting than the M1 or M4, these wound around the south coast and through tunnels in the mountains. Before long we had crossed the border into Italy where sil vous plait’s and merci’s became prego’s and grazi’s. We headed east towards Genoa, then north to Brescia before heading east again to Venice. The challenge today was a little more interesting. We had to take the spare tyre of our car to a central square in Venice, Piazza St Marco, and take a picture with the whole team and the tyre. Venice is of course famous for its canals and we therefore needed to park the car and take the tyre by boat to the square. Today was also fancy dress day which this year was to dress up as St Triannians girls. Unfortunately we had found out about the fancy dress too late to get costumes – what a shame! We still did the challenge and were faced with dragging a heavy and dirty sapre tyre through the thousands of tourists in Venice. Its fair to say we caused quite a stir and the St Trinnians outfits of the other teams was a particular favourite of the Japanese tourists taking our photos. One piece of advice if you’re going to Venice – don’t take a spare tyre if you’re trying to get a meal at a restaurant, for some reason they won’t let you in! With the challenge complete, we rolled the tyre back to the boat for a romantic cruise through Venice by night and returned to the car. We headed south to our next stop point, Sottomarina.

Day Four – Sottomarina to Rome… the final day!!
The final day started with open warfare. We met up with the sister rally of Home2Rome, Staples2Naples, in Sottomarina where there was to be a water pistol fight on the beach between the two rally’s. The organisers had produced a list of rules for the fight (do not spray the organisers, no re-fills allowed, use tapwater only etc) and once underway, all the rules were duly ignored. After discovering the pain of saltwater in the eyes, we cleaned up and headed out for the final day of the rally. Despite being the final stretch we were soon reminded we could take nothing for granted. We passed a car just out of Sottomarina which had suffered a broken drive shaft and had to pull out of the rally. Worse still we came across a serious accident on the autostrada involving cars from the rally and a lorry. Thankfully no one was hurt, but it served a timely reminder of the dangers of driving on foreign roads. Italians have a reputation for their flamboyant driving style and we can confirm that this reputation is well deserved. Nevertheless, after 4 days, 1500 miles, a few minor arguments, a Frenchman and his sheep, the best views in Europe, one broken pipe in the engine, a few quarts of oil and lots and lots of laughs we finally made it to Rome. Unfortunately we couldn’t bring the car back so she has been sent to the big garage in the sky at a scrap yard in Rome, but we are forever grateful for the the great drive and realiability she gave us.

We would highly recommend this sort of event for any group looking to raise money for Sewa and for the adventure of a lifetime.

Ladakh Trek 2008

Sewa International organised a high altitude trek to Ladakh again for 2008 from 24th August to 13th September 2008.  

Satish Shah, Trek Co-ordinator Reports.

Facts:

  • This trek is graded D, similar to Mt Kilimanjaro, but Stok Kangri is graded E.
  • The group has raised £31,541, and the trip itself was self-financed.

Report

PART 1 – RISHIKESH
11 students and recent graduates arrived in Rishikesh and stayed at the Paramath Ashram. Voluntary work was undertaken in teaching and food serving. They spent two days at Divya Prem Sewa Mission, teaching and interacting with the youth.


PART 2 – SPECTULAR DRIVE FROM DELHI TO LEH

17 participants arrived in Manali, altitude 2000m, after a tiring 16 hour journey. We visited two ancient temples of Hidamba ( wife of Bhim ) and Vashistha Kund (Kul Guru of Raghu Dynasty in Ramayan ) which has a hot spring pool. Day 3 – Crossed over Rohtang Pass 3985m, to Jespa 2550m for the night.

Day 4 – Crossed Baralacha Pass 4650m to Sarchu 4300m. Sarchu was cold, having spent the night in tents.

Day 5 began with snow fall and poor visibility. We made a late start crossing Lachulung La Pass 5065m and Taglang La pass 5317m, arriving safely in Leh.

Day 6 – Met Sewa officials and visited a nursery school, a primary school, and a boarding school. We were fortunate to perform Sindhu Darshan on the Sindhu River (river Indus). Our Hindu name was given by foreigners based on the ancient civilisation in the Sindhu river valley. The temperature in Leh was cool at an altitude of 3500m. This part of the trip was also for essential altitude acclimatisation.


PART 3 – STOK KANGRI TREK 6125M

Day 7 – Commenced trek to Rambuk Village, 3500m, a gentle 6 hour walk. The village is entirely eco friendly. En route we met a large group of 35 trekkers from Scotland. Day 7 was a steep challenging 8 hour walk, crossing over Stok La pass 4900m and stopping at Lower Stok La range, 4200m, for the night.

Day 8 was relaxing with a gentle acclimatising walk to the near by hills. In the late afternoon it started to snow heavily and the students and our guides engaged in a lively snowball fight. A couple of our group members were feeling mild altitude sickness.

Day 9 – Made an early start to the Stok Kangri base camp 5000m. Unfortunately, 1 member of the group decided to return to Leh due to severe altitude sickness. In the late afternoon we walked up to 5250m.

Day 10 – arrived at Advanced Base Camp 5300m to witness a beautiful sunset. It was very cold and after some food we retired early to our sleeping bags. It was a success as all 16 spent the night at such a high altitude.

Day 11 – As this was the summit day, wake up call was at midnight and 15 of us set off at 01.00am, well wrapped up and slowly inching forward by torch light. The air was thin and at around 5600m 2 members retired due to extreme cold. The rest were pushing forward and Shane Parmar was first to summit just after 8.30am. He was followed by 9 others including pensioner Rati Shah at the young age of 66. Another 3 made it to 6030m. Everyone arrived safely back to the camp.

Day 12 – 7 hour walk to Stok village and drive to Leh. In the evening we met up with local Sewa volunteers for prayers and a celebration dinner.

Day 13 – Early flight to Delhi, followed by a visit to a local Sewa project, a multi purpose centre near a large slum. The centre has a medical dispensary, crèche, nursery, and classes in sewing, makeup, beauty, computers etc. Next we visited Matru Chhayaa, a centre where newly born abandoned babies are provided with loving care and attention and then adoption with families is organized under strict conditions and rules for the adoptee family. Next we visited another learning centre in a large slum by the railway line.

The whole trip was an eye opener to Sewa charity work and its dedicated volunteers, and an ultimate personal endurance challenge climbing Stok Kangri.

{becssg}Sewa Ladakh{/becssg}

Kilimanjaro Trek 2006

The Mount Kilimanjaro trek was organised for the very first time by Sewa International. 23 Participants completed the trek from 11 July to 18 July 2006 (12 were from Bradford and Leeds) with ages ranging from 16 to 58.

Sewa International have raised a phenomenal £61,858 in funds to date.
The organisers would wish to thank all donors.



Satish Shah, Trek Coordinator reports.

We chose the popular MARANGU ROUTE also known as the coca cola route.
Day 1 was registration followed by 4-5 hour walk through beautiful rain forest to Mandara Hut, 2077m. Day 2 started early for 7 hour walk to Harombo Hut, 3720m. The vegetation was changing to moorland. Day 3 was an acclimatisation walk up to the Zebra rocks, 4000m and back to Harombo.

Day 4 saw an 8 hour trek through alpine desert landscape up to Kibo Hut, 4700m. Few were feeling the altitude sickness. Early into the sleeping bag at sun set to be woken up at 11pm for a light snack. At 12.30 am we set off for the summit, the temperature was -20c and with the thin air progress was slow. Eventually 17 made it to Gilman Point, 5681m. The guides did a marvellous job of assisting few who had to give up due to mountain sickness.

Projects in Kenya currently being supported:

  • Jaipur food project with Rotary Club £5100
  • Water pump project with Young Jains £8100
  • Education aid project with Jamuri High School, Nairobi £13100 over four years.
  • Environment project with local community participation – tree planting £3100
  • Eye camps cataracts operations £5100

Comments from participants

“I have run lot of sponsored marathons for local charities over the years. The temptation to climb Kili was too great to miss.”
Kamlesh Patel

“After being cajoled into joining the trek and training in the Yorkshire dales, I thoroughly enjoyed the trek. Equally challenging was raising funds for worthwhile projects and new skills have been picked up.”
Ashwin Mistry 

 

The trek was a childhood dream come true, for many in the group.

{becssg}Sewa Kilimanjaro{/becssg}

Mount Kenya 2009

In August 2009, a group of 40+ from the UK tackled Mount Kenya.
Funds currently raised: £35,000

From the group of 54 from the UK, 49 completed the full rim walk of Mt Longonat which is 14 miles at 2776m.

40 of the group summitted Mt Kenya, to Pt Lenana 4985m. The age range of the group was from 14 to 69, 2 retired at Shiptons base camp 4200m.

We also attended a big charity presentation with local Hindu community, Rotary Club and local aid benefactors.

See reports and comments from participants below.

 

 


MT KENYA – Pt Lenana 4985m
Trek started on 20 August, going up on the Sirimon route and coming down from Naro Maro route.
The 5 day and 4 night trek gives a feel of high altitude and have enough time to enjoy the magnificent views.

All money raised will go East African charities.

Please log on mydonate.bt.com/charities/sewauk under Sewa International Charity and you will see individual fund raising pages and their profile. A Big Thank You to all that donated!

Reports by participants:
MOUNT KENYA TREK FOR SEWA INTERNATIONAL
15 August to 24 August 2009

On August 23rd I was 4895 meters above Africa… I did it! My journey began in Nairobi at the host’s home. My cousin, Minesh Lad and I instantly were made to feel welcome into this country we had never visited. The trek itself was still a few days away but our itinerary was packed from day one. The charity presentation was very memorable; where we got to see where money previously raised by Sewa International was going to. Having the beneficiaries there was also very rewarding, knowing that our donations were going to fantastic causes. After all, besides the personal achievement, this is why we were here.

Mt Longonot at 2776m & 14 miles was the next destination as a way of stretching our lungs and legs before the trek. This was a great experience as it was actually my first ‘climb’. I found this challenging to say the least and an overall good experience. This was a chance to meet the rest of the group and bond with my fellow trekkers. Reflecting on my trip, I feel that Mt Longonot did play a part in my success in getting me up Mt Kenya. The next few days were spent with visits to Lake Nakuru 1800m and Lake Bogoria, which were both enjoyable and relaxing.

The day of the trek had finally dawned upon us and the nerves were starting to kick in. The first day wasn’t too strenuous and not very demanding… surely it can’t be this easy?! We stopped over at the base camp at 3300 meters. Day two is one that Minesh, Gina, Gita, Hitesh, and I will never forget! “The Famous Five” had lost the rest of the group and were battling to reach the next base camp. Weather conditions were relentless as we experienced 5-6 hours of constant rain and hail. Gloves soaked, fingers frozen. We eventually made it to the base camp at around 7:30pm in total darkness, 2-3 hours after everybody else. The group had to send out guides to look for us as we pummeled along following our porter. Luckily, the third day was planned as a break and a chance to acclimatize at 4200 meters. On day four we set out at 5.30am to reach the summit. The whole group was buzzing and the thought alone of reaching the top was enough motivation to get up there! I was part of the first group to reach summit and it was an amazing feeling! A great sense of achievement – I had accomplished what I had set out to do! The team had been fantastic throughout the trek and supported each one and other through the toughest time. Sewa International had brought a great team with a wealth of experience to organize a fantastic trip!

The next few days were spent at the Maasai Mara and it was a great wind down. To see the animals in their natural habitat was an experience I will never forget.

The hotel was superb and everybody thoroughly enjoyed it! Overall, my experience with Sewa International and the trek in particular was very good. A great deal of time and effort had been put into this trip which has been greatly appreciated by all those who were involved. The fund raising had also been a success and the distribution of funds are going to very worthy causes.

By Chetan Mistry, Leicester

 

 


The climb to Mt Kenya can only be described as amazing! For someone like me who is definitely not an outdoors person and has never even been camping this experience was a first but definitely not the last. Being able to see the charity work that Sewa International undertakes beforehand gave me the strength to make it to the top.

The Jaipur Foot project was one which caught my heart and brought tears to my eyes. Seeing a woman being able to walk after 19 years or a man hold a bottle of water with a prosthetic hand was a very humbling experience. After visiting projects such as this, the Lions Eye Hospital and many more we set-off to climb Mount Kenya. All 42 of us!

The first day climb was fun with lots to see along the way and the energy to stop and admire it. We were joined by some people we had met in Nairobi who thought they would keep us company. The second day challenged us all with the crazy weather. It hailed and rained for most of the day and we soon found out that many of our waterproofs weren’t in fact water proof. With two people getting hyperthermia and 5 people getting lost on the mountain the morale wasn’t great that evening. However, Satish and Janesh kept us motivated. The morning of the summit it was quite daunting trekking in the dark with our head torches on but when we got to the top it was the most amazing feeling in the world. I still look at the pictures and think ‘did I really make it? There were times when I thought to myself ‘why am I doing this to myself’ but if you were to ask me now if I would climb another mountain, the answer would be yes, I will… one day!!!! It’s one of the most satisfying things I have ever done, getting to the top and raising money at the same time. The hardest part of this for me was staying at the camps. But the team was so happy and lively that there were times that I forgot where we were staying.

The Nairobi guys were amazing, those that climbed with (and rescued) us as well as those that home hosted us. The hospitality and welcome we had was overwhelming. To have people we had just met helping us so much was such a nice feeling and I hope we can offer them the same welcome one day. They dropped us off and picked us up without even knowing us to begin with. The entire group was brilliant. I only knew a handful of people at the beginning of this trip, by the end I felt I was with family.

Once again – thank you so much for this experience of a lifetime!

By Deena Yadav, London

 

 


This summer we participated in a trek to Point Lenana on Mount Kenya which at 4985m is the highest non-technical peak on Mount Kenya. The trek was organised by Sewa International to raise money for various projects in Kenya keeping in line with the tradition of Charity Through Adventure, a project of Sewa International, which involves raising money to be spent on projects in the region the trek is organised e.g. the previous year involved a trek to Stok Kangri in Ladakh and all money raised was donated to projects in Ladakh. On our first day in Nairobi we saw first hand the difference Sewa was making to the lives to Kenyans from money donated previously.

The big day finally arrived when we set off for Mount Kenya. It was a long drive through some dirt tracks to get to the Mount Kenya park gate entrance for the Sirimon route. The first part of the climb was through a well-defined path through the forest. There were 42 of us, all participating to raise money for Sewa International.

We woke up to the glorious sight of clear blue skies without a cloud in sight. We could see the peaks of Mount Kenya – although not Point Lenana and there was not a cloud in sight. Little did we know what was to come that day…

We set off at 8:30 AM and our aim was to get to Shipton’s camp located at an altitude of 4200m. By 10AM it had started to cloud over and by 11AM visibility was poor. By midday it started raining and this was followed by hail. At this point we encountered the “just around the corner” phenomenon. Every time we asked the guide how much further we had to go there was only one answer – just around the corner. I finally got to Shipton’s camp around 5PM.

It was just as well that the following day was scheduled for acclimatising. I, by this time, again had a high fever and I decided enough was enough. I went to bed and only got up to briefly have dinner before clambering back into the bed.
The following morning we set-off just before 6AM. I needed a rest every now and then – the fever for 2 days had taken a lot out of me. Finally I was within a few meters of the summit. I could hear my son and wife egging me on – at least they had made it to the top. The last few meters seemed really difficult but I clambered over a rock and I was on the summit! Finally after months of planning I had made it. After several practice treks – Snowdon, Yorkshire 3 peaks, Snowdon again, Ben Nevis – I was on Point Lenana.

Everyone had supported and helped each other and had a wonderful time. The trek has so far raised £33,000. It was an amazing experience.

By Mayank, Hena & Priyank Patel, London

 

 


Comments
We had a fantastic time. I was a bit nervous going out there as we had not really prepared ourselves and but had an outstanding experience. We did encounter tough times but overcame all difficulties as the guides and porters were good companions and made us feel comfortable about the challenge and looked after our needs well. The Group made a great team, we met great people, had amazing views, we surprised ourselves as to what we can actually achieve and we had a trip of a lifetime.
Urvashiben, Gayatri & Darshan Patel London

{becssg}Sewa Kenya 09{/becssg}

Guidelines for raising funds

Doing it the right way…

Thanks for organising an event to benefit Sewa UK. The following information will help you organise a safe & successful event. Please take some time to read the information below.
On this page

Health and Safety and Risk Assessment 

As an event organiser, it’s vital that you consider all aspects related to the safety of those attending your event. The most important consideration is to identify, minimise and control all risks to all those taking part and members of the public who may be attending.
Sewa UK cannot accept liability for any loss, damage or injury suffered by yourself or anyone else as a result of taking part in a fundraising event.

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Food hygiene

It’s often said that food is critical to people enjoying a good event. Please take great care when handling food and work to basic rules for safe preparation, storage, display and cooking. Make sure your event is remembered for the right reasons!
A Food Standards Agency booklet ‘Preventing Food Poisoning – Good hygiene at home’ can be downloaded from http://www.food.gov.uk. Further information can be found from the website: http://www.eatwell.gov.uk/keepingfoodsafe and from your local authority.

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Data protection

Make sure any electronic or paper record you keep about people involved in a fundraising event complies with the Data Protection Act. As a rule of thumb, don’t keep information about people any longer than you have to, and don’t share information or data about someone without their permission. 

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Insurance 

By organising a fundraising event you are responsible for taking adequate steps to ensure that the event poses no risk to others. Check that any buildings or equipment that you hire are covered. Often insurance is included in the hire fee but not always. 

You may need to consider arranging public liability cover for some events which will protect you against claims made by third parties for injury or property damage as a result of negligence.

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Alcohol and public entertainment license 

If your event involves the sale of alcohol and/or live or recorded music, dancing, showing of a film or performance of a play, an indoor sporting event (including a boxing or wrestling match), or any entertainment of a similar nature, you may need a licence. Liaise with your local authority, the police and other relevant parties as necessary.

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Collections

Public collections are donation collections that take place in a publicly owned place. Public collections are governed by strict legal requirements and must be licensed by the Local Authority. Before you approach your local authority for a license, you must contact Sewa UK.

Private collections are collections on private premises and do not need the permission of the local authority; only the permission of the owner of the premises concerned (e.g. pub, supermarket). 

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Raffles, lotteries and prize draws

There are strict legal requirements governing the organisation of raffles, lotteries and prize draws. Please do not organise a raffle without checking first the guidelines with Sewa UK.

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Participation in walks & runs

With so many 10K runs, marathons, triathlons being organised across the UK, why not take the opportunity to raise money for Sewa UK, and becoming a little healthier in the same stroke! Our supporters have recently raised:

  • £10,000 by organising a 5K walk
  • £x by running the 26 mile gruelling London Marathon
  • £650 by running, swimming and cycling in a triathlon

You too could do the same. Start here by reading how to organise an event to support us here: You can read more about how to plan an event here: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Fundraising/FundraisingIdeas/EventPlanning.aspx

Also, think about setting up a personalised JustGiving page at mydonate.bt.com/charities/sewauk. It’s a really easy way for people to sponsor you and add Gift Aid to their sponsorship.

On birthdays, in memory and other special dates
What better way to celebrate and mark a special day, then to make a charitable donation in the knowledge that your generosity will help alleviate suffering and bring a lot more joy to the world.

Whether it’s a birth, marriage, death or a festival, please consider supporting Sewa UK.

Giving is easy, please send a cheque made payable to Sewa International with your contact details and completed gift aid form (if you’re a taxpayer, CLICK HERE), to our office  – 110 High St, Edgware, London, HA8 7HF.

You can also make an online donation at www.justigiving.com/sewauk

Feedback on visits to india

Dr Wali Tasar Uddin(Edinburgh, Scotland): “This visit has opened my eyes and I sincerely appreciate the work done by Sewa International UK. I would not hesitate to associate myself with this organisation in future”

“Thank you very much to Sewa International UK and the team for what you have done for us, your professionalism and sincerity has touched our hearts. “

Eleanor Gussman from the Asian Music Circuit said “this was an extremely worthwhile trip for me and I will ensure that I keep in touch to follow up the progress of our adopted school”.

Leonard Evans, a fundraiser from Coventry said “this is my second visit in 3 years and I can see that the work completed has been of excellent standards. It is also heartening to see all communities have been given houses and rehabilitation.

Leonard Evans, also said : “Sewa International UK should be rightly proud of what they have achieved. Over the last 7 days, I have seen some brilliant humanitarian work that they do all over India at very minimal costs. Well done.”

Mahendra Pattni from Greenford Willow Tree Lions Club commented that “my organisation has had a long standing relationship with Sewa International UK, and I would just like to commend them for their excellent rehabilitation work that they have completed in such a short time. We shall look for ways in which we can work together even more in the future and we wish them well.”

Ranjan Ladwa & Dhiraj Chandegra from Sorathia Prajapati Community said “we were very happy to see the schools that have been built from funds that our community had given to Sewa and we will go back to the UK and inform all our members of the great job done by Sewa International UK and Seva Bharati. We have met some wonderful people working for both these organisations and we look forward to continue to work with them in the future.”

Cllr Ashok Kalia from Derby City Council commented: “This is my second visit in 3 years to view the rehabilitation projects in Gujarat and I am very pleased with the progress that has been made over the last 3 years. During our visits to various locations in Gujarat over the last 4 days, we have seen reconstructed homes, roads and water systems in the towns and villages that had been damaged or destroyed by the earthquake. I am happy to see the economic activity is also returning to the area, which is a sign of the spirit, dignity and resilience of the people of Gujarat in the face of disaster. I am very happy with the completed village of Mitha Pasvalia which has been jointly funded by the people of Derby & Nottingham. I offer my best wishes to Sewa International UK and Seva Bharati for a job well done.”

The Lord Mayor of Coventry, Cllr Sucha Bains said “It is a great pleasure for me to be in Gujarat to view the work done to rehabilitate the victims of the earthquake. I am deeply appreciative of your invitation and have been touched by the warm reception and hospitality the Lady Mayoress and I have received. Throughout the last few days, I had the opportunity to visit the earthquake affected areas, in and around Bhuj and I am impressed that people have borne their grief with dignity and fortitude and helped by the support of their government and Seva Bharati they are rebuilding their lives once more.”

Kishore Shah from Hindu Cultural Society, Middlesbrough commented that “this was a well times and well organised tour which has successfully showed the various organisations in the UK that the money donated by them has been well utilised. I am very impressed with the rehabilitation work that has been carried out by Sewa International UK and Seva Bharati.”

Arun Bhandari, from Sri Sri Radha Krishna Cultural Centre in Coventry said “It is heartening to see the progress made, the rebuilt villages and schools and the construction of roads and water systems and the extensive rehabilitation planning efforts for the victims who were severely affected by the quake.” He continued “Let me assure you, that my organisation values its special relationship with Sewa International UK and will continue to be one of your enduring partners in your efforts for the social and economic development in times of disasters and calamities.”

Tony Blair Speech on ‘Faith & Globalisation’

Speech by Rt Hon Tony Blair, ‘Faith And Globalisation’.
The Cardinal’s Lectures 2008
Westminster Cathedral, London
19:00hrs, Thursday 3rd April 2008

Let me summarise my argument to you this evening. Under the momentum of globalisation the world is opening up, and at an astonishing speed.

Old boundaries of culture, identity and even nationhood are falling. The 21st Century world is becoming ever more interdependent. In this world, religious faith, crucial to so many people’s culture and identity, can play a positive or a negative role. Either positively it will encourage peaceful co-existence by people of faith coming together in respect, understanding and tolerance, retaining their distinctive identity but living happily with those who do not share that identity. Or it will work against such co-existence by defining people by difference, those of one faith in opposition to others of a different faith.

In this context, inter-faith action and encounter are vital. They symbolise peaceful co-existence.

That is my primary argument. It is directed to people who have religious faith and those who have none.

However, I then go further and argue that religious faith is a good thing in itself, that so far from being a reactionary force, it has a major part to play in shaping the values which guide the modern world, and can and should be a force for progress. But it has to be rescued on the one hand from the extremist and exclusionary tendency within religion today; and on the other from the danger that religious faith is seen as an interesting part of history and tradition but with nothing to say about the contemporary human condition. I see Faith and Reason, Faith and Progress, as in alliance not contention.

One of the oddest questions I get asked in interviews (and I get asked a lot of odd questions) is: is faith important to your politics? It’s like asking someone whether their health is important to them or their family. If you are someone ‘of faith’ it is the focal point of belief in your life. There is no conceivable way that it wouldn’t affect your politics.

But there is a reason why my former press secretary, Alastair Campbell once famously said: ‘We don’t do God’. In our culture, here in Britain and in many other parts of Europe, to admit to having faith leads to a whole series of suppositions, none of which are very helpful to the practising politician.

First, you may be considered weird. Normal people aren’t supposed to ‘do God’.

Second, there is an assumption that before you take a decision, you engage in some slightly cultish interaction with your religion – ‘So, God, tell me what you think of City Academies or Health Service Reform or nuclear power’ i.e. people assume that your religion makes you act, as a leader, at the promptings of an inscrutable deity, free from reason rather than in accordance with it.

Third, you want to impose your religious faith on others.

Fourth, you are pretending to be better than the next person.

And finally and worst of all, that you are somehow messianically trying to co-opt God to bestow a divine legitimacy on your politics.

So when Alastair said it, he didn’t mean politicians shouldn’t have faith; just that it was always a packet of trouble to talk about it.

And underlying it all, certainly, is the notion that religion is divisive, irrational and harmful. That is why for years, it was assumed that as humanity progressed intellectually and matured morally, so religion would decline.

Even ten years ago, religion was still being written off as a force in the world. For over 200 years, the view had grown that advanced men and women no longer needed religion. It was a view rooted in the new thinking of the Enlightenment. It was a view reinforced by scientific discoveries which challenged traditional religious understandings of the nature of the world. A view underpinned by a belief in the inevitable progress of all humankind, but especially those branches of humankind who happened to live in the West. It was a view which increasingly confined religion to the private sphere. And it was a view which lasted a long time. As late as 2000 the Economist magazine published the so-called obituary of God in its Millennium issue.

But in fact at no time since the Enlightenment has religion ever gone away. It has always been at the very core of life for millions of people, the foundation of their existence, the motive for their behaviour, the thing which gives sense to their lives and purpose to their journeys – which makes life more than just a sparrow’s flight through a lighted hall from one darkness to another, in that memorable image of the Venerable Bede. In the last few years we have been reminded of the great power of religion.

We have seen its great power for good, for example in the Jubilee campaign, that great mass movement which did so much to help the poor of the world.

And in the last ten years we have also been reminded sharply, in acts of terror committed in the name of faith, that we ignore the power of religion at our peril.

But let us also recall for a moment the evils of the 20th Century done in the furtherance of political ideology; fascism and the holocaust; communism and the millions of Stalin’s victims. And recall how the heroic defiance of those evils was often led by men and women of faith.

Add to that the rich tradition of religion as a force for good in history.

Only last year we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. Of course we need to remember that plenty of people of belief willingly engaged in the slave trade and enjoyed its profits. But we also need to recall that many of the leaders of the abolition movement came from the evangelical Clapham sect or the Society of Friends.

We need to recall the role of Christian and Jewish groups in instigating the Genocide Convention in 1948.

We can think of the great humanitarian enterprises which bring relief to those who are suffering – the Red Cross, the Red Crescent or Islamic Relief, CAFOD and Christian Aid, Hindu Aid and SEWA International, World Jewish Relief and Khalsa Aid – all the charities which draw inspiration from the teachings of the different faiths.

And of course all these bodies draw on the traditions which the great world faiths have of social justice – the moral imperative of helping the poor, the oppressed, the dispossessed, the weak and the powerless.

Think of Gandhi; of the radical and brave liberation priests of South America; of those that spoke out in the time of apartheid; of those that in their thousands and hundreds of thousands work in the poorest, most disease-ridden, conflict ravaged parts of Africa this day and every day.

Think of women religious fighting the trafficking of women and children around the world.

And in the West, for example, we owe an incalculable debt to the Judaeo-Christian tradition in terms of our concepts of human worth and dignity, law and democracy.

Reflect on the work done by churches, mosques, synagogues and temples in care for the sick or the elderly or the socially excluded.

Such work is selfless, often unremarked upon in society, often dramatic in lifting individual human anguish and suffering.

For all these actors faith is not something incidental to their actions. It is the wellspring of them, the font, the origin, the thing that makes these people who they are and do what they do.

To them their faith is realised in action: in commitment to others; in caring; in compassion; in an all-embracing feeling of solidarity. They believe they act as instruments of God’s love when they perform such actions. But enacted love of neighbour is one aspect only of what people think the faith communities represent.

Religion can present two other faces to the world.

One face is that of religion as extremism. There is no point in ducking this issue. Religious faith can give rise to extremism. It is most obviously associated with extremism in the name of Islam through the activities of Al Qaida and others. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. Even if by far most religious people are not prone to the use of terror, at least not nowadays, there are extremists in virtually every religion. And even where there is not extremism expressed in violence there is extremism expressed in the idea that a person’s identity is to be found not merely in their religious faith, but in their faith as a means of excluding the other person who does not share it.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that it is extreme to believe your religious faith is the only true faith. Most people of faith do that. It doesn’t stop them respecting those of a different faith or indeed of no faith. We should respect humanists too and celebrate the good actions they do.

Faith is problematic when it becomes a way of denigrating those who do not share it, as somehow lesser human beings. Faith as a means of exclusion. God in this connection becomes not universal but partisan, faith not a means of reaching out in friendship but a means of creating or defining enemies. Miroslav Volf in his book ‘Exclusion and Embrace’ describes the difference brilliantly.

When those who are not of faith see such a face presented as religion, they turn away from it, understandably repelled.

An adjunct to such a form of religious faith is a refusal to countenance scientific discovery if it appears inconvenient to an aspect of organised religion. After what happened to Galileo, it is easy to see why some later scientists tended to think religious belief and scientific endeavour could not co-exist.

Yet for most people of faith, religious belief is quintessentially about truth. So, science and faith, reason and faith should never be seen as opposites but as bedfellows. Sometimes, as with those whose faith led them to denounce the false science around race and genetics, it is faith that can lead science. The seeking after knowledge is a powerful motor force in many faiths, not least in the Qur’an where people are exhorted to acquire knowledge, something which for centuries put Islamic countries not Christian ones, at the forefront of scientific advance.

Now, you may say, this is all very well. If you are of religious faith, all this may be of interest to you. But if not: Why should I care? So, there are these competing strands of vision about faith in the modern world. So what? Why does it matter in the world beyond the faith communities? The answer is this.

Accept the premise that faith is not in decline. It isn’t disappearing inevitably under the weight of scientific and technological progress. It is still here with us, not just surviving but thriving.

In an era of globalisation, of political interdependence, where the world is ever more swiftly opening up and the cliché about a global community becomes an economic, political and often social reality; in this new world, how religious faith develops will have a profound impact.

The forces shaping the world at this moment are so strong and all tend in one direction. They are opening the world up. I sometimes say to people that in modern politics, the dividing line is often less between traditional left vs. right; but more about open vs. closed.

Mass migration is changing communities, even countries. People communicate ideas and images instantly around the world, creating immediate political and ideological movements in a ferment of quickly devoured information. Economically the world system is ever more dependent on confidence, robust when things seem good, extraordinarily brittle when confidence dips. The world is interdependent today, economically, politically, even to a degree ideologically.

The divide, then, is between those who see this as positive – the opening up offering opportunity; and those who see it as threatening and wish to close it back down.

As you can see from the Presidential race in the U.S., there are new questions that cross traditional Party lines: free trade vs. protection; engagement in foreign policy or isolationism; supporting immigration or opposing it. In these, the issue is less left vs. right but open vs. closed. And they all derive from a fear that globalisation is throwing people, cultures, countries together but with no common sense of values or understanding of each other. The landmark Gallup Poll, being taken world-wide, demonstrates the huge centrality of inter-cultural sensitivity as to how globalisation is perceived.

It is in this context that the role of faith is especially important, not least because most religions were global, even before political and economic systems were. If people of faith reach out to one another, learn to co-exist, believe in respecting ‘the other’ they can play an important part in reducing fear and tension, being proud of their own distinctive religious, and often cultural identity, but open and in amity towards those of a different religion. Alternatively, religious faith could be used to bolster, to promote, to intensify the very clash of civilisations we seek to avoid.

This is why it matters to those of different faiths and those of none, to have a powerful inter-faith encounter, precisely because such an encounter symbolises and enacts a world of co-existence not exclusion. I would widen the argument still further. Faiths can transform and humanise the impersonal forces of globalisation, and shape the values of the changing set of economic and power relationships of the early 21st Century. This is one of the issues I’ll explore in a Faith and Globalisation course which I am starting with Yale University later this year.

Since leaving office, I have understood better a phenomenon I understood only partially as Prime Minister. For obvious reasons, I was focused on the threat of global terrorism and the struggle against it. But it was not the only phenomenon of recent times.

The other – which I see so plainly now – is that the centre of gravity, economically and politically, is shifting East. And it is shifting fast. China has gone from a standing start to arguably the most powerful nation on the continent of Africa. China and India together, will industrialise the bulk of their populations, presently employed in subsistence agriculture, probably within two decades. Because of the size of their populations, understand what this means: it is an industrialisation roughly three times that of the U.S.A. and at roughly five times the speed. Yes the mind boggles.

It is one reason why a sensible long-term partnership with China, and of course with India, is of vital strategic importance to us.

Take the major sovereign wealth funds of the Gulf States and you will find a sum of money equal to a sum several times the funding of the World Bank and IMF combined.

All this, without even detailing the potential power of Indonesia, a country now growing at 6% per annum and of a size four times that of the UK; Vietnam, the size of Germany and moving rapidly up the economic league table or Thailand, Malaysia and several others.

For the first time in centuries the West will have to come to terms with the seismic change happening about it. The East is rising. At the least it will demand parity with the West. And perhaps more. But what values will this daunting new world use to guide it?

I believe, in this era of rapid globalisation, where power is shifting away from its traditional centre in the west, the world will be immeasurably poorer, more dangerous, more fragile and above all, more aimless – I mean without the necessary sense of purpose to help guide its journey- if it is without a strong spiritual dimension. Today, precisely because all the fixed points of reference seem unfixed and constantly in flux; today is more than ever, when we need to discover and re-discover our essential humility before God, our dignity as found in our lives being placed at the service of the Source and Goal of everything. I can’t prove that religious faith offers something more than humanism. But I believe profoundly that it does. And since religious faith has such a strong historical and cultural influence on both East and West, it can help unify around common values what otherwise might be a battle for domination.

In her remarkable book ‘The Great Transformation’ Karen Armstrong traces the evolution of religious thought from the earliest times, both East and West, when religion did indeed seem often cruel, unforgiving and irrational, to the modern times in which the faiths share many common values and much common purpose.

The Foundation that I am starting is an attempt to do something a little different from the many excellent inter-faith bodies and organisations that already exist and many of which are represented here today. Indeed, I want to pay warm tribute this country’s pioneering record of inter faith relations and dialogue. I am proud that the Council of Christians and Jews was set up as long ago as 1942, and that many other bodies have since then come into existence, such as the Inter Faith Network, the Three Faiths Forum and others too numerous to mention. But my Foundation will attempt to complement their work, not duplicate it.

I am not a religious leader. Actually today I am no longer a political leader. I am aware of all the jibes and ridicule that attends anyone in politics speaking about religion. I make no claims to moral superiority. Quite the opposite.

But I am passionate about the importance of faith to our modern world and about the need for people of faith to reach out to one another.

The foundation will concentrate on certain key specifics. The first will be to help the different faith organisations to work together in furtherance of the Millennium Development Goals, which I helped advocate as PM and which are, in many ways the litmus test of the world’s values. Faith groups do great individual work in this area. But they could do even more, if helped also to combine together. The MDGs are stark in their ambition and necessity. We are falling short as a world in meeting them. It would be a great example of faith in action to try to bridge the gap and awaken the world’s conscience.

The second will be to produce high quality material – books, websites, every means of communication – to educate people better about the different faiths, what they truly believe not what we often mistakenly think they believe.

The foundation will concentrate, in the immediate term, on the six main faiths, the Abrahamic three and Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. But, though the foundation will expressly not be confined to the Abrahamic faiths, we will partner existing organisations that promote better understanding and co-existence between Christians, Muslims and Jews, notably in The Coexist Foundation’s vision of creating Abraham House here in London, where people of those faiths but also others, can encounter some of their traditions, explore their roots and, without glossing over their differences, discover what they share.

We will also help partner those within any of the faiths who stand up for peaceful co-existence and reject the extremist and divisive notion that faiths are in fundamental struggle against each other. But I freely confess there is a broader objective.

The Foundation will expressly not be about chucking faith into a doctrinal melting pot. It is not about losing our own distinctive faith. It is about learning about, living and working with others of a different faith. But it will also be concerned with promoting the idea of faith itself as something dynamic, modern and full of present relevance.

For religion to be a positive force for good, it must be rescued not simply from extremism – faith as a means of exclusion; but also from irrelevance – an interesting part of our history but not of our future. Too many people see religious faith as represented in stark dogmatism and empty ritualism. Faith is reduced to a system of strange convictions and actions that, to some, can appear far removed from the necessities and anxieties of ordinary life. It is this face that gives militant secularism an easy target. It mocks certain of the practices and traditions of organised religion which they define as ‘faith’. ‘Faith’ is to be found in the cassocks and the gowns and the rituals.

Reading the Dawkins book – The God Delusion – I am struck by how much the militant secularist and the religious extremist need each other. The God Delusion is a brilliant polemic but rests entirely – as does the more reasonable The Blind Watchmaker – on the view that those who believe in God believe in Him as a means of exclusion, as a frightening, irrational piece of superstition and mumbo-jumbo which then justifies the unjustifiable. To be fair, people of this view do respect some of what is done in the name of faith, but believe it could be done and done better in the name of humanity, without the encumbrance of faith. I agree that you don’t need to be religious to be good – a true statement but which itself often then becomes one that can exclude religion from the idea of doing good – a very different proposition.

For the less militant secularist the notion of faith is at best harmless but misguided; and the role of religion at best expressed in beautiful churches, in religiously inspired art, in all the history and culture of countries when religion was dominant. This aesthetic or historical view of religious faith sees faith as an interesting part of tradition but with little or no contemporary relevance.

Again, I agree: belief in God can be about superstition, or fear – how many of us make promises to God when frightened, only to forget them when the danger passes? But if that were all faith was, it would never have lasted or deserved to.

So why despite it all does faith persist, why has it not disappeared with the advent of modern science and technology; why despite all the aspects of organised religion and unorganised religion that put people off, does religious faith continue to be a focal point for millions as to how they lead their lives? Why does it continue to inspire works of supreme self-sacrifice and selflessness?

This is because, along with all the doctrine and theology, the practice and the ritual, at the core faith represents a profound yearning within the human spirit. Indeed it is why we talk about the spirit.

Faith answers to the basic, irrepressible, irresistible human wish for spiritual betterment, to do good, to think and act beyond the limitations of selfish human desires. More than that , it is rooted in a belief that the impulse to do good or try to, is not utilitarian or self-interested but is about putting aside self, in being aware of something bigger, more central, more essential to our human condition than self. In this, the ‘other’ is not to be rejected still less excluded, but embraced as more important than you or me. And people of faith believe we are driven or guided to this end. For those who feel in this way, God is not some wise Old Man up in the sky, but the true source of life. God is selfless love, merciful and an infinite dispenser of Grace.

Organised religion seen in this light, is, then, not about arid ritual but a collective demonstration of faith, a coming together of people who believe in the power of God’ s mercy and love, who believe that it is of universal application, and who in coming together symbolise that communion with God and with fellow human beings.

In this way, Faith guides our lives, knowing our weakness and granting us strength.

Faith corrects, in a necessary and vital way, the tendency humankind has to relativism. It says there are absolutes – like the inalienable worth and dignity of every human being – that can never be sacrificed. It gives true moral fibre. We err, we do wrong, we sin but at least we know it and we feel the compunction to do better and the need to seek God’s forgiveness.

Faith is a living and growing belief, not stuck in one time in history, even if for those of faith at some point in history our own religion began, but moving with time, with reason, with knowledge, informed by scientific and technological discovery not in antithesis to it, as well as directing those discoveries toward humane ends.

Faith is not something separate from our reason, still less from society around us, but integral to it, giving the use of reason a purpose and society a soul, and human beings a sense of the divine. This is the life purpose that cannot be found in constitutions, speeches, stirring art or rhetoric. It is a purpose uniquely centred around kneeling before God.

For those of us of faith, this is what it means. And whilst we should not foist our belief on others, we should not be ashamed either to assert it or be proud of it. For us, faith is not an historical relic but a guide for humanity on its path to the future. A faithless world is not one in which we want ourselves and our children to live.

If people of different faiths can co-exist happily, in mutual respect and solidarity, so can our world. And if faith takes its proper place in our lives, then we can live with a purpose beyond ourselves alone, supporting humanity on its journey to fulfilment.