Window To Sai Seva
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Service by Sai Alumni

Some time ago, we published an article by Gene Massey about a seva camp run by our old students. In this article, I would like to briefly describe a different kind of seva, once again done by our old students. This seva is different because it is not a one-day affair like most service camps are; rather, it is a continuing and on-going The kovelguttapalli villageaffair. One of these days, we hope to have the leader of the group in our studio and interview him for Radio Sai; in the meanwhile, I could perhaps give a short and broad-brush overview of the wonderful work being done by these old students of Swami. Before I get on to the description, may be I ought to mention that the leader of this team, after graduation some years ago, decided not to seek a job as that would separate him from his mother, who though a working-lady needed help due to a physical handicap. Having decided to stay back to help his mother, this boy then started exploring possibilities to do some additional seva during his spare time, and thus were born the projects that I shall now briefly describe.

The seva activity was launched on 1st January, 2003, and the service group decided to focus on a small villageTeaching the children named Kovalaguttapalli. If you walk from the Planetarium towards the Sai Geetha shed, you will see a road turning to the left. That road leads to this village, which is on the bank of the Chitavathi river. There are about 150 families in the village and the main occupations are farming, milk vending, and labour service [as coolies].

Teaching the childrenThe service group set itself three objects which it defines as follows:

· To understand the socio-economic and cultural aspects of village life, and to explore suitable means of improving the welfare and quality of life of the villagers.

· To focus the project so that they target self-sufficiency in food grains, drinking water, health, education, and economic sustenance. Providinng them with clean and healthy food

· To render quality work, even while putting into practice the teachings of Swami.

Wanting to do good is one thing and doing it the right way is entirely another. Often, service projects boomerang because of a wrong approach. Not many realise that though villagers are in general quite poor, they have their own sense of dignity. Understanding this, our old boys made a modest and fairly tactful entry. To start with, they just started paying periodic visits to the village and teaching the children there songs composed by Swami. Everyone here Increasing their health awarenessloves Swami, and thus the children were quite eager to learn Swami’s songs. The parents too approved heartily of this assistance. The ice had been broken.

Next step was to tell the children something more, about personal cleanliness, keeping the surroundings neat, prayer, respecting elders, and studying hard. By the way, I should mention that almost all the kids in the neighbouring areas attend Easwaramma School established by Swami many years ago. Once again, all this instruction went very well with the village elders; I mean who would complain if someone came along and taught kids how to be clean, study hard and be respectful to parents? An added attraction was that from time to time, the children were also given food. So, round two also was a success.Tips on saving money

Having gained the confidence of the villagers and established their seriousness of purpose, it was now relatively easy for the old boys to start talking to the elders. It started with regular Bhajans, and soon, after the Bhajan session was over, the students started talking about Swami’s teachings. What kind of teachings? Did they give scholarly lectures on Advaitam and stuff like that? Not at all! Being Swami’s students, they know very well how to focus on the relevant, as Swami often had advised them to, when they were students. Thus, their talks were about how parents must save for the welfare of their family.

It is no use giving mere talks about saving money. Something concrete had to be done and a clear road map had to be presented. Thus was born the SARD or SAVE A RUPEE A DAY scheme. Four Self-help Groups were formed, each with about 12 women members. Each group nominated two group coordinators, whose job it was to collect money at the end of every week, and deposit the same in a savings account in the local branch of the Vysya Bank. While the villagers were encouraged to do the money collection, all the required banking assistance was provided by the old boys, including in relation to making deposits and withdrawals. By the end of 30 weeks, the total savings stood at Rs. 30,000/- an impressive sum one must say.

It is not the women alone who received attention and assistance. The men engaged in farming were introduced to a cost-effective method of compost generation. To start with, the farmers were encouraged to regularly collect all easily bio-degradable matter found in the neighbourhood such as dry leaves, twigs, etc. All this was then dumped into special puts dug for the purpose of generating compost. Into these pits were now introduced earthworms of a special type, which were then allowed to multiply. At the end of about 40 days or so, the bio-degradable matter had been transformed by the earthworms into a rich, natural fertilizer. Not only had expenditure on chemical fertilizers been cut, but, more important, a better and more eco-friendly fertilizer had been produced instead. And the yield has gone up too.

Swami often quotes a Chinese proverb that says that it is better to teach a man how to fish than to feed him fish. In this spirit, the students now began to initiate new programs that would augment the family income. The first of these was to train the villagers to make cotton wicks. Now wicks are used regularly in Pujas at homes, and there is a good demand for cotton wicks. The students taught one and all to make the wicks, gave the villagers cotton and packaging material, and finally took the responsibility for the marketing. Sold under the brand name Deepam Cotton Wicks, the wicks are on sale in the shopping centre in Prashanti Nilayam, and believe it or not, the sale is around Rs. 10,000/- a month. Not bad, I would say. By the way, the money is not used up but saved in a bank so that it can grow. Weekly bhajans

The villagers are now quite enthusiastic and participate actively in all programs initiated by the old students, having thoroughly understood that whatever is being done is entirely for their own good. Thus, every alternate week, a day is set apart for village cleaning. It starts with the children going round doing nagarsankeetan, after which comes the cleaning in which all participate. And when the cleaning programme is over, there is aarathi.

There is always room for more, and the old boys are now exploring the possibility of systematically cultivating a leguminous plant, that is know to grow wildly in the region. The attractive point about this plant is that grows easily in arid regions, and requires very little water. What is important is that the seed of the plant yields oil that can be used as fuel. And the oil cake that remains after the crushing for oil extraction is a very good fertilizer. Project studies are now under way.

This shows how methods of man-management and cost-effective production etc., studied in the Business School can come in handy even in seemingly mundane village affairs! Let me end this heart-warming story with something that is really wonderful. Sometime ago, a farmer lost his cow suddenly. It was apparently healthy all along but mysteriously died and quite suddenly too. The veterinary doctor who was consulted when the cow became very sick was suspicious that it was all due to something that the cow had eaten. So, with the permission of the farmer, he did a post-mortem. What he saw shocked not only him but also all the curious villagers who had gathered around. The cow of the stomach was full of plastic bags that had been discarded as garbage by all and sundry. Promptly, our boys told the villagers, “It is time to get rid of the plastic bags, a major curse of modern times. We will teach you to make paper bags. This will save us from the horror of plastic bags, and incidentally also fetch some income.”

And thus has come into existence another cottage industry. Our boys help in the collection of old newspapers, and the villagers are busy making paper bags. What about marketing? Will our boys leave the villagers in the lurch? No way, and using their contacts, they have now got the Boys’ Hostel to abandon plastic bags and use paper bags exclusively in their Co-operative Stores. Thus, it is quite common to see our hostel boys move around with paper bags rather than plastic bags. Dead cow with plastics in the stomach

I do hope this new trend would spread like wild fire, because the plastic bag menace is assuming alarming proportions. You do not have to take my word for it. Just take a walk to the Chitravathi river and you would see tons and tons of plastic bags getting dumped there. Frankly, I do not have the heart to see this terrible sight any more. I mean this is the same river bed that was once the scene of extra-ordinary Divine Leelas of which you have had a glimpse in this issue. Is this to be the fate of the Divine Playground? Is this the way we should The recovered plastics after post mortemshow respect to One whom we do not miss an opportunity to hail as the Lord?

You know what Jesus once said? He said, “Why call ye Me Lord, Lord, when thou does not follow what I say?” Our Lord says, revere the Earth. Is this the way to show reverence to Mother Earth? May be I should end with a Chinese proverb that says: If man ill-treats the Earth, the Earth in turn would punish him!”The paper bag designed by the students

I would very much like to hear your comments on what I have written. As usual, we can be reached at: [email protected]

Is this to be the plight of a sacred river


Volume - 2 Issue - 7 Radiosai Journal - PSN 2004