Monday, January 24, 2011

Hip Hop in the Slums and at the Gandhi Ashram

Yesterday was an amazing blessing. A day that will leave a deep imprint on the lives of the guests that came.
My life has been closely connected to the art form of hip hop over the past 15 years. And I really haven’t expressed that art form while living here in India. Yesterday, however, through the American Center at the American Consulate in India, we had Havikoro, a Houston-based hip hop group (breakdancing, beatboxing, djing and mcing) spend a whole day with our EKATVA kids as well as hundreds of our Manav Sadhna kids.
We started with a improvised breaking and beatboxing cipher in Rama Pir No Tekra (the biggest slum area in Gujarat, pop. 120,000).

Then we went to our Manav Sadhna community center, a beautiful gem in the middle of the slum, where the Havikoro group did a breakdancing workshop with our kids.

As well as a little freestyle session! 

We ended the day with a djing, beatboxing and rapping exhibition and workshop by Havikoro at the Gandhi Ashram with over 200 kids of ‘untouchable’ communities from Ahmedabad.

The kids were so powerfully charged with positive energy and gratitude for such a progressive and humble group to share their talent and love with them.

After the event, Virenbhai and I gave the Havikoro Group a tour of the Gandhi Ashram (and gifted each of them with an autobiography of Gandhiji)  in the late evening. In reflection of the entire day, the group expressed a deep feeling of gratitude. They were truly moved by their experience, the very human connections they made with the children all throughout day, the spirit of Manav Sadhna and the slum area. They were sincerely humbled and most importantly inspired. Chris and Marlin made it a point that they would sincerely want to come back to Ahmedabad and Manav Sadhna to share their talents with the kids for a longer time period.
The EKATVA journey is truly beautiful. But just like everything else in the world, it will come and go, seemingly unnoticed, perhaps, to most of the world. But we continue to walk in faith, that ripples of love and oneness will spread as long as our intention is pure.
I leave you with Mother Theresa’s heartfelt words:
“We can do no great things. Just small things with great love”.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seva Cafe: Giving is Living

Seva Café is an experiment in the shared joy that comes from humble giving and selfless service. As we serve, we internalize the mantra of "Atithi Devo Bhava" which translates to "The Guest is God," a deep and ancient Indian view that honors each guest with reverence.

This was the experiment we wanted the kids to experience yesterday and today. Yesterday we took the Jamaalpur, Shankarbhuvan and Rama Pir No Tekra kids (9) and today we took the Ashramshalla kids (7). The kids truly enjoyed themselves in selfless service: washing dishes, cleaning tables, serving water, and welcoming guests.

After the kids were done volunteering, then we all sat down for a beautiful meal. This was the kids' first time ever eating at a 'resataurant' and so certain things needed to be explained, like what a fork is, and how you have to use a napkin to keep your mouth and hands clean. The beautiful thing was though it was all we could eat, there was no food wasted at all.

Sanjay ordered pasta thinking it was a grilled cheese sandwich. After a while, he asked me, 'do i have to eat this, i thought this pasta was supposed to be a sandwich". My response was simple, "Yes, please finish what you ordered. And next time ask. Make a habit of asking. Never assume, especially with stuff like this that you have never seen or had before." I kinda felt bad, but he understood and he needs to get in a habit of asking more, so this was a good chance for painless lesson.

Overall, the kids loved it! And want to know when they can come back to serve at Seva Café!

The joy of giving…


Here’s more background on Seva Café:

When you dine at Seva Café, you are not viewed as a customer, but instead as a treasured guest, as part of the Seva Café family.

Seva means service. When immersed in the heart of Seva, one finds a pathway to the Divine, and its this connectedness to which we ultimately aspire. Volunteering at Seva Café is a conscious exercise in staying tuned to that deep and true space of genuine service.

Our wholesome vegetarian meals are cooked and served with love by volunteers and by a small, modestly paid staff - mostly graduates from Manav Sadhna's Earn N' Learn program. Our menu changes daily and we offer a delicious variety of options, both Indian and continental.

When you dine at Seva Café, your meal is offered to you as a genuine gift, already paid for in full by previous guests. You become part of a Circle of Giving, which is modeled more closely to that of a family. Here, there are no bills. We leave it to you to pay it forward with your heart.

We hope everyone - volunteers, staff, and guests alike - all leave this space feeling more nourished - body, mind, and spirit - and that together we can help set in motion a more abundant, more generous mode of interacting that leaves everyone feeling happier and more closely connected. The inequities of our world derive from our own internal walls of separation from one another. As we grow in Seva, we leave these walls behind.

All of our costs and income are made clearly transparent, and 100% of any profits we take in are used to support social service projects. Please join us in participating in this genuine experiment in selfless service.

May we all grow together in love.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Akshay Patra: Part 1

Today the kids were injected with a wonderful opportunity, Akshay Patra.
Madhuji and Jyoshnadidi sat down with the kids and explained the experiment.  

For months now, a group of separate kids have been collecting 1 rupee a day in an Akshay Patra bottle provided to them by our Moved by Love family.

They are empty water bottles renovated by our Earn n’ Learn kids, through paint and color, transformed into beautiful piggy banks. The savings that go into these Akshay Patra bottles, eventually become mini-bank accounts to do good. But the children that are saving this money are taught about Sudh-bauvna before the saving process begins. Meaning, the good thoughts, pure thoughts, loving thoughts and feelings that are carried and transferred through that process of putting little amounts of money every day into the bottle, with the pure desire to do good for others. After prayer Jyoshnadidi explained this and then Madhuji shared the bag of collected Sudh-Bhauvna, do-good money, with all the kids. The bag weighed at least 12kg. 12 kg of Sudh-Bauvna money to do good! Wow! The kids kept their eyes closed and felt the weight of the bag of love and passed it on.

Then we discussed with our kids that we would give them 30 rupees each and they have to do something good, full of Sudh Bhauvna, for someone over the weekend and share their story of giving during our circle of sharing on Monday….
To Be Continued.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Case of the Stolen Slippers

Unfortunately, a few days back Vishal had his shoes accidentally taken or stolen at the Ashram. Either way, he had to walk home barefooted. And even though new slippers only cost about a dollar, his family is not in financial condition to get him a new pair right away. So the next day his older brother lends him his slippers when he comes to practice, but his older brother is then left barefooted for the day… So we plotted:
2 days ago, I gave Bharat 100 rupees to buy Vishal a new pair of slippers, which he got from the bazaar for 40 rupees. Bharat is to give the slippers to one of the kids in our group that also lives in the Shankarbhuvan slums and instruct them to anonymously put these new slippers at Vishal’s doorstep without anyone knowing. The plot ensues successfully and here is the discussion at dance practice about who knows how the slippers got to Vishal’s front doorstep and who doesn’t.
Most importantly, Vishal still doesn’t have a clue as to how those slippers got there (see for yourself).

So instead of being left without slippers, he’s left with gratitude that people care enough to give him new slippers, but not claim credit for giving it to him. Kind of like smile cards. And the discussion that ensued with the kids actually brought back the topic of smile cards from the other day when Aditi Didi, a Charity Focus volunteer from London, visited us and shared with the kids the story and meaning behind smile cards.
Oh, how the world works. And how goodness connects the world!

Typical Car Ride to Dance Practice at Darpana Academy

The kids enjoying a ride to dance practice with Jagatbhai (our Manav Sadhna soul force) and Bicabhai (our Manav Sadhna driver).

We Shall Overcome

Last week we taught the kids how to sing “We Shall Overcome” in English. We passed out sheets to all the kids with the full lyrics on them. It was a fun group activity practicing together. Obviously, lots of work ahead...

But suprising and beautiful was that today as I was walking with the Shankarbhuvan kids to find them a rickshaw, Dipmala says “Sir, I’ve got the We Shall Overcome song down”. I responded with, “You mean you have it memorized”? She said, “Yes, without the paper, I can sing it”. I was pleasantly surprised and filled with joy. She took the time to practice and memorize it on her own time.
What better thing to do, than to have them stand on the side of the road and sing it…

Friday, January 7, 2011

1st Vali (Parents) Meeting

How can one explain the feeling felt when a deep longing joy within a child is shared with their parents. Well, that and much more, happened today, all within the span of 2 hours.
Over three months ago Bharat and I met with all the kids’ parents at each and everyone of their slum houses. This is when we had 26 kids selected and we were looking to narrow down to 18. Some kids lived very far and most others were within 2-8 kilometers proximity. Going to each home has gave us an opportunity to learn more about our kids, their families, their family and home environments, economic conditions, etc.  Each of those meetings were primarily to begin the process of developing a relationship, gain an understanding and verbal commitment from the parents that they were willing to support us and their kids through this project. Their support really means, supporting their children emotionally and mentally. Making sure the kids are studying at home and be willing to have their kids come to practice daily and come back home late.
Three months later, we had our first Vali Meeting (parents meeting)here at Manav Sadhna, Gandhi Ashram. It was truly powerful!
We had been telling the kids all week to tell both of their parents to arrive at 4pm on Friday, January 9th, 2011. I even pseudo-threatened the kids that if both parents don’t come out, then we’ll assume that they are not supporting you in this project and we may have to take you out. In these types of meetings, it is usually always the case that the fathers do not come. Mainly because they are either working (many labor workers) who cannot take time off their job due to obvious financial reasons, or they are drinkers, which makes it difficult for them to come. For example, yesterday, I went to the Shankarbhuvan Slum area to talk to the kids’ parents, because Vicky, Vishal and Dharmaji all said that their fathers would not make it. As I met with their fathers I found out, Vicky’s father was half drunk, Vishal’s father was sick and Dharmaji’s father said he has to work tomorrow. Through some good conversation, I was able to convince Vicky’s father not to drink tomorrow and come and Dharmaji’s father to skip work for 2 hours to join. Wow, I thought, that wasn’t too hard….Come today, the fathers did not show up. All the mom’s showed up, and about half the fathers showed up, which I hear is still a really good turnout.
So the parents show up. We have them sit outside and fill out a form with all their information and confirmation that they support our kids for the project and even if we have to take the kids out of the city, state or country. Our eventual objective with the actual production of the show is to tour, so everyone should be prepared well in advance to support the idea of their kids going to other parts of the country or world if that ends up being the case. The parents tend to be very supportive, they almost see us as their kids’ second parents. The only thing they are truly concerned about is their childrens’ safety.

Once we reached around 430pm, Jayeshbhai and Virenbhai (our founders and soul and spirit of Manav Sadhna) came inside, as well as our kids. We gave our kids one white rose each and 2 beautiful hand-crafted puffy heart pins. They made two lines facing each other at the entrance of the door and then Jagatbhai started playing the dholak live. The parents were invited into the Manav Sadhna home and we welcomed them with love. Bharat and I were at the front door. The parents would walk by us first so we would bow down and touch their feet with love and respect. Many of these parents are actually younger than me, but to know they are the parents of these children, I treat them like my parents. Then as they walk by the row of our children, each of our kids bowed down and touch the feet of another kids’ parents and then pinned the heart onto their chest and handed them a white rose with lots of love.

This is a small seed planting activity for our kids in Oneness, but very important – that each kid bows down to the feet of another kids’ parents and gives a rose to another kids’ parent. All while Jagat bhai is continually playing the dholak live. The kids were so excited to welcome their parents and you can feel the love the parents felt in entering in the MS home. A beautiful and powerful interaction. Love and bonds are built in these ways – you can see it happening.
As the welcome was complete, all 45 of us, sat in prayer and then in silence. Even Dipmala's 3 year old sister, Surya, closed her eyes and prayed with us.

The words “Jai Jagat” (“Hail to the whole world”) awakened the silence and then we proceeded to introduce all the kids and parents to each other. One of our kids would raise their hand, then the respective parents would raise their hands. It was a family getting to know each other.
I then talked for a little while in my limited Gujarati, thanking the parents for coming. Explaining what this project means to all of us, where we all come from-the roots of EKATVA and Manav Sadhna –Ishwar Dada, Jayeshbhai, Virenbhai, Anar Didi. And really sharing the energy and commitment that we all have towards these kids.
Jayeshbhai then spoke very powerfully, bringing truth, light, love and strength to the parent’s hearts and eyes.

Bharat continued thereafter sharing his thoughts on how we all need to work together, parents included, to pull off this type of project. He compared this process to the likes of building a house. The engineer, carpenter, architect, laborers, etc. all have to work in unison for this to bloom like rose.
And lastly Virenbhai shared his powerful love and wisdom towards the parents, once again deepening their trust and connection to the EKATVA experiment.
Then the parents shared their loving thoughts and growth that they have seen in their children since they have been involved with the EKATVA project. They also voiced a few concerns, mainly to do with timing and transportation for the kids.
Lastly, we had a surprise act: the kids performing for the parents, what they have learned to date at Darpana Academy. Prior to performing, each kid got on the mic and expressed what this EKATVA journey has meant to them. That was truly beautiful and powerful, to see the confidence with which they expressed themselves and the gratitude they shared.
The kids performance was beautiful! Beautiful because they were as excited as if they were performing a real show. They did a good job for their first performance, everyone loved it!

Kamaraben made some beautiful mint chai for all the family members.

We all loudly and in unison chanted “Hum Sub EK He!!!”, three times (“We are all ONE”!). And then in beautiful prayer and silence we finally ended our meeting.

The children, for the first time, departed back home from the Ashram not by themselves, but with their parents in hand.
EKATVA. The journey begins, continues and is ongoing.

Mom and Dad Must Come to Ashram

Tomorrow is our 1st parents meeting. From the beginning of the week, we have told all 16 of our kids that both their parents have to attend this parent meeting. If both parents do not attend, then we get assume that their parents are not interested in supporting this effort and thus we may have to drop those children who’s both mom and dad do not attend. Through these types of meetings we help continue to build our relationship with all the parents and families, develop a mutual sense of trust and understanding and enjoy some time together.
Today, all three boys from Shankarbhuvan Slum area: Dharmaji, Vishal and Vicky, said at least one of their parents would not be able to make the parents meeting. This was a little disturbing. So I went to all of their homes after practice to discuss and further understand why.
Vicky: His father, unfortunately is a drunk, as many slum dwelling male adults are. As I sat down in Vicky’s house, peeling garlic with his mother preparing for their dinner, she shared with me that it would be more embarrassing if they brought him along, because he drinks day and night. I told them that I would at least like to talk to him. So Vicky went by the river where he his father was drinking and called him in. We talk and I requested that he not drink tomorrow and come and share his time with us. He agreed, but let’s see what happens.
Dharmaji: His father was against coming, because he cannot leave his work. I requested that for just 2 hours out of the whole year, it would be worth if he can make it. His wife is out of town so we requested that he come with his oldest daughter. In the end, after, what felt like some form of bargaining, he agreed. Let’s see what happens :)
Vishal: Vishal’s dad was really sick lying in bed. So I told him to not worry at all. As I sat down to talk with his family, mom, father, brother and grandmother, the kids joined me. Vishal’s mom started feeding me tepla, hot and fresh off the stove. It was delicious. She was telling me exactly these words: “We may be poor, but we still make good food!”. Beautiful!  We had a good time talking about the show, eating and joking around. I shared my tepla with Dharmaji, Vicky and Vishal as well. Oh yeh, Vishal got his slippers stolen yesterday, so he was wearing his brothers’ slippers today. A story that’s to be continued…
Our final stop was Dipmala’s house. She was making omelletes with her mom. Dad was still at work. Both of her parents have agreed to come tomorrow.
Man, the slum areas are really works of art and for some reason I sense and feel that more in the night as we’re walking from one house to another: The way its designed. How each square foot of space is utilized. The beautiful colors. The smells. The integration of animals and man. The warmth and aliveness of these type of areas. A beautiful and extensive topic for another day. But yes, this is where these kids live and it is a beautiful home!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Dharmaji Finds 1000 Rupees

Dharmaji spread ripples of hope, inspiration, and trust. During practice yesterday there was a group of foreigners from America that came to the ashram and were sitting nearby where we were practicing. After practice when everyone had left, Dharmaji and I were sitting down talking and then all of a sudden he pointed across the way and said “Hey, there’s a 1000 rupee note over there”. Amazingly enough, there was: 1000 rupees quietly sitting on the seat cushion diagonally across from us.
Now, considering Dharmaji’s life situation, 1000 rupees is a very big deal. For a middle class person in America, its equivalent to finding about $2500. Dharmaji’s family doesn’t really have a stable house setting, but are owners of 3 donkeys. He goes to school, but then spends his free time, manning the donkeys, feeding them, cleaning them and taking them to different places where they transport dirt for various people. These people will pay them 25-50 rupees for their use of the donkeys.
Dharmaji’s life, financial situation and family environment is not conducive to the development of virtuous habits and values, but his reaction to finding so much money, sheds a lot of light on the depth of his heart and mind. His story is small, but real and powerful. It’s a true reflection of EKATVA and the journey we are all trying to walk on.
Vishal, shared with us today, at our circle of sharing, that Dharmaji told him yesterday “the feeling of telling someone else about the lost money and finding the right owners, felt so much better than if I had kept it…it made me really happy!”.
Just Beautiful. Thank you Dharmaji for feed our hearts and souls.