Hi! My name is Becky, I’m from Australia, and when I turned fifty, I quit work and set off for a three month period of service with Manav Sadhna. Fourteen months later I am still here, with no intentions of leaving in the near future. Shirishbhai has asked me to share a few words about my experiences as a Manav Sadhna volunteer, so here goes!
Initially I was teaching English, but over the past six months I have been closely involved in the renovation and re-launching of the library at the Community Centre in Ramapir no Tekra. Put simply, my time with the Manav Sadhna family, and especially in the library, has been one of the most rewarding and personally enriching experiences of my life. Each day I am surrounded by so much joy, laughter, and love despite the enormous challenges faced by the community I work within. I have made wonderful new friends from around the globe and within the local community, met people who have inspired me incredibly on many levels, and I would like to think I have become a small part of a new family, Manav Sadhna, in a way I never dreamt of previously.
Long term volunteering is not an option for many of us – I consider myself very fortunate to be able to do so. But I don’t think its possible for any of us to remain unaffected by our period of service, whatever its duration, and for the vast majority of us, that change and impact is 100% positive, and something we can take back into our ‘normal’ lives. Unforgettable moments, beautiful moments that become treasured memories. The kids at Saturday Special competing in sack races. The maji’s singing at the Community Centre. The look of joy on a students face as he finally ‘gets’ active and passive voice in an English class. Ajaybhai and Bhaskarbhai playing gurba at Seva Café. The huge grin on Kinjals face as she dances. A midnight dash into the Old City to fetch more fireworks at Diwali. So much fun, so much love.
We volunteers meet each Friday morning to share our experiences from the week before, we support one another through the low moments that we all have, when we become overwhelmed by the enormity of the tasks we face; we applaud one another’s small successes. We are all supported throughout our experience by the incredible kindness and generosity of the Manav Sadhna staff; and inspired by the Gandhian spirit which pervades everything we do.
Our emotions become almost amplified. There is beauty and squalor, grief and love, everywhere around us. We have shared grief at the loss of great spirits like Raghubhai, and small children like Divya. We have shared laughter and joy at festivals and celebrations throughout the year. We have visited places of great beauty, like Rani Ki Vav, and seen brilliant performances, both professionally staged, like the Navratri opening ceremony, and our own children performing at our community centres; and we work within some of the most impoverished communities in this big city. As Westerners we learn to be grateful for our easy lives; as humans, we cannot help but grow through our time here.
There’s a fable I love, which illustrates perfectly what I personally have learnt as a Manav Sadhna volunteer. It involves a man walking along a beach and seeing hundreds of starfish dying on the sand, stranded by the tide. He sees another person in the distance picking them up one by one and throwing them back out into the water. As he approaches, he says, “It’s pointless, what you are doing; you can’t possibly make a difference, there are so many”. The other man bends down to pick up another starfish, throws it into the surf, and says, “It made a difference to that one”. I hope I can make a difference too.