Former Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair delivering his lecture on ‘Faith and Globalisation’ during The Cardinal’s Lectures 2008, Westminster Cathedral, London, on 3rd April 2008 said, “We can think of the great humanitarian enterprises which bring relief to those who are suffering – the Red Cross, the Red Crescent or Islamic Relief, CAFOD and Christian Aid, Hindu Aid and Sewa International, World Jewish Relief and Khalsa Aid – all the charities which draw inspiration from the teachings of the different faiths.”.
To be quoted by a person of the eminence that of former-PM of Britian did not happen without such a measure of Sewa offered by the volunteers of Sewa International in Britian as well as in other parts of the world. Starting from oblivion just less than a decade’s period, little did the world comprehend that a living tradition of “service without self” flourished for centuries together and the modern manifestation of this tradition continues with the same spirit even through the era of globalization.
The ostensible elite of modern India did not have the time & patience to understand what one of the tallest personalities of last century Mahatma Gandhi tried to impress on the masses. Mahatma Gandhi went from city to city, village to village collecting funds for the Charkha Sangh (an organization he established to promote cottage industry producing raw cotton yarn). During one of his tours he addressed a meeting in Orissa. After his speech a poor old woman got up. She was bent with age, her hair was grey and her clothes were in tatters. The volunteers tried to stop her, but she fought her way to the place where Gandhiji was sitting, “I must see him”, she insisted and walked up to Gandhiji and touched his feet. Then from the folds of her sari she brought out a copper coin and placed it at his feet. Gandhiji picked up the copper coin and put it away carefully. The Charkha Sangh funds were under the charge of Jamnalal Bajaj. He asked Gandhiji for the coin but Gandhiji refused. “I keep cheques worth thousands of rupees for the Charkha Sangh”, Jamnalal Bajaj said laughingly “yet you won’t trust me with a copper coin.” “This copper coin is worth much more than those thousands”, Gandhiji said. “If a man has several lakhs and he gives away a thousand or two, it doesn’t mean much. But this coin was perhaps all that the poor woman possessed. She gave me all she had. That was very generous of her. What a great sacrifice she made. That is why I value this copper coin more than a crore of rupees.”
The Hindu tradition encouraged every citizen irrespective of her/his wealth accrued to help others and the indigent persons like the old lady who struggled to reach Gandhiji to join hands offering whatsoever belonged to her, caring little for her own welfare. Since Vedic period this tradition is abundant of such instances and quotes, and find mention everywhere, whether recorded or unrecorded. The paradox that the inheritors of this tradition have gleefully and even might be conveniently forsaken it, is certainly a painful verity.
Yet, we find that a soul or two, or even many together, extend a helping hand to the needy and the distressed that too without any expectation whatsoever, prepared to sacrifice one’s interest, nay, risking one’s life. That the society, in midst of modern hankering for acquiring boundless bounty, still in continuum produces such categorical sacrifices devoid of any name – fame or record, has a memo to be understood. We heartily appreciate the contribution of the commoners who try to give away whatever little on can out of their smaller earnings and the number of such people is appreciably large.
Serving the people in distress during calamities deserves a special mention across the boundaries with expanse turning into proximities, the yearning to reach out to the people in distress scoring over the physical distances, not only in terms of funds but volunteers of all ages, physically joining in the relief & rehabilitation.
However, the pain felt through each and every moment does not go unhindered for Sewa International (SI). Where there is a need, there is “Sewa International!” Supporting the good cause is a passion with SI. The modern challenges that the world and particularly developing countries like Bharat face, need to be tackled vigorously, and SI did not shirk away from this momentous task, sharing the responsibility with partner organizations.
Reading through the following pages, one can understand how a philosophy has been put to practice – a “vision in action” – like scenario. We are quite aware that this is just the beginning and what has been achieved is not sufficient. However, the precious virtue called ‘voluntarism’ is something that we value most and sincerely feel that this be preserved even in the age of ‘professionalism.’
It was news to H.E. The Governor of Louisiana Kathleen Blanco that more than 500 volunteers of Sewa USA and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh registered themselves for relief work during Katrina hurricane relief in USA. These 500 expatriates had no reservations in applying for leave from their jobs and serve the cyclone affected people. She was delighted that 500 volunteers from among the Indian expatriate community had already enrolled as volunteers and served the Katrina affected and also raised funds for the relief program.
The success-story & growth of Sewa International that is being elaborated in the following pages did not happen without challenges. The propaganda against Sewa International and its associated organizations consumed much positive energy that could have proved useful for serving the downtrodden through the allegations were rejected by the society and some government agencies later on. Our benefactors, who keep supporting financially and otherwise extended their hand to fend off the allegations and we appreciate their support in those testing times.
True to the motto that we proudly display, “Sewa hi Paramo Dharmah” (Serving others selflessly is the highest form of Dharma), SI assures the supporters and readers that we would continue to tread this path without any discrimination.
As Swami Vivekananda explains:-
“The poor, the illiterate, the ignorant, the afflicted let them be your God, know that service to these people alone is the highest religion.”
The famous Jordanian philosopher Khalil Jibran says-
“There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God speaks. And from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.
It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.
And is there thought you would withhold?
And you shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors”.
We thanks Just. (Retd.) Shri Jitendra Vir Ji Gupta, the first Chairman of SI Bharat who guided the organization in initial stages and provided encouragement at everystep. His untimely demise has been a great loss for us. Ma. Shri Suryanarayana Rao, the founder author of the trust has inspired all the activists of SI by guiding and engaging them in the Sewa activities and still continues do to so in the capacity of a member of international Advisory Committee.
We also thanks to all of those who have been contributing to this noble cause in whatever way they can.
--Shyam (K.G.) Parande