Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Journalist, English Class and Late Night Theatre...Fun, Fun, Fun!

Today was a wonderful day.
First we had a chance to sit down and have a discussion with Minkashi ben, a journalist from the Ahmedabad Mirror (who also wrote this story on our close brother Uday Bhai). She was able to share insight with the kids on what it means to be a journalist and what the importance of news is.

She wanted to write a story on EKATVA, our show and the kids. However, I felt its too early in the process still. Maybe as we get closer to an actual production being in place, then it will feel more worthy to publicize, but until then, keep working, keep developing, keep growing.
After time with Minakshi we had English class with Kathleen Didi and Roshni Didi. They really put together great, fun, interactive classes (hats off!). After that we had wonderful kichdi and kudhi that Kamaraben made for us. Then all 20 of us piled in our Manav Sadhna Qualis and Bica Bhai took us to Darpana for the show. Three words: It was awesome!!!
Here are a few clips from the show itself.
video

After the show, Roshni, Kathleen and I dropped the Tekra kids back to their homes. Bharat, Kiran and Bica Bhai dropped off the rest of the kids to Shankarbhuvan, Jamaalpur and Ashramshalla. Because it got late, around 1030pmish, we had to go to each individual kids homes in each of the different slum areas and drop them literally to each over their doorsteps - as their mom's and dad's are eagerly waiting. An intricate late night process, but with everyone's help it is possible. And it is absolutely worth it, for the kids would never get this type of exposure in their lives otherwise.
Keep walking with love.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

WE vs. EVERYONE

A great discussion took place today at prarthna.
Our daily prayer is the following:
Sathe Ramiye, Sathe Jamiye, Sathe Kariye Saara Kam.
We play together, we eat together, we do good work together.
Kayama Rahejo APANI Sathe,
God may you always be by OUR side
Gata, Gata Vasuta Shri Bhagvan.
God you are in every small particle in this great universe.
Ohm, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
Peace, Peace, Peace.
There are actually two ways the second line is said:
“God may you always be by OUR side”
OR
God may you always be by EVERYONE’S side”
Today after prayer, Krishna asked out loud, “Sir, why do we say “God may you always be by everyone’s side” and everyone at school says “God may you always be by OUR side”.
What a great question, I thought to myself.  Jayeshbhai actually brought this change to our attention 3 months ago. We used to say ‘our’, but since he suggested the rightful change, over the past three months we changed it to ‘everyone’s’.
Going from me, my and ours to yours, ours and everyone’s is a big shift in thinking and living. Moving from self-centered to others-centered; moving from a national anthem to a global anthem; from human beings to all matter, from one belief to all beliefs. To see God in everyone and everything is EKATVA, is Oneness.
The discussion didn’t get so deep. It was enough just to explain that we should not just think of ourselves, but more importantly think of everyone, including strangers and people we don’t know. That’s just the right thing to do. The kids agreed J
Love All Serve All. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Remembering Ishwar Dada


Beautiful story shared by Nipunbhai:

Few days ago, one of the legends of Gandhian service passed away in India -- Ishwar Patel. When he went unconscious around 4AM on Dec 26th, doctors thought that was his last. But when his mourning family gathered around him in the morning, he remarkably opened his eyes and gave everyone a chance for a final goodbye. He smiled, looked at them with compassionate eyes, and spoke his final words: "Jai Jalaram." It was a phrase to salute the divine, that he had shared with his wife every day for the last 52 years of their marriage. Having served selflessly for over 60 years, building over 500,000 toilets for the poorest communities, Ishwar-kaka knew a thing or two about changing the world. Yet to his beloved son, Jayesh Patel, his parting advice was simple:

 

"Keep doing small things."

In lieu of practice today, we sat in the front courtyard of Ishwar Dada’s ESI, remembering him, understanding him and celebrating him. This is the same courtyard from which Manav Sadhna actually started 21 years ago. It all came full circle: from Ishwar Dada sprouted Manav Sadhna and from that sprouted a generation of kids, 21 years later, who are sitting in his courtyard understanding who this great man is and how they are children of his heart.

Here we decorated, with love in heart and mind, Ishwar Dada’s true home.

video

Then we had a heartfelt discussion with Sureshbhai, about Ishwar Dada and his life. Sureshbhai, has spent the past 3 months, 24 hours a day, with Ishwar Dada. He served Ishwar Dada through the last 3 months of Ishwar Dada’s health struggle. Sureshbhai had learned a lot from Ishwar Dada, and was more than glad to spend some time with the kids sharing his learnings from a very humble saint, Ishwar Dada.

video
And at the end of our gathering we did prayer for Ishwar Dada’s soul and spirit, on the very toilet samples he had used to teach and explain about sanitation to the thousands that have visited him over the past 30 years.
video

Thursday, December 23, 2010

EKATVA FINAL KIDS SELECTION

Final selection of the Kids took place today. A long journey it has been. From January 2010 to December 2010. From 250 of our slum children to 16. The kids range from a distinct set of slum areas, Rama Pir Nor Tekra, Shankarbhuvan Slum, Jamaalpur Slum, and few others.
We have finally  made final selections and are ready to embark upon yet another phase.
The objective categories we used to select our kids, aside from our intuition and time spent with all of them over the past year, are listed below in order of importance:
Their Team Player Attitude and nature
Their Studies and commitment to Schooling
Their overall attitude towards the entire EKATVA process and project so far
Extra Support they may need due to difficulties/obstacles they may have in their personal family life
Dancing Ability
Their Learning Aptitude
Expression/Acting Ability
Their family support
As one may notice, Dancing ability and acting ability were low on the list of importance as we got down to the final selection of kids. Though we really look forward to the theatrical production and the entire creative journey, its really the internal transformation of the team and in the individuals within that we hope to at least spark. Thus teamwork, studies and attitude are of extreme importance in the process.
Another important factor was looking at kids that have the potential, but have a tougher, more obstacle-filled family and financial status. Imagine that, how do you get to a tougher financial status or situation then the average slum income of two to three dollars a day. For example when Bharat and I went to go visit Dharmesh’s family, he led us to the side of a dirt road where is Mom and Dad were sitting on worn- out plastic bags, in the middle of a polluted and dusty road environment. Dharmesh, doesn’t have it easy, but he works hard. He was not a great fit in the beginning for us. He didn’t go to school, couldn’t even speak Gujarati clearly, didn’t have a great set of manners, etc. But slowly he’s developed some discipline, is getting more focused, attending school more regularly and we know if we just support his journey we can help him get to a better place.
This is the ultimate goal. Help the journey, enable positive transformation and empowerment. Plant seeds and nurture them. Let God bear the fruits.
Love.
OUR FINAL KIDS LIST

Dipmala                Bhavnik
Priyanka               Gaurang
Chandini              Devram
Nikita                    Dharmaji
Bharti                    Vicky
Krishna                 Vishal
Payal                     Nitesh
Asha                      Sanjay

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In Meditation We Trust

Today was a special day for us. We came to Darpana for practice today. And as usual we get their about a half hour early so that we can do our group prayer, meditation and sharing before the teacher, Kishore Sir, gets their.

As we finish prayer and silence into meditation its always a unique experience. I lead our meditation by suggesting different things for the kids to do each time. Today I suggested, while all our eyes were closed, for all of us to take notice of any specific sound in the environment, whether it be in the room, outside, of nature or machine, anything. And try to keep your focus on that sound for the next minute or two. If your mind wanders away from that sound, no worries. Once you realize it has wandered just bring it back. Then we will share all our respective sounds that we connected with after meditation is complete.

But something was different this time. For the first time, over the many months that we have been doing prayer and meditation, I didn’t feel this internal tension that the kids are restless during meditation. For some reason or another, something in the air, felt like the kids were comfortable in this space of silence.
After meditation was complete and everyone shared their sounds, it just felt right to ask the kids about how they were feeling about meditation. From the many months which we have been religiously practicing, 2 times a day (before and after practice), 6 days a week, have they notice a difference in how they are feeling in this space of silence. The majority of the kids were excited to respond and really shared their comfort and joy in the meditation process. I really wanted to encourage it being okay, if someone was not comfortable and so finally Guddi responded saying that she feels really impatient still in the process. Then Krishna followed up saying that she used to feel really impatient and restless as well, but now doesn’t feel that way.
The question was asked (a question we have previously discussed in depth), ‘why do we do meditation’? To bring peace to our minds and our bodies. To train and exercise our minds. To take out bad thoughts. To quiet the mind and body that is constantly running all day. To just listen without judgement.
Bharat then shared how he just can not find a peace of mind. He said he has a lot of anger inside of him. We continued on a in-depth discussion, as a group, about Bharat’s anger and why it might be there, and what are some potential roads to easing that anger and bringing a little more positive energy and peace.
Its beautiful, that we were at dance class today, but that meditation felt like the more powerful experience of the day.
Love.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Our Spirited Father, Ishwar Dada

Our love and prayers are flowing towards Ishwar Dada, our founding father in the path of spirituality and selfless service. Ishwar Dada is the inspiration behind many of our local NGO’s here in Ahmedabad, including Manav Sadhna, Environmental Sanitation Institute, Gramshree, Seva Café, Harijan Sevak Trust and more. He’s truly the inspiration behind Jayeshbhai, Virenbhai and Anar Didi, that ones that have selflessly paved a unique path for hundreds and hundreds of beautiful souls on the path of service and thousands upon thousands of souls who are receiving their direct or indirect love daily.
Today we skipped practice. Ishwar Dada is tremendously ill in the hospital with a variety of complications so we wanted to bring our love and energy to him and the Sanjeevini  Hospital that he is staying at.
The plan was simple ;>
Make a big card for Ishwar Dada, with all the children’s handprints on it. Jagatbhai beautifully to the rescue. 
Walk to the hospital in dedication and prayer for Ishwar Dada’s health. The walk was a humble ode to his life. Ishwar Dada is known as Dr. Toilet, for he dedicated over 50 years of his life to work that most people considered only for untouchables, sanitation and cleaning. So Dharmaji carried a big plastic bag and the rest of us picked up all possible trash that we could find along our path to the hospital.

We also passed out chicki ladoo’s to many along our way, in celebration of Nitesh’s birthday. Many people along the sides of the road were observing us with curiosity.
All along, Madhuji was so beautifully capturing the moments with his camera. Thank you Madhuji!
Once we arrived to the hospital, we went straight up to the rooftop, where many of the nurses and staff followed us up, curious as to what we were doing, all 20 of us. We explained and they smiled. Madhu and Mam studios had arranged for spreading love throughout the hospital with yellow and white roses. The roses were provided as a result of children savings from AkshayPatra Savings Bottles made by MAM Studios and Earn n’ Learn kids. What a beautiful circle of giving. Our kids partnered with varying nurses at the hospital and went on to share the roses with patients and loved ones in the hospital.
We then all sat down together on the rooftop to write a heartfelt message on the card to Ishwar Dada and then all the kids signed it. While this was going on, we somehow managed to carry the printer and a laptop with us on our walk to the hospital so that we could print and cut out all the photos that were being taken by Madhuji and paste them on Ishwar Dada’s card during that very moment. The card was finally done. Nitesh, our birthday boy and Dipmala were sent downstairs to deliver the card to Ishwar Dada’s room. We did not want to bother him as he’s in critical condition, but it eventually turned out that Jayeshbhai invited all the children to share their glows and joy with Ishwar Dada for a short time.
Ishwar Dada is a true blessing;  a true spirit of God if we were to envision one. Amidst the 18 punctures in his body, various illnesses and infections, diabetes, 4 days without sleep, as he cannot lie down otherwise his breathing is blocked, and troubled breathing, he has attended to all his guests, shared loving advice and blessings with all and never complained once, but rather accepted his situation as what it should be and how it is, nothing more, nothing less. 
We were blessed to share this evening in spirit and love with him. And continue to feel and pray his health returns.
Love.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Magic of EKATVA

The magic of this EKATVA experiment, is that our children are being exposed to beautiful, amazing parts of the world, daily. Things they would never have heard of or seen otherwise.
Today was practice at Darpana Performing arts academy. This means that 14 of us pile in a car and the other 5 kids who are coming from a different slum area, meet us directly at Darpana. Upon our arrival to Darpana, we have all our kids line up in a single file line. Get to a space of silence and quietly walk ourselves to the back room near the Nutrani stage, where we all practice. The kids do give their attention and ‘Namaste’ to the security guard. If Mallika Didi or any other teachers are passing by, they will stop, bow down and touch the teachers’ feet with respect and continue to the back room. Before entering the room, we all remove our shoes or slippers and place them in a perfect line to the side of the door.
This time around as we were taking our shoes off, we heard a beautiful sound coming from within the room. It was the sweet sounds of an opera singer practicing for an upcoming show. Her name is Camille and she’s part of the Les Autres Musictheatre in Amsterdamn.


She was kind enough to allow us to enter the room and begin preparation for our practice. After an explanation of the EKATVA project and a little background on our kids, along with some of our kids pleasantly requesting her to share her talents with us, she most lovingly shared a part of a song she will be singing for the upcoming December 22nd show at Nutrani, Orfeo in India.
Our children were truly amazed ! How can such a powerful and beautiful voice come out of a human body ? We were all filled with great joy. Thank you for sharing Camille. After Camille’s performance, the kids took turns doing their own versions of opera singing.
Truly a blessing to have our kids be exposed to the world in this way.
Love.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Compassionate Chefs Cafe

EKATVA,  a journey in Oneness.  If we step back and contemplate, if and how Oneness in this world could be possible, we realize it can only happen if we all let go and trust that everyone will be looking out for the good of each other. That we will eventually move from self-centered to heart-centered. What a simple, but foreign concept for humanity, huh? Sad to say that its so foreign. That we have to imagine and dream of a day that people would actually and genuinely care enough for others and trust that others would do the same for them.
Well, this EKATVA experiment we continue is in the same spirit. We don’t have any idea where and how we will pull this entire show and an upcoming global tour off –including the fundraising, the logistics, etc., but we do have lots of faith and confidence in the hearts of humanity. And that faith has just become stronger. The hearts of very compassionate chefs (http://www.compassionatechefs.org/) from San Francisco have reached out to help the EKATVA experiment.

A close friend of ours, Robin Sukhadia, an important leader in the Project Ahimsa organization and efforts (www.projectahimsa.org), connected our story with Ranjan Dey from the Compassionate Chefs Café organization. An organization who’s ultimate goal is to uplift the lives of underprivileged children in different parts of the Globe. Once they heard of the EKATVA mission, they connected with the experiment and are now helping support the snacks, local transportation costs and other costs involved in handling and managing a wholistic development program for the kids leading up to the training of and eventual performance of the EKATVA show.
This desire to help in our mission by the Compassionate Chefs Café, has given us even deeper faith in the process. Trusting, that as we continue marching on, all will unfold as it should. With this trust we keep walking with our flashlight, seeing only 15 feet in front of us, as we take a new step, we see the next few feet ahead.  One step at a time.
March on. With whatever you are doing. If you believe and trust in it, continue marching.
Love.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Circle of Sharing: Ravana and Lanka

After practice today, we entered our prayer and circle of sharing. Its nice to see how a consistent forum and safe environment for children can lead them to opening up and sharing very beautiful, random things. Sanjay, raised his hand today during our circle of sharing. He said: “Did you know that Ravan, in the Ramayan, didn’t always own Lanka. It was gifted to him by Lord Shiva.” I was surprised to hear that. I never quite studied our Indian Mythology, but this fact did come as a surprise to me. So I did my research. And there was definitely some validity to his sharing:



Following his conquest of Lanka, Ravana encountered Shiva at his abode in Kailash. Ravana at first went to meet Shiva. Nandi the vehicle of Shiva, refused to let Ravana in. He got annoyed and started teasing Nandi. Nandi in turn got annoyed and cursed Ravana that LANKA would be destroyed by a monkey. To show NANDI his love for Shiva, Ravana attempted to uproot and move the mountain on a whim. Shiva, annoyed by Ravana's arrogance, pressed his littlest Toe on Kailash, pinning him firmly and painfully under it. His ganas informed Ravana of whom he had crossed, upon which Ravana became penitent. He composed and sang songs praising Shiva, and is said to have done so for years until Shiva released him from his bondage.

So according to this, maybe Lanka was not necessarily gifted to Ravana by Lord Shiva, but I can see how Sanjay may have heard this or interpreted this from the above facts. Either way, its exciting to have a forum where our kids can share random tidbits of information whenever they'd like.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

English Class, Tabla Games and a Sad Girl

Today was an exciting day for the kids!
For one, we started English class. Two Manav Sadhna Volunteers, Kathleen and Roshni, have been kind enough to dedicate a half hour twice or thrice a week to start the process of improving what little English our kids already know. After a few writing and reading tests today, we realized there’s a lot to work on. But no problem, we’ll learn as much as we can, with whatever time we have available and through time, I’m sure the kids will catch up beautifully. The goal is to teach them enough English speaking so they can communicate with others the basics about who they are, ask questions, talk about the show and its roots, etc. The kids seem excited to learn this language and others. They are already saying “Arregato” and “Como Estas”!
After some time writing the alphabet and some quick reading excercises to gauge all the kids’ levels, Robin bhai, our very close and talented friend from Project Ahimsa (http://www.projectahimsa.org/), took the kids outside for Tabla and Music interactions and games.



Robin and Project Ahimsa, have been very closely connected with Manav Sadhna through the past years, supporting music and instrument programs for many of the underpriveleged children here in Ahmedabad. Robin, who recently finished his MFA in World Music from Cal Arts, one of the top Art Schools in the world, is now on a Fulbright Scholarship in India seeking to combine music and education to connect, teach and transform underpriveleged children.

Today, he played an amazing game with the kids, where they were empowered with the opportunity to direct a live ‘human’ orchestra. Each group of kids played a specific sound, that depicted one of the notes in the Tabla Matra. Then after Robin bhai’s examples, one kid at a time, started playing the director role, having the different groups play their sounds on rhythm at different times, in different intensities, to create their own unique musical pieces. What a fantastic interaction!




video

He then brought it to the practical and real, by gathering them around the actual tabla and demonstrating live how to create some basic sounds with their hands. He arranged tablas for the kids to touch, feel and play while he was showing them how to play it.



video


At closing prayer and sharing, Nikita shared that she was sad, because she didn’t have a chance to play the music director role or the tabla today. What a beautiful thing, that she can feel open enough to share a sad feeling, instead of holding it inside. It was nice to hear her share this. We then talked about how...[drum rolls please]...this is life. We don’t always get to do everything we want. We don’t always get every opportunity that everyone else gets. But then we also discussed how, taking a step back, we should realize how beautiful it is that God has even given us this huge opportunity to be sitting here together on this EKATVA mission - and much much more. We are all truly blessed.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"How can we become professional dancers?"

...was a question posed by Bharti after practice today during prayer and sharing. The response that came from Bharat, Project Ahimsa director Robin Sukhadia, our Manav Sadhna volunteer Kathleen, and myself was 'Practice, Practice, Practice!'. The discussion led to an in-depth talk with our children on how seriously we should take everyday of practice that we have. The kids have agreed for me to carry a stick during practice. If there expressions are not strong or their poses and postures weak, then they have agreed that i can give them a friendly reminder with the stick :) . It is so important that they treat each practice as if it is the 'big show'. We have to pour passion into each ounce of practice...This will lead you on the path of becoming a professional 'dancer'.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We've Got the Whole World in Our Hands

Today after dance practice we sat in a big circle. Within the circle, using chalk, we made a dot representing the Gandhi Ashram. Then a small circle around the dot representing Ahmedabad. Then a small awkard figure surrounding Ahmedabad suggesting Gujarat. Then India. Then Asia. Then Africa, Europe, North and South America, Australia, and Antarctica. What started out as a small dot, turned out to be a huge illustration of Planet Earth, that covered the entire room.
This was the kids' first lesson in understanding the world a little better.
"Can anyone name another country, other than India?"
“London!”
“No, that’s a city.”
“Rajasthan!”
“No, that’s a state in India.”
“Africa!.”
“No, that’s a continent.”
Okay, so we have some learning to do.

Does anyone have any ideas as to how many countries, just like India, there are in the world?
“9”?
“26!”
Okay, so we have some learning to do.

Sure, obviously the kids are not clear as to how the world works and what lies beyond Ahmedabad, Gujarat and India. But they were quick to grasp, the big chalk map we drew on the ground and started pouring out questions as we discussed the continents and the make up of the world.
“This world, umm…how did it come about?”
“How do you get from India to Australia?”
“Are there similar animals in Asia as there are in America?”
The kids loved the discussion and are excited to learn more about the world. We ended up doing our prayer and snacks on the illustration of the globe. The funny joke the kids started was passing the milk to Vicky, who was sitting on the illustration of Antartica. They were asking him if he can take our milk and turn it into ice cream. He was getting so many requests, he said, while sitting on Antartica, that maybe he should start an ice cream business here. J


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