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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.
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© Sewa UK 2023
Charity Number 1135425. Company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales No. 06976220. © Sewa UK 2023