Experiences of a Sewa International volunteer in India

Hectic is an understatement!

Phew! 33 days....10 flights....6 states....endless adventures....1 unforgettable experience! To say my recent visit to India was hectic would be an understatement. I had gone to visit several service projects which are being run by Sewa International and its partner organisation Sewa Bharti. I began my trip in Bangalore and subsequently visited Gujarat, Delhi, Assam, Meghalaya and Jammu - North, South, East and West India!! Though it would take far too long to detail everything that happened during my journey, I will focus on a few experiences which still stand out in my mind.

Firstly, I was very fortunate to be able to go to the North-East region (Assam & Meghalaya) as this was a thoroughly unique experience and quite unlike anything I had ever come across in any other part of India. Visiting this area, one can get a sense of just how isolated it is. In one village which we visited (Mandipur) in Assam a local teacher, addressing a gathering of the villagers said: "...these area are so remote and isolated that not even wild animals come here! We don't even see people from Delhi, let alone all the way from the UK!"

On a more worrying note, kidnapping, banditry, militancy, insurgency etc. are rife in this area. In fact, at one point, the coach which we were travelling on had to be escorted through the region by local police, just to ensure our safety! Of course, it wasn't until I reached back to Delhi that I read the foreign office's advice not to travel to this area.

In Meghalaya, as we were travelling to a place called Borkona in the Garo Hill, said to be just 10km away from Bangladesh, we saw hundreds of cows being led past us. The local workers who I was with revealed that on a daily basis cows such as these are illegally smuggled across the border where they are slaughtered!

A further element in the North-East is missionary activity which, owing to the remoteness of the region, is widespread and unchecked. Some parts of the North-East, for example Nagaland, are almost 80% Christian now and even in Meghalaya the presence of Christianity is very visible - big crosses greeted us almost everywhere we went. Here, we met a Sangh worker whose role is purely to counter the effect of missionaries in 2 of the local tribes in the area. When I asked him whether the missionaries knew about this he replied (with a smile on his face, I should add!) "Yes. They've threatened to 'eliminate' me". Imagine working under such circumstances!!

Finally, in Jammu we visited a place called Katra where we visited a hostel. There are many such hostels all over the country which enable children who otherwise would not be able to go to school to do so. What was particularly interesting about this hostel was that though there were a mix of Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist children, they were all singing a prarthna (prayer), omkars and bhajan's together! Speaking to these children you get a sense of the kind of environment in which they have grown up - one of war and violence. One child even saw his own sisters being killed by militants in front of his very eyes. Perhaps it is unsurprising then that around 60-70% of these children said they wanted to be soldiers when they were older...

For anyone doubting the effectiveness/impact of these various projects, the story of another student at the Disha hostel in Katra is revealing. After seeing his father, a terrorist, being killed by police this student came to our hostel. Naturally, his thoughts were still centred on revenge at the time. 6 months later, when we visited the students, I asked him what he wants to become when he is older. Back came the reply: "I want to be a soldier."

I don't think there's a better example than that. Sewa work changes lives...

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Panchamritam

Shri. Chandrakant Hariba Shirote works as a security guard in a major establishment in Ichalkaranji, Maharashtra, Bharat. On an official work recently, he went to the Shivneri Bank. He found a bundle of currency notes lying near the cash receipts counter. The amount was Rs. 5,000. Chandrakant handed over the bundle to the cashier. Afteer some time, the person who had lost the money came looking for it to the bank. The cashier told him what happened and gave him the money. The person then went to Chandrakant’s office and offered him a gift of Rs. 100. Chandrakant accepted it only because everyone around pressed him to take it, but promptly donated it to Seva Bharati, a service organisation. He is a swayamsevak of the Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

(A box item contributed by Shri. Prashant Kulkarni, Ichalkaranji,

in VIVEK, Marathi weekly, Mumbai, December 14, 2003).

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