This weekend we had the chance to visit a rural community in India, which is something quite different to what we are used to. We went to Chadotar, a village in the northwest part of Gujarat. The idea of the weekend was to raise some awareness on hygiene and sanitation. And for that, 14 of us embarked in the Nandini Van, which translates for Cow bus, a cute name for a very cute and powerful Be-hicle.
The Team at ESI-Sughad
The project came out of the heart of ESI, who is working for India’s sanitation for more than 50 years now. Sanitation is no joke. Diarrhea is still one of the highest causes of death in Indian infants. And of course, one of the causes of Diarrhea is improper hygiene and sanitation conditions and habits.
Nandini Van has been on for more than 6 years now. It was designed by few volunteers who thought that a vehicle like this could be a great idea to generate connection with local people in the villages and to spread awareness on this sensitive issue. For all these years, Nandini has been visiting hundreds of villages with hundreds of volunteers. As we witnessed, it is such a powerful tool to interact with the community. Everyone gets attracted to it, from children to elders.
Kids visiting Nandini
But of course, the software Nandini brings is even more impressive than the hardware. The spirit with which this vehicle is run reminds us the purity and capability of the human heart. Devendrabhai, who has been working with Nandini since her wheels started to move puts it right: “We realized that in order to connect with the community we couldn’t go there and just look for the powerful guys in the village and try to influence them to improve the situation; we had to do something to connect with everyone in an emphatic way”. Difficult thing. How to create trust in 3 days? How to tell people that they should go to the toilet into a proper place or clean the streets? How to generate awareness about waste management without harming anyone? Very difficult thing. Well, it has been difficult many times, as Devendrabhai reports: “sometimes we weren’t welcome in the villages, and that made us grow and look for more creative and emphatic ways of approaching the community”. What has evolved from all that learning is an approach that puts people first. Project is there, the intention of creating awareness on sanitation and hygiene is there, but human relationship comes first. “Now, everywhere we go they treat us as family”, Devendrabhai says. How did this transformation happen?
Our experience talks about that. We arrive to Chadotar on Friday afternoon and were welcomed in two local schools. Hundreds of kids entered Nandini Van with wonder. Of course, kids are always an example of ingenuity and trust. Connecting with local communities is always easier through little children. One of the volunteers Paola from Venezuela says: “They would dance with us for hours every evening, and taught us every single step of their local dance. From these kids I learned the ability of seeing the good in everything and take the best of every opportunity in this life”.
Kids are like antennas that receive every single vibration around them… In families where anger reigns it’s much easier that kids develop into unbalanced adults. But in families where peace and harmony reigns, the natural wisdom of kids arises much easier. Generating opportunities for kids flows naturally in the context given by Nandini. One of the activities we did was to paint trees for parasite prevention; few volunteers organically told the kids: “Why don’t we hug the trees before painting them?” The trees give us a lot of oxygen which is a big deal so it’s not only a hippy thing to be grateful for what they do for us. It seems more like scientific hugs. 🙂 Kids followed us so naturally. They just loved hugging all these trees. We don’t know the local language, so to explain the hugging we just told them “A maru bhai che”, in gujarati, “This is my brother”. After some time one 6 year old kid points to a bird: “A maru bhai che”. That’s all I needed for the weekend to be magical 🙂
Later in the day we started with our activities to connect with the community. How to create awareness on the importance of having clean streets? Just pick up a broom and start cleaning yourself! And that’s what we did! We just picked our brooms and went out sweeping the streets. You can see our passion!! 🙂
In India, waste management is a big problem.. There is no much awareness about it and most of the people just throw the garbage on the streets. Cleaning the streets doesn’t ensure us that people will stop throwing plastic to the street or even better, stop using plastic, but it gives Nandini volunteers a chance to connect with people in the spirit of humility and self-purification. As Ishwardada would say: “Outer cleaning is inner cleaning”. When done with awareness, sweeping can become a very powerful tool for self knowledge and community building.
Apart from painting trees and sweeping we would show movies on sanitation, organize collective dances, clean public latrines…
Kids watching a movie on sanitation 🙂
Another beautiful thing we do with Nandini trips is the chanting in the mornings. We go all over the village chanting songs of love for the planet and love for human kind. Waking up people might not seem the best strategy to receive appreciation… And probably it is not 🙂 . But our experience says that actually it is a very nice way to connect and a very enjoyable way of spending the first hours of the day 🙂
All these activities were done with the intention of putting our best heart into them. As mother Theresa said, “It is not so much about how much you do or what you do, but about how much love you put into the doing”. When all the love is put into whatever action is undertaken, that action becomes a very powerful act of transformation. Of course, when in Love, one loses track of past and future, so all that remains is that action itself, and in such wonderful state, Love starts to play around you and for you.
All these activities really generate a field of trust and connection with the people. Vinoba Bhave KNEW and that’s why he was so successful during his historical Bhoodan Movement. He used to say: just go with a musical instrument, a broom and a sacred book and connect to people everywhere. That’s all it takes to generate family. Of course, beyond all, a good human heart. And the Nandini Team is full of good hearts.
When doing this kind of work to connect people and generate community, sometimes we don’t see the fruits of our work till many generations after us, but sometimes the fruits come so fast. We got invited by literally the whole village for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had to say no to dozens of families who wanted to give us all they had. Of course, this is not our merit. The hospitality and generosity is incarnated in every human heart. When we give these kind of opportunities to express gratitude and kindness we are just tools for these eternal and universal values that hold us in harmony.
As Miki, another volunteer from Spain says, “giving these families a chance to serve us, no matter how poor they were, is felt as a gift for them; actually for all of us. A sacred relationship is created when we accept the gifts that come from the heart. In India they say: ‘Guest is God’, and they also say, Ananta Suki Baba, ‘Blessed is the one who gives food’, so for our new friends, giving food becomes a sacred act of connection and hospitality”. Actually it was difficult to say who was giving and who was recieving. It all felt like a wonderful dance of Love.
A feast at one of our hosts home 🙂
As Paola puts it “since we came we were really surprised. The welcoming was simply astonishing. Materially speaking they don’t have that much, but they served us food and love as if we were Kings and Queens. They made us feel at home, always asking for our needs and concerns.”
This radical generosity is always overwhelming. And gives energy to pay it forward.
Estefi, one of the volunteers sums it all up: “my interaction with the true people of India is difficult to describe in words. I don’t think what we did for them can match what they did for us. The smiles and care we were given gives me strength to keep bringing service and love to this planet. These great memories will stay with me and will keep inspiring me to be the change I want to see in the World.”
A glimpse of pictures usually tells more than words:
The last and the best! The kids leading the way 🙂