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Cleaning Up Homes and Hearts in the Capital City

- A first-hand account of a rural service project undertaken
by the Sai Youth in the outskirts of
the Capital of India, on June 8, 2008

Responding to Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s clarion call to Love All, Serve All and Help Ever, Hurt Never, the Sai youth of Delhi state recently reaped a bountiful harvest of life lessons and inner growth when they plunged into action to serve a village as part of the Sri Sathya Sai Village Integrated Program (SSSVIP) – an all-India initiative of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations to bring out comprehensive and sustained development of under- privileged families in the villages of rural India.

Apart from serving the villagers with love as they physically removed mountains of garbage from their streets, unclogged open drains and educated the villagers on health and hygiene, the Sai Young Adults discovered a whole new appreciation for the many blessings in their own lives, a loving bond within their team and an inner spring of intense joy that welled up when they reached out to complete strangers with the feeling that he/she was an embodiment of the same divinity that they worship in the form of Bhagavan Baba.

It certainly was the awareness of Swami’s teaching of unity that helped the Sai Youth see and experience every villager as an extension of their own selves. The whole experience was so fulfilling that the entire team not only returned home on a spiritual high but were as eager to go back and do more.

Selfless service, the ultimate mantra for salvation that Bhagavan Baba has given to His devotees, has turned out to be the healthiest of addictions that the Sai Youth of Delhi can no longer shake off. Truly, it has proved to be the best panacea for the ills of the modern lifestyle, for it allows us to “bend the body, mend the senses and end the mind,” as Baba says.

Sai Seva Delhi
The Delhi Sai organisation President, Mr. Jatinder Cheema (left) - ready to feel His joy

Our date with destiny was set on the morning of June 8, 2008. The turning point in our spiritual lives came about in the least expected of locations – an innocuous village called Matiyala, in Dwarka, Delhi. Little did we know that there would be such a pocket of intense squalor right under our noses within the relatively affluent national capital of India.

And not for a moment did we suspect that serving the disadvantaged would turn out to be such an advantage for us, for we experienced great joy when we stood knee-deep in a garbage dump, working hard to clean up a neighbourhood that was suffering from disease and distress due to complete failure of civic services.

Bhagavan Baba has always encouraged us to seek the true goal of life by experiencing the state of oneness where we recognise the invisible and underlying spirit that pervades all apparent diversity. To reach that state of inner enlightenment, He urges us to direct our body, faculties and talents to alleviate the suffering of those in pain and need.

We, the blessed children of Sai from Delhi can never forget our SSSVIP adventure in Matiyala Village. A typical urban village, Matiyala had quite a few problems that were crying out for remedial action.

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Environmental hazards abound
Open rubbish dumps left unattended

The poor hygiene standards of its inhabitants, proliferation of open garbage dumps, multitude of health problems, lack of proper infrastructure, drug misuse, and inadequate medical services were just a few of those. Our service project in Mativala was however not our first venture. In fact, we had conducted similar seva in the four other districts of Delhi – North, South, East and Central, and now we were in the last region, the West of Delhi.

Winning Love and Trust of the Locals

One of the biggest challenges of conducting such service activities at any new venue, be it a village or urban colony, is to develop rapport with and gain the confidence of the locals. More often than not, they are beset with fears lest we have any hidden agenda in undertaking the service at their village. Well, we can hardly blame them, for such thoughts for it is indeed rare that such service activities are conducted by any organisation with a spirit of selfless love and service, and no ulterior motive.

Sri Sathya Sai Village Integration Programme

But it is our faith in Swami and His love and guidance that has as always helped us in overcoming these initial hurdles. The Sai Youth reckoned that if they carried out the ‘Cleanliness Drive’ along with the survey for the Sri Sathya Sai Village Integrated Program (SSSVIP), then they may also be able to engage the locals in some meaningful learning process and involvement.

The work plan for the Village Seva was as follows:

Work Plan: “Selfless Service and Love In Action”

Here is the gist of all the work and organisation that had to be done:

  • A total of 5 groups were to be formed on the day of ‘gram seva’, comprising of four sevadals and one local. These groups were named - Sathya, Dharma, Prema, Shanti and Ahimsa.

  • The same number of sevadals would be involved in carrying out the health, hygiene, and basic cleanliness awareness drive.

  • Further, the following activities were to be carried out:
    1. A detailed village survey for SSSVIP.
    2. Cleaning the six side lanes with open drainage systems.
    3. Cleaning the area around the central pa

As the day of Seva arrived, blessings from our dear Lord came down in the form of heavy rains. However, that did not dampen the spirits of the sevadals. One of the participants, Mr. Vineet Kapoor, observed, “When I reached Matiyala Village around 8 a.m. on Sunday, June 8, 2008, I had no words to describe my joy to find the bhajan hall filled with our youth members and elders from across Delhi. These members, who would have left their homes early to reach the village on time, were enthusiastically singing His glory; they had no signs of fatigue on their faces.”

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Bhajans invigorates all
The joy of communion with Sai

Sevadal volunteers purified their hearts and cleansed their minds by first singing bhajans. They all prayed for Bhagavan’s blessings for the villagers; we had decided to adopt this village under the Sri Sathya Sai Village Integrated Program.

Quickly after the bhajan, we divided ourselves in five groups named after each of the five human values of Truth, Peace, Love, Non Violence and Right Conduct. Each cluster had ten to fifteen members along with a group leader and a local guide. Every group was allocated multiple tasks like surveying, cleaning garbage, distributing chlorine tablets and spreading awareness on health and hygiene in their respective zones in the village. The groups were then handed the materials and equipment to undertake the service including SSSVIP forms, spades, brooms, insecticide spraying machines, disinfectant powder and other necessary implements.

Once all the logistics had been taken care of, it was time to charge the air with divine energy. So we raised our hands together and began our task after three full-throated chants calling out to our dear Lord Sai to guide us - ‘Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba ki Jai’. That reverberation of Bhagavan’s name helped us proceed with love and confidence.

Soon after that, a few brothers started interacting with the villagers while filling up the SSSVIP forms, even as others took on the huge garbage dumps which had been left unattended by the villagers.

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Surveying the village population
The seva dal team disposes of a carcass

See how the seva dal team
dispose off a dead cat's carcass

These huge dumps of waste were right next to their homes. And in some places, we were shocked to find even dead cats inside the dense and dark pile-up! It was no wonder that the health quotient of the village was so pathetic.

While one team went ahead clearing these dangerous dumps, another group carried out the distribution of chlorine tablets and helped spread awareness about health and hygiene.

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Chlorine tablet distribution
Giving chlorine tablets to those most in need

Watch a Seva dal spraying an
open rubbish dump

The third team got busy with spraying the disinfectant powder and liquid insecticide on various water sources and also on the garbage to make sure mosquitoes did not breed there anymore. While all along the villagers were only watching us anxiously, it was also an eye opener for them.

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Clearing and disinfecting the dump
A local resident sends a tricycle to help

It is said altruism is the healthiest of infections to catch. It could not have been truer for, out of nowhere emerged another brother from the village with a tricycle. The tricycle he said had been sent by the owner to help us carry the garbage bags. We loaded the tricycle with all garbage bags and disposed it in a nearby trash bin.

Transparency of SSSVIP Agenda Wins Villagers’ Hearts and Confidence

Swami was with us throughout this endeavour. While the villagers could have turned hostile or chosen not to cooperate with us for of suspicion of our motives, it was but Swami’s blessings that nothing of that sort happened. On the contrary, we all had a very cordial and warm interaction with the villagers. Removal of the garbage, distribution of chlorine tablets and the nature of the survey that was conducted would certainly have helped the the villagers understand that the main motive behind all this was to share our love and serve them all.

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Winning the villagers' hearts
Gaining the trust of the friendly villagers

Mr. D. P. Sahi, a first timer at the event, says, “This was my first experience with seva. We all helped in cleaning the village and conducted a survey, and paid special attention to what illnesses the children were suffering from. We also impressed upon them the evils of chewing tobacco, smoking and drinking.

Sai Seva Delhi
Mr. D. P. Sahi comments on the joy
of his first seva activity

Additionally, we also guided them on how to keep water purified and use chlorine tablets, besides stressing upon basic health tips such as maintaining clean nails and the importance of sending their children to school. Overall, we received a warm response from the villagers.”

The spirit and efficiency with which the SSSVIP was introduced was compelling enough for the villagers to shed their apathy and sense of mistrust, and come forward to appreciate, learn and participate in the effort. It was an ideal example of empowerment at the grassroot level where the local population could see the benefit of taking responsibility for their living conditions. This instance was made possible only due to the loving inspiration from the Avatar of the age, who has always laid importance on village service.

“This is the first time I have participated in such an activity and have really enjoyed the experience. I feel, if we return to the village a couple of times, the villagers would appreciate and realise that if someone with no connection or interest in the village is helping them live a cleaner life, then they can themselves make the effort to do it,” said Dipankar, a Sai volunteer.

Watch the seva dals in action cleaning up
rubbish from a dilapidated house

Coming face to face with the stark hardships faced by the residents of the village proved startling for many who went to serve. It shook the Sai Young Adults, who were from relatively affluent backgrounds. This experience made them revisit their own attitude towards life and their expectations from it. One such epiphany came to seva participant Mr. Vipin Bhatia, who confessed,” Having lived abroad for some time and then getting used to the comforts there, the first thing that struck me was how lucky I am.

"Working in a comfortable office with A.C. and other facilities, I normally do not think about it, and sometimes even complain about lack of other comforts as compared to some other offices/companies…. But when I entered the village, I realized that I am still a lot more fortunate than people living here. A good thing was seeing so many youth working together, unlike before when in such activities we used to see more of adults. On the whole, this activity has made me feel very good as it not only gave me an opportunity to make others’ lives better, but also helped in making me a better person and a more contented human being.”

Swami says: “He who selflessly renders service, sweetened with love, to My creation; he who sees Me in everyone and everything; he who remembers Me at every moment, is the yogi nearest to Me.”

It was quite apparent on this Sunday morning, that there were plenty of Swami’s children who were trying to live up to Swami’s expectations.

Who Serves Whom? The True Spiritual Enquiry

At the end of the experience, the real beneficiaries of the munificence of these energetic and Sai-inspired youth were they themselves. Roohi Sharma shares her experiences of the day: “The previous day I dreamt that I am being accepted as a new member of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisation and it came true that morning on June 8. I was really excited and curious to experience that divine day. On reaching Dwarka, Matiyala village, I was completely set to start off.... But I was astonished to find just one lady member by my side, yet Baba blessed me and gave me the strength, so the lack of strength of lady members did not hamper my enthusiasm at all. I felt as if Baba was there with me and was encouraging me to take my first step towards Him.

Sai Seva Delhi
Ms. Roohi Sharma speaks about her
'awakening experience'

“Besides distribution of ORS powder for children and chlorine tablets, I was also allotted the survey duty falling under the SSVIP. It was a thrilling and fine experience.

“This experience showed me another life that exists in India. I always read that Baba says ‘True India Lives in the Villages’. I am really privileged that I got the opportunity to realise this that day. It was a wonderful project to assist. The unity with which the whole task was performed added colour to the whole program. All the sevadals were on their feet on Baba's command, moving from door to door and helping the needy with all the support material that was required.

“In short, it was an awakening experience. I really feel that I had missed a lot in the past. This experience gave me divine pleasure and awakened my soul to the reality of life. Love All Serve All was experienced both in words and in action that day.... And the wordings written on the invitation card - mukh me sai naam aur haath me kaam (The Lord’s Name on the lips and His work in the hands) proved true that day.”

Empowering the Villagers to Take Responsibility

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Mr. Amarendra Kumar shares his 'true bliss'

During the course of the morning, Mr. Jatinder Cheema and Vibhu Mahajan spoke to several village folk and sevadals to gauge their observations and reactions, and it came as no surprise that the response was overwhelming, both from the villagers for the support and awareness that had been provided to them that day and from the sevadals for the inexplicable joy they experienced in fulfilling Swami’s desire.

Almost all the villagers spoke in unison when they said that it was a wonderful idea to have the Sai volunteers visit them on this noble mission. Taking this forward, many of them also expressed their desire to be part of the Sathya Sai Seva Organisation.

Another village resident was so inspired from this whole experience that he told us, “I would be happy to participate in the effort the next time you visit us. I really liked the initiative that you have taken.”

Bliss Flows Both Ways

But the joy was greater for those who served. Amarendra Kumar also participated for the first time in this seva and he couldn’t get enough of it. “I am going through a period of true bliss after performing the seva. I was asked by the villagers if we came from the government and I proudly responded that we were from the Sathya Sai Organisation!”

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Mr. Rishi Sharma: 'The joy that I felt today, perhaps I have never experienced before.'

Mr. S. K. Malik has been a regular seva dal since 2001. As an experienced volunteer of the Sai Organisation, he said, “I am always looking for an opportunity to serve the Lord and participate in the Village Integration Programs.

"The villagers asked me if we would come on a regular basis and I responded that, if Swami wills it, we surely would. I impressed upon them that in addition to the Seva that we were carrying out, it was Swami’s desire for us to bring awareness in them to continue the task we had initiated so that their children would have a cleaner and healthier lifestyle.”

Mr. Jogindar Singh, another sevadal volunteer, said, “I am in the property business, and one day, my neighbour suggested I should take out some time to serve the needy. Normally the time I would have spent attending to my needs, I spent today doing seva. All I can say is that I am truly grateful to Him, for, after performing the seva I cannot describe the joy that I am experiencing.”

Clearly, the impact of the service was as much on the volunteers as it was on the villagers. Describing the concluding session of the one-day seva activity, Mr. Vineet, says, “After completing our duties, when we reported back to the bhajan hall, we all settled down and sang bhajans again and closed the event offering aarti to Swami. Then, there was a small talk by Mr. Jatinder Cheema, State President, Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisation, Delhi, who congratulated the entire Sai family, and spoke about the significance of participating in such a meaningful activity. As the event reached its end, I could not help but pray to Bhagavan and ask Him to allow me to participate and partake of such bliss from more such activities in the future.”

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The closing arati left all with divine vibrations

Reflecting similar sentiments, Rishi Sharma, said, “The joy that I felt today, perhaps I have never experienced before. Today was our first step towards selfless seva, and with Sai Baba’s blessings, we will continue to stay on this path. We achieved a small feat in helping alleviate some of the village’s problems, about which we would not have spared a thought under normal circumstances. I believe the time all of us spent today for this activity is the first step towards leading a more fulfilling and meaningful life. With Baba’s blessing, we will have many more opportunities to serve in this noble cause.”

The Lasting Lessons of Selfless Service

Yes, it was a small initiative, but a significant one. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and as Swami often reiterates, “No act of service is high, no service is low; each act of service is equal in the eyes of the Lord; it is the readiness with which it is done, the joy, the efficiency, the skill with which it is performed that matters... If you consider the qualifications needed for service, know that what is essential is a pure heart..... You should also have faith in God as the spring of vitality, virtue, and justice. Service is worship you offer to the God in the heart of everyone. “

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We must return to the village many more times, says the young Dipankar
Mr. Dhanpat Singh gave of his valuable
time and effort gladly

There was one touching example of such heartfelt service given to a poor innocent baby, which will have far reaching consequences for its future life – one Seva dal member relates it as follows:

“As we were just about to return back I got a call from another brother of mine; he wanted me to visit along with him a home which he had just finished surveying. He said there was a small one year old girl child who had a huge tumor on her back. Upon enquiring we found that they had shown the child at AIIMS and as the doctors had told them to deposit Rs. 15,000 for the operation, they had given up as they could not afford this amount.

We assured the family members that the child would be blessed by Bhagavan Baba and that the organisation was ready to support them in all matters. One of our brothers handed them a packet of vibhuti and explained to them its significance. We called one of our brother Seva dals who happened to work in AIIMS. On examining the child he also spoke to the family and assured them of his complete support for her treatment giving them his contact details. I was amazed to see such an amazing response from all my brothers towards the small child that I felt I was actually living in ‘Ram Rajya’."

See the pathetic condition of an unfortunate baby - the villagers health needs are far from average

The lessons from the morning’s activities were manifold for the Sai Youth, but the two that stand out are: One, that selfless service gives inexplicable joy because you feel Swami’s presence in every step despite all odds that you may have to put up with; and second, when you take the first step towards sharing love with others, God takes care of the rest. Be assured that all work will proceed smoothly without any interruptions.

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Young Dinesh helped out on the day
Another of the dedicated seva dal team

It was quite apparent that morning that many sevadals would have loved to carry on with the seva activities beyond the allotted time. Such was the satisfaction and happiness that these volunteers enjoyed that day.

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Service that is of vital importance to the locals' health...
...Performed with dedication and sincerity of action

While we have so far associated the word ‘addiction’ with some form of evil, after that day we began to see its positive connotation. For, you just need to indulge once in the act of selfless service, the true happiness and joy that follows such a selfless act are enough to addict you forever.

The morning’s events can be aptly concluded by brother Vineet’s observations. He said, “Just as Lakshmana had asked Rama, I ask our Sai Rama, ‘Bhagavan! In Your kingdom, if you assign any responsibility, I shall fulfil it. That is enough fortune for me.’ ”

Sai Ram.

- The Sai Youth of Delhi
and the Heart2Heart Team


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Vol 6 Issue 07 - JULY 2008
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