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  • 14 Jan 2024 5:32 AM | Sewa UK (Administrator)

     Written by Pallavi Dadarkar

    In Jawhar, there is a small town located in the Palghar District of Maharashtra - Divya Vidyalaya. It is a residential school, but mostly a home for children dealing with visual and mental challenges.

    Dharma, which most people know as ‘one’s duty’, resonated in every interaction within this school. All the staff, teachers and volunteers were so committed to nurturing the minds and hearts of the children. It was so heart-warming to see that even the children themselves showed so much care towards each other. One cute example is of an 8-year-old sister constantly caring for her 5-year-old brother. Both were partially blind and despite her young age, whenever he was crying or needed something, she took the responsibility upon herself to help and be there for him. The love and support everyone in the entire school showed formed the foundations of a community built entirely on compassion.

    Just small interactions with all the inspiring individuals who have devoted their lives to the children, including the school's founder and head, Smt. Pramilatai Kokad, who started this school alone, highlighted the embodiment of Sewa and Dharma. It was so inspiring to witness their commitment to making a difference in these children’s lives. The teachers' dedication plus the kids' constant happiness shows a community that cares for everyone. It's a real-life example of Hindu values in action.

    This experience really encouraged me to reflect on my own privilege and the things I might not notice in my everyday life. The children’s happiness that came from the simplest activities highlighted the difference between our perceptions of normality and the reality faced by these resilient individuals.

    The lessons I learnt at the brief time spent at this school continue to inspire me and challenge me to reassess my core values and embrace the simplicity that brings true happiness.

  • 5 Jan 2024 6:54 AM | Sewa UK (Administrator)

     Written by Pallavi Dadarkar

    One common theme during the Sewa tour around various different projects was 'Atithi Devo Bhava,' which means Guest is God. Everywhere we went we were treated so well, it was as if we are God (which we are obviously nothing close to!!)

    It started at Divya Vidyalaya, where during our arrival, the children greeted us with roses. We also attended a sports day with the children, where they competed against kids from 12 different schools. During the inauguration ceremony, we were unexpectedly called on stage to receive an award. I felt a bit embarrassed at this, as I didn’t feel we had done anything particularly deserving, especially considering all the other people there, ranging from the children, teachers, volunteers, the event organisers, and headteachers of all the schools!

    Another example took place during our stay at Samvedana Rehabilitation Centre in Latur. There was another school just behind, which we visited to get an idea of what a boarding school in India is like. We went with the impression that we would just be watching them in their daily routine. However, when we arrived the schoolgirls were sat on the floor which chairs arranged for us, and they were expecting a Q&A session with us! Again, I was very shocked, firstly because we did not need chairs, especially if they were sitting on the floor and secondly because of how much they looked up to us, eager to hear our answers to their questions.

    Spending hours at the school, I was shocked at the pedestal these girls placed us on. They wanted to talk to us, take selfies and know about our dreams. This recurring question ‘What is your dream?’ made me feel sad and ashamed, realising how young these girls are, yet they had planned out their entire lives. Whereas, in contrast I was 10 years older than some of them and still uncertain about my own path.

    This is just a snapshot of how warm and welcoming everyone in India was towards us; everyone treats you as if you are family. It fills me with gratitude to be of Indian heritage, as there is such a heightened sense of community and belonging everywhere you go.

  • 26 Dec 2023 5:48 AM | Sewa UK (Administrator)

     Written by Diyaa Joshi

    The significance of a strong support system, in shaping one's life, became evident during my visit to Cochlea, Pune. While observing a lesson on hearing and speech, I noticed students who struggled to vocalise certain sounds, which sparked my curiosity. Upon speaking to a staff member, I learnt a compelling story about two students with deaf parents.

    The first student, excelling in the class, had a deaf family but a strong support system with a large extended family. Regular verbal communication with uncles and aunties outside of school further increased her progress in speech. The joy of witnessing her articulate sounds highlighted the impact of her extensive support network.

    In contrast, the second student struggled to pronounce sounds, which revealed the lack of a strong support system. Despite having the same school education as the first student, there was a noticeable difference in their ablities to speak. Due to both parents being unable to verbally communicate with her, she didn't have the extra practice to apply and consolidate what she had been taught. Not having that vast support system had a huge impact on this girl's life and witnessing her struggles was heartbreaking.

    This experience led me to reflect on my own life, and I am grateful for having an immense support system, consisting of my family, friends and the wider community. Without their support, I may not have been able to travel, have this freedom, education, lifestyle and be in the position I am in today. Therefore, I will continue to remind myself of this, throughout my life.

  • 26 Dec 2023 5:07 AM | Sewa UK (Administrator)

     Written by Holly Halai

    *Name changed

    Vishnu is a young boy at Divya Vidyalaya. He is almost completely blind, and today he participated in the sports day for children with various disabilities.

    Vishnu as an individual can run very fast, however, due to his inability to see, he did not do as well as he could and should have. This happened due to something out of his control - his blindness. Hence, seeing him upset was very heartbreaking.

    However, this occurrence brought about a sweet moment, in which one of Vishnu’s friends gave both of her medals to him to make him feel better :)

    Again, this moment made me extremely grateful for everything that I have. As an individual, I am in no position to ever complain about anything, not after seeing these children go about their day-to-day lives, without a single complaint made…

    Keep this in mind next time you find yourself complaining about things as little and irrelevant as not having enough money to buy the latest trainers.

  • 26 Dec 2023 4:49 AM | Sewa UK (Administrator)

     Written by Holly Halai

    Today was my birthday :). Amongst all the things that I’ve learned in my 22 years of life, nothing has taught me to express gratitude more than my time at Divya Vidyalaya.

    It’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking to spend time with these kids. It is heartwarming because it’s nice to see them constantly smiling despite the struggles they are facing such as blindness and mental disabilities.

    Heart-shattering because you can’t help but wish they had an easier life, such as the ones each of you reading this are lucky enough to have…

    This is your reminder to be immensely grateful for things as simple as your ability to see, your general health etc.

  • 20 Dec 2023 6:45 AM | Sewa UK (Administrator)

     Written by Diyaa Joshi

    In the brief time I spent at Divya Vidyalaya, a school for the blind and mentally challenged, my affection for this place, which I now consider home, has grown immensely. The atmosphere was filled with unity and love, creating a profound bond between the children and teachers. Each individual, regardless of size or ability, imparted valuable knowledge and gratitude to my life. This encouraged me to reflect on how grateful I am for my senses, my Hindu roots, my family and the daily sight of nature's beauty I am provided with. I learnt the true meaning of family – a connection extending beyond blood ties.

    Witnessing the children's daily smiles, despite communication barriers, illuminated lives more than a single divo (candle) ever could. Our ability to play and laugh without verbal communication created a magical, unexplainable connection, forming memories to be cherished for a lifetime.

    Take a moment to reflect on just how privileged we are and to not take this precious life for granted.

  • 13 Nov 2023 6:32 AM | Sewa UK (Administrator)

     Written by Holly Halai

    Honestly speaking, it wasn’t until my orientation day that I was able to become familiar with 2 new terms that I had a limited understanding of: AHIMSA and DHARMA.

    Ahimsa: causing MINIMAL harm to all living beings.

    Dharma: being peaceful, harmonious, and sustaining.

    I was told that being Hindu is about enabling a better world. These terms can also be universally applied, regardless of religion. Minimising harm, and sustaining should be at the heart of everything that we do.

    God’s creation should always be treated with respect, which is why we should treat ourselves, our family, our community, our country, and OUR WORLD with respect.

  • 18 Sep 2023 1:44 PM | Sewa UK (Administrator)

     Written by Kareena Terry

    I knew it was necessary to dedicate an entire post to the amazing students at Sanvedana. These children come every day from all over the Latur region to learn through classwork, take part in crafts, dance, sing, practice yoga, have physiotherapy sessions and so much more. I met children suffering from cerebral palsey, mental retardation, autism, Down’s Syndrome and multiple disability which was eye-opening and inspiring. They displayed such courage and determination, particularly in their physiotherapy sessions which I could see were not easy for them.

    It was deeply moving to see, and I felt such great gratitude for my own health and freedom. However, it warmed my heart to see smiles on these childrens’ faces, to see them helping one another and seeing the incredible work of all the staff at Sanvedana. Their job is undeniably painstaking and difficult but through them these children are given a whole new lease of life; their selfless service encourages me to do more.

    One of the most interesting things I watched at Sanvedana was speech therapy. A trained speech therapist came to the centre once a week to work with the children, particularly those with Down’s Syndrome, to help them develop a greater range of motion when speaking. The time, effort and care that the speech therapist put in to helping each individual child was amazing and I felt honoured to be able to watch. I also loved watching the wonderful physiotherapist, Dr Mayuri, whose care and attention to each individual child was inspiring. She used different equipment, techniques and exercises to suit their different needs and, slowly but surely, she would see results.

    Whilst it was harder for me to get involved in activities like speech therapy and physiotherapy, watching the children and speaking with the teachers was enriching enough. However, one of my favourite parts of the school day was first thing in the morning when all the children would gather in the hall for yoga and meditation. I thought this was amazing, and something I could really have done with at school! It was great to see how involved the children were getting and thought this was something western cultures could really use. On one occasion I was asked to run a short yoga session for all the children which I absolutely loved. It was so great to see them moving and enjoying themselves in preparation for the day ahead.

    Overall, my favourite thing to do at Sanvedana was simply to play with and talk to the children. While the language barrier did make this difficult, I realised that language isn’t always necessary to communicate, especially with small children. During their lunch break, we would play ball games and I loved helping in the arts and crafts sessions. I connected with some students more easily than with others, and I soon found that I was spending lots of time each day with the same 2-3 children. It was heart-warming to build this connection with them and it would be amazing to see how they are doing in the near future. I am so thankful to everyone at Sanvedana for having me, and for giving me this wonderful experience.

  • 18 Sep 2023 1:31 PM | Sewa UK (Administrator)

    Written by Kareena Terry

    In one of my earlier blog posts I talked about the difference between sewa and charity. Both involve helping those in need, but sewa means abandoning any sense of superiority and breaking down the barrier between ‘us’ and ‘them’. I went to India with the intention of doing just that – I wanted to experience a totally different way of life, stripped of luxuries, and simply view myself as an equal to those I met there. I wanted to live just like them, learn from their lifestyle and give back what I could. However, this proved to be a more challenging task than I expected.

    Something the former YfS interns had mentioned during our Orientation Day was the overwhelming kindness of the Indian people towards foreigners whom they view as important and honourable guests. So, I knew this was in store on some level, but was not prepared for the reception I met!

    During my days at Sanvedana, I sat with the teachers for a delicious lunch prepared by the catering staff. This usually consisted of a dhal with roti, rice and a different vegetable curry each day. On my first day, I finished my meal and went to wash my empty plate but this was not approved by the rest of the staff! Their protests shocked me but I realised that, to them, the idea of a guest washing their own plate was simply unheard of and I knew I would have to try harder if they were to see me as equal to them.

    Similarly, one evening Ashokji accompanied me to the nearby Swami Vivekananda Hospital where staff had gathered for a meeting and for prayers. Since most of the service was conducted in Marathi, I almost didn’t realise my name being mentioned. I was called to the front where Ashok Kukade, who opened the whole chain of hospitals, presented me with a signed copy of his autobiography and the most beautiful bouquet of flowers I have ever seen. I was blown away by this reception and once again overcome with gratitude, but I honestly didn’t know what I had done to deserve it.

    On the drive home, I mentioned this to Ashokji who simply said that ‘it is an honour’ to have a person of British origin in their country. This Indian hospitality and warmth is not something I have received anywhere else in the world, nor am likely to receive and is one of the many things that is truly incredible about the country. However, it made performing sewa all the more challenging as I wanted simply to be viewed as the normal person that I am!

    On another occasion, Adarsh, who works at Sanvedana, arranged for his sister Bharti to take me to the centre of Latur to visit the market. This was one of the greatest experiences of my whole trip – the endless variety and huge range of colours, materials, designs, textures, tastes and smells was like nothing I had ever seen, and I feel so blessed to have been able to experience it. After our shopping, I went back for a delicious meal with Bharti and her family. While their English was very limited, I could not mistake the warmth and excitement on her mother’s face at having me round for lunch. Again, I was amazed since really, I was a total stranger to them, but Bharti pointed out that I was the first foreigner they had ever met, and it was truly an honour. In this moment, I truly realised the privilege of my life and felt overwhelmed with gratitude in more ways than one.

    Next door to Sanvedana, is a much larger children’s boarding school, housing over 600 students. On my first day in Latur, I paid a visit to the school and I was astonished by the childrens’ excitement to meet me. I spent hours talking with them, taking photos and answering their never-ending questions. While this reception was totally unexpected and left me completely taken aback, the children were some of the sweetest I have ever met, and their curiosity was inspiring. I visited them again many times during my stay and was met each time with the same incredible warmth.

  • 18 Sep 2023 12:58 PM | Sewa UK (Administrator)

     Written by Kareena Terry

    One of the biggest differences I realised between the Indian culture and the English is our emphasis on timing, structure and planning, compared to their laidback and relaxed ‘go with the flow’ attitude. Before my departure, I was given a written itinerary of my trip but I soon realised how little value this actually held. Unlike what I was told, I ended up spending my first two nights at a camp in Keshavshrushti instead of sightseeing in Mumbai, and my first day certainly involved a lot of unanswered questions. I soon realised that any timings I was given were meaningless and was often made aware of plans at the very last second. While this caused me a great deal of anxiety and discomfort, particularly in my first few days, I started to see it from a different perspective as I settled into life in India.

    As a person who always likes structure and organisation coming from a culture in which such values are encouraged, the Indian way of ‘going with the flow’ came as a huge shock to me. However, I soon began to realise that sometimes perhaps it isn’t necessary to have every tiny detail of a plan ironed out and finalised – perhaps that takes out the fun. I began to tell myself that things would work out and, whether I felt like it or not, I was in safe hands. Throughout my India trip, I experienced several situations where I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how I would get from one place to another, I didn’t know what I was meant to do once I got there, and I didn’t know how I would communicate with anyone once I did. Yet the thing that seemed to strike me was that, despite my anxiety, I always seemed to end up exactly where I needed to be when I needed to be there. Someone was always taking care of things, whether I could see it or not. I started to enjoy the freedom, and the lack of clear instruction meant my trip was truly for me to make my own. I realised more than ever that I had to have faith – it was time to relax and let things take care of themselves.

    There were many points during my trip when I couldn’t help but feel a lot like a dog. It sounds crazy to say, but let me explain. All around me, people were speaking in either Hindi or Marathi, neither of which I understand. I often found myself in a room full of people communicating with one another, sometimes even talking about me, and I could barely understand a word. The only clue I would have as to what they were saying were the occasional words of English used here and there in both languages, much like a dog who usually learns one or two words of his owner’s mother tongue.

    I learnt to pay greater attention to tone, body language and facial expressions to help me form some kind of understanding. I also experienced several occasions when I knew we were going somewhere but didn’t fully understand where or why until we got there, much like the life of a dog! Whilst this initially also caused me some anxiety, I once again began to relax as I realised that everything was always taken care of, whether this was expressed to me or not. I realise now that there is a lot to be learnt from our furry friends – they live their lives expectantly and often completely in the dark just like I was. Yet they are always happy and joyful because the next moment could hold any number of exciting things.

    For the most part, they are entirely trusting of their owners because they know that everything is always taken care of. Their role is simply to relax, have fun and enjoy the ride. Towards the end of my trip, the time came to make arrangements for my transport back to Mumbai and to the airport. However, like many things during my trip, this was not straightforward. We considered the options of taking a taxi to Solapur or a bus to Pune in order to board the train to Mumbai as it was proving difficult to book a direct train from Latur. For a few days I remained unsure and, having seen the huge and overcrowded Indian train stations, the thought of boarding an overnight train alone filled me with anxiety. Nevertheless, my earlier experiences had taught me to trust, and I knew that something would work itself out – and it did.

    After a few days of going back and forth between options, the wonderful staff at Sanvedana came to my rescue. Having treated me like a granddaughter for my entire stay, Ashokji was adamant that I would not board the train alone and, along with Adarsh and Sureshiji, managed to book the two of us onto a direct train from Latur to Mumbai. With the true Indian care and warmth, Ashokji accompanied me all the way back to Mumbai where I stayed with his lovely daughter Radhika and granddaughter Keya who were kind enough to welcome me to their home, before taking me to the airport the next morning. I was once again overwhelmed by this level of care and kindness that I have never received anywhere else.

    One of my greatest takeaways from the whole journey is the importance of trusting the process. Things will always work out in the end, and you are never alone, no matter how much it can feel like it in the moment.

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