Last week, few of us visited Punadra area, in rural Gujarat. It was a beautiful journey into rural India, and furthermore, a journey into the Lok Mitra world.
Lok Mitra is a unique program that supports community leaders unconditionally. I still hold dear memories of the times when I was supported with a Lok Mitra grant in 2012 here in India. The unconditional love I received in the form of that grant still gives me hope and direction in my journey of service. Through the love-in-form-of-money I was able to cover my basic needs and continue doing what I was doing. There was no pressure to perform, no control of outcomes or results. Pure giving. That love motivated me to perform further, and go deeper in the journey of my own inner transformation and service to society.
Lok Mitra means ´Friends of the People´, and its main aim is to support the journeys of people with a service oriented heart-mindset, so they can, at the same time, support the holistic development of rural areas of India. Unlike most development programs, Lok Mitra is not rooted in external goals and outcomes, but in holistic development of people. The hypothesis is that, by supporting unconditionally the journeys of these sevaks (servants of society), they will bloom, and through lifting themselves, they will be able to lift entire communities, and find concrete, locally-adapted ways to connect, contribute and co-create with the locals. Instead of focusing on achieving certain externally pre-imposed goals, Lok Mitra leadership focuses on supporting their Lok Mitras on ground, so they are able to develop their skills and capacity to love, and ignite relationships with the local people that allow doors of collaboration and synergy to open.
After the experience of decades of working in villages, Environmental and Sanitation Institute (ESI) knows how it’s through real friendship that all doors for such collaborations and synergies open. When we genuinely care for the other from a space of unconditional love, and we do it in a regular basis, friendship is a natural thing to emerge. When we connect in that space of a deeper friendship, we are able to grow our trust in each other, collaborate further and be open to all possibilities and synergies in more aspects of life. It’s the art of friendship and collaboration in service to others; the field of Maitri, or noble friendship.
It’s through this experiential wisdom that Lok Mitras set their feet in villages where they aim to build a relationship with all. Through that intention, doors for service keep opening up. But, what is the final outcome of the program? Of course, the goal of Wellbeing for All is pervasive, but the agenda for it emerges from a process of deep listening and co-creation. In many Development programs, the agenda might come from external paradigms imposed on the local people. In Lok Mitra program, the intention of listening and co-designing is so alive, as they don’t want to impose any such external agenda, but really connect and understand what the local reality asks for. Listening to villagers, understand them and become one with them is the key for future developments and possible synergies that might emerge on the collective journey. I suppose one underlying question pervading Lok Mitra program is: how can we become one with everyone in the village and serve along them for the betterment of local wellbeing?
For what I understood, Lok Mitras end up dedicating time to different fields: education, organic farming, community building, sanitation… Sometimes they end up taking care of un-monetizable work for the community. I value this a lot. In a deeply commodified society, many activities which cannot be so easily monetized or sold, end up becoming invisible for all. Listening, connecting people, weaving community, holding space, increasing the positive vibration through inner practices, reducing conflict by the same means… These activities can determine the harmony of a village or town (and the world at large), but they are not usually taking into account by the market. In a way, programs like Lok Mitra can fill that gap. As I learn more about the program, I feel Lok Mitra can become a sort of Shanti Sena or Seva Sena, an army of peace warriors, of service warriors, ready to seed peace and nonviolence, service and generosity, harmony and happiness, in unconditional ways.
During our visit to Punadra we learned about some Lok Mitras: Vinay, Pankaj, Yashaswi and Anil. They shared with us snippets of their journey. Yashaswi is focused on farming, while Anil is more focused on education, and Pankaj, after 6 years of work, is developing a whole range of initiatives after feeding an extensive and profound web of relationships in the village. What most stroke me from these givers is how willing they are to work in a field of uncertainty. It’s through deep listening and dialogue that they are able to connect with the local reality and propel the changes that need to come. You can see that especially with more experienced volunteers like Pankaj. He blends in with the community, and you can tell he has really become one with them. Problems, tensions and expectations are bound to be found, but the deep connection with a lot of local neighbours is already so palpable. Everybody knows him in the village! And everybody seems to look at him with eyes of acceptance and love.
One beautiful thing that happened to us demonstrates the ripple effects that such work generates. We stopped on our way to buy some bananas. The shop keeper of course knows Pankaj and Vinay. As we bought the fruit, generosity overflowed in his heart, and he decided to give a lot of bananas to us as a gift! You could see the happiness in his eyes when he did that! Automatically we decided that we would still give him the money so he could invite some next people coming to his stand! We wanted to share that love forward! I don’t know what happened after, but I can imagine the smiles in some random person who also received that love in the form of fruit! And these expressions of generosity and gratitude were there all around throughout our visit, and throughout a previous visit few months ago.
I believe Lok Mitra program can be a beautiful long time lever for many village’s holistic and peaceful development. I feel it is in its initial stages on a long and deep journey, and I will be so happy to stay in touch and contribute however I can. The world is in desperate need for peace makers, community weavers, and nonviolent warriors. I believe Lok Mitras can help generate those local fields of peace, generosity, kindness and Nonviolence, that will end up allowing greater transformation in the denser field of systems as well, and in society at large. Through the approach of inner transformation (being the change) and systems transformation, anything can be achieved by the Lok Mitras :).