FOOTPRINTS OF LOVE
WALK FOR VALUES, 29TH MAY 2004, CANADA
It doesn’t get more real than this. The divine presence was palpable in the gentle caress of breeze, the picture perfect weather with a high of 18 degrees Celsius, sunny, blue skies, the warmth of late spring, thousands of smiling faces and blissful hearts … love pervaded every step of the Walk. Our Founder Sri Sathya Sai Baba led us in spirit on the march to transform ourselves in our effort to improve the world. For the record, several preceding weekends in Toronto had been cold, wet and grey.
The Sathya Sai School of Canada’s second annual Walk for Values was held in a total of eight Canadian cities including Abbotsford, Coquitlam and Vancouver in British Columbia, Calgary in Alberta, Saskatoon and Winnipeg in the prairies and our national capital Ottawa. In the city of Toronto, over three thousand people walked in unison to raise their self-esteem and consciousness, not money. Talk of wearing your heart on your sleeve, well almost all participants at the Walk for Values had to display their personal pledges boldly on their attractive white T-shirts printed with red and blue logos.
Dedicated volunteers from the Sri Sathya Sai Centres of the Greater Toronto Area were the first ones to turn up on the lovely morning of Saturday, May 29, 2004 at the corner of Brimley Road and Lawrence Avenue. Dressed in bright red sweatshirts, from a distance, they appeared like crimson flowers against the lush green background of the park. The word "Volunteer" and the logo of the Sri Sathya Sai Organisation on their clothes made it easy to identify them in the sea of white T-shirts. Upon arrival, they got busy organising the venue for the 3 km walk to Scarborough Civic Centre. Registration booths, T-shirt stalls, and portable toilets were all set up before participants began to pour in.
Opening ceremonies included the soulful rendering of "O Canada" by professional singer Jennifer Sohan and prayers from the First Nations by Gold Mitch of International Association of Educators for World Peace. His chanting was accompanied by the beat of the native Indian drum. Sai youth stood out like our Founder Sathya Sai's brave young ambassadors, cheering the crowds, motivating the participants, managing the numerous logistics such as registration, on-site T-shirt distribution, conducting warm-up drills and shooting and beaming globally on the school's website all the going-ons live, via webcast. Even as the event was just beginning, our website had received hits from various parts of the world.
In light of our Founder's advice that the noblest of all gifts is the gift of food, participants liberally donated non-perishable food items, such as grains, cereals, baby food, cookies, pasta and canned food for the needy at the stall that was set up by the Fort York Food Bank at the venue where the Walk began.
At the opening ceremonies, Honourable Jim Karygiannis, MP for Scarborough-Agincourt and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport read out Honourable Prime Minister Paul Martin’s message of commendation for upholding values which bind Canadian families and contribute to the well being of our social fabric.
Principal of the Sathya Sai School, Mr. T.R. Pillay reminded everyone of the inscription at Niagara Falls which says: "With its thunderous majesty, Niagara reminds us of the boundless energizing power of a higher force, such that will one day be the power of peace on earth. When human beings everywhere aspire and strive for peace based on love and the feeling of oneness, the cascading power of peace will transform the fate of humanity.”
He further said that "it is in this spirit that we have gathered here today each pledging to practice a value for self-transformation, and sharing a common desire for a safer and peaceful society….Inspired by the teachings of Sathya Sai Baba, this Walk too has assumed a distinctive character. It is a raiser of awareness, not a raiser of money. Its seed is personal commitment, not the womb of collective outrage. It is enshrined in the hope that positive change is possible. It is above all a fellowship of hearts which throb in unison to the rhythm of all that is worthy and noble."
The participants in Toronto were led by the students of the Sathya Sai School, a private and tuition-free school located in the heart of Scarborough that specialises in integrating Character Education within the Ontario Academic Curriculum. The students marched under the banner of “Character” echoing the motto of the school that “The End of Education is Character”. Others who rallied behind them were divided into five groups, each representing a human value, namely Truth, Right Conduct, Peace, Love and Non-violence.
They were accompanied by three large floats colourfully highlighting human values and carrying Sathya Sai School kindergarteners and some Grade 4 pupils who were dressed like great personalities who practiced Human Values in their lives, such as the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller and others. The energetic band from Salvation Army atop one of the floats added spring to the step of our walkers.
The 3 km walk ended with celebrations at the Scarborough Civic Centre where participants arrived at the Albert Campbell Square to receive their lunch packets and to view an exhibition on Value Parenting.
Befitting the theme of the Walk, a mother of a victim of violence, Julia Farquharson of U-Move Group along with other dignitaries planted a Peace Tree at the concluding ceremonies. U-Move represents families who have lost their dear ones to mindless violence.
Lately Scarborough, located in the east end of Toronto has been in news for all the wrong reasons such as street shootings. At the Sathya Sai School's Walk for Values, the neighbourhood saw thousands including peace loving and civic-conscious residents, parliamentarians, policy pundits, decision makers, educators and law enforcement officers turn up to endorse the efforts of North America’s only Values Education School to revive and restore Toronto to its former glory of “Toronto the Good.” Organised by the students and parents of the Sathya Sai School, this unique event brought together diverse groups of people, proving the universal appeal of our Founder Sri Sathya Sai Baba's message of human values which transcends party, faith or racial lines.
Going beyond the conventional money pledges, the participants made personal promises to change the world around them by changing themselves first as a part of their personal crusade to self-improve. They reminded themselves and others of Baba’s advice that individual transformation is the key to social transformation and the best route to this goal is through the practice of human values. The organisers presented a plaque to Councillor Mike Del Grande who was representing Mayor David Miller. In his acceptance speech, Councillor Del Grande suggested that the Sathya Sai School would do well to administer a dose of Education in Human Values to the city’s and country’s parliamentarians.
Mr. Tony Warr, the Superintendent of Police, 42 Division was present on behalf of Toronto Police Chief, Julian Fantino. Commending the great awareness the Sathya Sai School was creating about the practice of human values in daily life, he quoted Mahatma Gandhi who said “Become the change you want in the world.” He hoped the media would give this positive event the coverage it deserves.
Representatives from the three levels of Government addressed the concluding ceremonies, bringing the messages of appreciation from the Canadian Parliament and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Several of them acknowledged the need to bring in the five human values into the various levels of governance. They further reminder the gathering of the need to be proactive in practising human values if we wish to preserve the values system in society. Evil will prevail if good people do nothing, was the consensus among the speakers. The Sri Sathya Sai Organisation of Canada was represented by Central Co-ordinator Dr. V.P. Singh and Chairperson Ms. Myriam Jozsa.
Ms. Jozsa expressed her profuse gratitude to Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the Founder of the school, for teaching the five human values and inspiring so many people around the world to practice them. She said the event had touched her heart and moved her deeply. She felt a strong need for the entire Sai fraternity in Canada and the world to organise similar Walk for Values, a divinely inspired brain child of Toronto's Sathya Sai School.
Earlier in the year, when the organisers of this walkathon had sought various permits from the city to hold an event of this magnitude, a sizeable contingent of Ontario Provincial Police was assigned to control the crowd and ensure its smooth completion. On the actual day, the dedicated teams of Sai volunteers had everything planned to the last detail and the event was so orderly and peaceful, that the police officers on duty did little else than enjoy the fine weather. When asked to comment on their experience, several police constables were unanimous in saying that it was indeed a privilege and an honour for them to be associated with such a remarkable celebration. They admitted that they had nothing to do as everything was exceptionally well organised and planned. They also commented positively on the participants' sense of civic consciousness and discipline. The volunteers of the Sai organisation shone as examples of selfless service as personified by our role model and Founder Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
Corporal Wakisan who led a team from Canadian Forces in uniform was so impressed by the function that he promised to bring over 100 officers for next year's walk.
The icing on the cake was a presentation by three Sathya Sai School students - Kirusanthy Kaneshwaran, Kumaran Subendran and Nakeah Fearon-Spence. Their excellent oratory and entertaining expressions to convey how they are taught in their school to learn and live in the light of the five human values won the adoration of the audience.
Students of the Agincourt Junior Public School Band and professional singer Jennifer Sohan entertained the gathering at the end as did Mitch Gold of the International Association of Educators for World Peace bringing messages of love and truth from the Eskimo elders. Several Canadian media outlets carried reports of this one-of-a-kind walk and the one-of-its-kind Sathya Sai School behind it. The Divine presence was experienced in everything and by everyone at this celebration of our Founder's teachings.