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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.
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.
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.
One of the things that struck me most from my time in India is the warmth and kindness of nearly everyone I met there. While the language barrier does make communication difficult, you can’t mistake the friendliness of a smile or the kindness of a family welcoming you into their home. I’m learning that perhaps words are less important than we think. Although my experience would be easier if I could communicate in a shared language with those I meet, I’ve realised that an emotional connection runs far deeper than an arrangement of letters and the pronunciation of sounds.
On my first day in India, I was taken to a Sewa International Fellowship Camp taking place on the beautiful, green grounds of Keshavshrushti, just outside Mumbai. Whilst I won’t pretend I wasn’t feeling scared, anxious and very lonely at times, the kindness of those I met here absolutely blew me away. I was invited to attend various group sessions where I got to know new and friendly people, many of whom provided their contact details and even invited me to their homes in various parts of the country. This hospitality and warmth I soon found extends to most people in India and is something I feel should be implemented more widely into Western culture.
I witnessed another example of the effortless kindness of strangers when I arrived at Sanvedana in Latur. Here, I met Ashokji who immediately took me under his wing and treated me like family from my very first day. Having grown up in England where such a culture is not impossible to find, but certainly uncommon, I was blown away with gratitude. My first night at Sanvedana was rough to say the least – I felt so far away from home, alone and anxious. I had a tearful talk with Ashokji the next morning who took me to meet Deepatai and Sureshji, the couple who first opened Sanvedana and have a house just next-door. He explained to them that I was struggling and, without any hesitation, the couple agreed that I should be moved to stay with them. I was once again blown away by this act of kindness; to them I was a stranger and yet they welcomed me so openly to their home.
To get from Mumbai to Latur, I had to take an overnight train. This was incredibly daunting to me, since the trains and train stations in India are nothing like those I’m used to back in England. Luckily, my worries were put to rest as soon as I met Vinkatji who works at Sanvedana and accompanied me on the whole journey. He was the kind of friendly person I really needed to ease my anxieties and, once we had arrived in Latur, he too invited me to his home and introduced me to his lovely wife and adorable children, Shlok and Suyash. I visited the family home again on several occasions, where the boys proudly showed me their brilliant homework or invited me to join them in many different games. The family atmosphere was always so warm and welcoming, and I am so thankful for their kindness. This was yet another example of the incredible Indian warmth and hospitality that took me completely by surprise!
My YfS journey began on the 7th of August with my Orientation Day in Leicester. The focus of the day was to prepare us for the journey ahead, to meet other interns and to learn from the experiences of previous YfS interns. Hearing the stories, challenges and successes of previous interns was all I needed to truly start to feel excited about the journey on which I was about to embark, as it began to hit me that I really was about to travel alone to India for the very first time.
The day also consisted of talks on the meaning of ‘sewa’ and the concept of ‘dharma’, both of which are integral parts of Hinduism and underline the YfS process. I learnt to distinguish between the idea of ‘sewa’, meaning selfless service and the idea of charity, which I would previously have also defined as selfless service.
While both do involve helping those less fortunate than ourselves, ‘sewa’ has a greater emphasis on abandonment of the ego and a breaking down of the barrier between ‘us’ and ‘them’ when it comes to helping others. The idea of ‘charity’ often places us in a position of superiority, while performing an act of ‘sewa’ means viewing oneself as equal to all of humanity, including those who are in need.
It does not mean using one’s wealth and privilege to serve others as a means of earning status or recognition, as can often be the motive behind an act of charity, but rather abandoning such desires in order to support the ‘family’ that is all of mankind and to give something back to the world. This was a concept that stuck with me throughout my YfS experience, particularly in my work at Sanvedana Rehabilitation Centre.
The idea of ‘dharma’ was also prominent in my experience. Dharma comes from the Sanskrit word, ‘dhri’, which means to uphold, maintain, or preserve. Whilst different translations and interpretations lead to varying definitions of the word, put simply, ‘dharma’ means ‘that which upholds, maintains and allows flourishing’. I believe this ‘flourishing’ belongs to the entire universe and ‘dharma’ is the means through which this is achieved.
For me, ‘dharma’ is an individualistic concept; one person’s ‘dharma’ can differ from that of the next, and we are all here to discover and create our own ‘dharma’ to uphold and preserve the happiness of the world. With these new concepts in mind, I felt ready to embark on my journey of self-discovery, and selfless contribution to the maintenance and flourishing of the world.
Written by Sanjana Idnani
In March, I began my Youth For Sewa (YFS) journey with my first orientation day. It started, like many things in this Covid world, on a Zoom call. But this was a transformative zoom call in more ways than one — it was interactive, open, and so informative in preparing us for the months ahead.
The day had three parts — a talk on Sewa and Dharma, a talk on perseverance, and reflection and planning for the internship tasks ahead.
Sewa and Dharma are integral parts of Hinduism and concepts that many Hindus are familiar with. Dharma is righteousness and duty, and Sewa is selfless service. But the perspective I got from YFS alumn, Vipasha’s talk was so beautiful and added new layers to my understanding of these ideas. I want to share a little more about what I learnt in this blog.
As an English student, I was over the moon when Vipasha’s talk began with the origin of the word Dharma. I was not disappointed with the insights this etymology provided. Dharma comes from the Sanskrit word, Dhri, which means to hold, maintain, or preserve. From this word, Dharma then came to be known as how we hold, maintain, or preserve something.
“If we do not believe in what we are doing, our work will suffer. Our mindset is everything.”
“If we do not believe in what we are doing, our work will suffer. Our mindset is everything.”
To maintain something means to keep it flourishing. We can do this through laws and actions. However, Vipasha was quick to point out we must act with the right mindset or the effect will be limited
We can follow all the possible rules and procedures, we can act in a particular way, but if we do not believe in what we are doing, our work will suffer. Our mindset is everything.
And yet, our mindset when it comes to achieving or preserving anything, while determined, can sometimes be quite individualistic. Western individualism has taught us that if we take care of ourselves, everything else will fall in line.
Vipasha’s perspective on Sewa — selfless service — completely turned that idea on its head, providing us YFS attendees with a whole new framework for thinking.
Vipasha highlighted a concept called the concentric circles of identification. We identify ourselves in many ways — as ourselves, with our family, with our country, and finally with the entire world or universe.
As mentioned above, we often judge our welfare purely by the first circle of identification — me.
But we forget that we are within our family, our country, and our world. The concentric circles of being teaches us to adjust our thinking so that we see the welfare of the universe as the most important thing.
“the entire world is one family.”
“the entire world is one family.”
When we think in this way, the primary benefit is that we centre others rather than ourselves and act in a mood of selflessness. However, a secondary benefit is that the good welfare of the universe automatically benefits us as we are a part of that universe.
This way of thinking allows everyone to flourish. It is an idea nicely summed up by a teaching in the Vedas: Vasudhaiva kutumbakam which means “the entire world is one family.”
This concept felt even more relevant given we were at a low point of the pandemic. We were in the middle of the third lockdown, winter blues had sunk in, and deadlines were looming. But we were struggling together and we were doing these lockdowns for the safety of those around us. By protecting others, we were also protecting ourselves.
Learning this lesson during the pandemic was a wonderful reminder of the good in the world and our inherent capacity to selflessly serve. It motivated me and helped me realise that Sewa isn’t just an obligation, but that Sewa is a survival instinct that we all need in our lives. It is the absolute essence of our being, and it helps us maintain ourselves and others.
Featured Image courtesy of Yousef Salhamoud via Unsplash. Image license can be found here.
Written by Pavan Bains
I started the YFS programme 6 months into lockdown and like most others people I was experiencing that now common feeling of zoom fatigue so when I was introduced to my task for October of reading a book I was relieved to do something away from my screen! It had been a while since I’d read a book that wasn’t on my university essential reading list so I was excited to read ‘My Grandfather’s Blessings’.
The author of this book is Dr Rachel Remen, a professor and a physician who uses a spiritual approach to healing her patients. The book contained several short stories from her patients about what she and they had learnt through their medical issues. Over the next few weeks I felt extremely moved by what I read. I would think about the stories I read for days afterwards and couldn’t wait to read the next chapter. Overall, the book was the most moving piece of work I have ever read.
A lot of the spiritual teachings overlapped with Dharmic teachings which I thought I’d share with you.
Whilst reading the book I came across the term frontier culture. It describes the traits of self-reliance, self-sufficiency and independence that were important for survival when Americans began inhabiting areas of land far away from their communities. These traits that would ensure their survival in a hostile and unknown environment. However, even after the end of the frontier we still inhabit these characteristics in western culture. The author points out that individualism and independence won’t allow us to live in the most fulfilling way and it can lead to feelings of sadness and isolation.
So how can we lead lives that move away from the frontier culture?
One of the ways mentioned is by connecting with others through Sewa.
The meaning of sewa is discussed in the book and the author explores the difference between helping and serving (or sewa). This part stood out to me because I’d been asked a similar question during my YFS interview. I thought the author answered the question beautifully when she says that “A helping relationship may incur a sense of debt, but service, like healing, is mutual”. Service or sewa is an experience that both parties are fortunate to experience and over time whilst helping can become draining, sewa will sustain you. When we carry out sewa we connect with others. Through experiencing connectedness serving others becomes a natural and joyful thing to do.
Reading this chapter made me think about the YFS programme and how in a few months I’d be carrying out sewa with an organisation. I was feeling excited for what the next few months held and to read more of this fantastic book!
Written by Soch With Sam
A funny title you may think? The last two weeks of my YfS programme have been inspiring to say the least. Inspiring because I have realised that it is the not the end, rather the beginning of my journey ahead to be a Sevak for my society.
In the two weeks before, I was involved in the paperwork and training for one of my projects under Spread Some Joy: to be a Wellbeing friend.
As part of the services offered by the Slough Council Volunteering Scheme, this role involves having weekly conversations with individuals who are self-isolating over the
phone in their preferred language and spending time listening and talking them to ease the impact of the pandemic. Through this role I can help to identify any problems that individuals might be experiencing, notify the wellbeing team and council of these issues, and ensure clients understand the latest government advice.
This is a project I will certainly be continuing over the lockdown period, as it truly has helped to spread joy to those who need it more than ever now. I managed to have my first calls this week and can’t wait to carry on!
05/08 was truly an amazing day and I had been working on organising this event the weeks before. We went to deliver an appreciation parcel at the Applegarth Care Home and had invited the High Sheriff of Berkshire, Mary Riall, to attend as well.
It was a privilege to discuss with her all the fabulous work the local Sewa Day team had gotten up to over the COVID19 pandemic and for her to see us in action as we gave the appreciation parcels to the care workers.
I had even contacted the local newspaper to arrive so that there is further outreach for our work; and the family who had made the parcel so the children could also see how their work is spreading joy.
It was all worth it for the care workers to then say: “thank you for thinking of us.”
The Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan celebrates the duty of care, the obligation to serve those in need, and celebrates the relationships we hold dear to one another. During these unprecedented times, the value of community spirit has proved to be necessary more than ever. We have seen the spirit of humanity come together with selfless service, breaking down barriers, and embodying in full the essence of the Hindu value of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum, “the whole world is one family.” This is a central pillar of our work at Sewa Day and to express our gratitude for the tremendous support and care that our key workers have provided to keep us and our communities safe, we have extended the ethos of our festival and even tied Rakhis on our care workers!
At this visit, I tied the Rakhi (sacred thread of protection) on the care home manager and the High Sheriff.
The published article is: https://www.maidenhead-advertiser.co.uk/gallery/taplow/160682/sewa-day-volunteers-visit-applegarth-care-home.html
Written by Priya
Following on from our book presentations at orientation day 2, I felt inspired to read this book. Karan, a fellow intern, spoke about this book and its storyteller narrative. I felt like this writing style would be attractive to me as I often enjoy reading books which are more informal in nature, and in this case I was correct. This book so far has been a gloriously easy read. It follows the author, Dr Rachel Remen, as she reminisces in her life stories and as she remembers her Grandfathers legacy.
I don’t tend to buy many books first hand for a few reasons; environmentally I feel sort of guilty if I were to buy a book new whilst knowing there is a preloved copy with the same story out there looking for a home and also secondly, through buying secondhand books you get to in a way connect with the previous owner. I was pleasantly surprised when I received my copy of this book in the post because all along the margins and on the inside cover there were lovely little handwritten scribbles. At the start there was this note on the first page saying “Kathy, with all our blessings! -Scott and Melanie”. There was also a little section called “Pages of Importance” in which they, i’m assuming this was Scott and Melanie, wrote out a few passage references which they liked most. I love these and cannot wait until I reach these sections! Will they be equally as important when I read them? In fact I thought the passage on page 6 which they flagged was beautiful. I’m going to share some passages and sections which I really liked and what I would include in my pages of importance xx
A blessing is not something that one person gives another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another.page 6
As life becomes colder and somehow harder, we struggle to create places of safety for ourselves and those we love through our learning, our skills, our income. We build places of security in our homes and our offices and even our cars. These places separate us from one another. Perhaps our only place of refuge is in the goodness in each other.page 10
We can bless others only when we feel blessed ourselves. Blessing life may be more about learning how to celebrate life than learning how to fix lifepage 18
Grieving is not about forgetting. Grieving allows us to heal, to remember with love rather than pain. It is a sorting process. One by one you let go of things that are gone and you mourn for them. One by one you take hold of the things that have become a part of who you are and build again.,l;lpage 38
Written by Karan Patel
The dictionary definition of gratitude is the quality of being thankful, the readiness to show appreciation and to return the kindness you have received. To me gratitude means being thankful for everything I have in my life even the simple things such as water and food, it means appreciating and acknowledging all the blessings I have received, it means living life as if everything is a miracle. The more you practice being grateful the faster your perspective on life will change; it will change from focusing on the things which are missing in your life to the things that you have in your life.
Harvard university conducted a study to see the effects of gratitude has on people. They had three groups who each had a different task, one group were asked to write the things they were grateful for the things that happened during the week. The other group were asked to write about the things the were irritated by or things that annoyed them during the week. The final group were asked to write about things that affected them – without any emphasis on being positive or negative. After 10 weeks of doing this they found that those who wrote about being grateful were more optimistic and felt better about life. They also found that this group exercised more and had less visits to the physicians compared to the group who wrote about the things that irritated or annoyed them.
It is amazing how a simple thing like being grateful can have a huge impact on one’s life in such a positive way. There are many ways in which one can be grateful: you can write a thank-you note expressing your enjoyment and how it has impacted you. You can count your blessings: reflecting on your blessings and on what went right or what you are grateful of. You can include the gratitude in your prayers. I am grateful that you took your time to read my blog. Thank You!
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© Sewa UK 2023
Charity Number 1135425. Company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales No. 06976220. © Sewa UK 2023