Staying at the Ananda Gaorii Ashram, Farm and Learning Center — a hive of spiritual learning and inspiration for young people all over Europe — I am reminded of all the good things the organisation I work for does, in so many different ways, through so many different projects, positively impacting people’s lives on an ongoing basis every day all around the world. It’s easy to lose sight of these things because the people who do them do so not to be seen, or known, but to make a difference. They are unwaged volunteers who work silently behind the scenes to get the job done without promoting themselves or looking for recognition. They could use a little publicity every now and then, so here’s a few that come to mind:
There’s the dada I graduated with in Maharlika (the Philippines) back in 1995 who’s been running the Baan Dada boy’s home ever since in Thailand. And the didis down the road who run the Baan Unrak school and children’s home. Another of my contemporaries from those days runs another children’s home in Bali.
Years ago I was working with a fellow dada who had previously been a doctor in Germany. He’s been running the Abha Seva Sadan charitable hospital in a remote part of rural India for the last 20 years, for the most part on his own and almost completely unrecognised for his efforts. I feel humbled when I think of the sacrifice people like him make to better the lives of others. Other medical clinics providing alternative health care include the Wellness Centers in Cebu, Maharlika, and Ananda Nagar, India.
Then there’s the Australian didi who’s been running the Lotus children’s home and school in Mongolia for the last 25 years. She started taking in orphaned babies and kids in the early 90s and hasn’t stopped since. Again, completely selflessly, constantly struggling for funding and support, and for the most part unrecognised apart from the odd prestigious honour here and there, among them Mongolian Mother of the Year and Member of the Order of Australia. Stop press! Another one just came in: the Women’s International Film & Television Showcase humanitarian award.
Then there’s the dada who’s been running maternity health clinics for the last 15 years in Nigeria, and the dada in Burkina Faso continuing the work of his predecessor who established service projects in the country before fatally crashing his plane while flying between projects. There’s numerous others who also run children’s homes and schools in Africa, such as the Lotus Children’s Centre in Accra, Ghana, and the Ananda Marga school and children’s centre in Nairobi, Kenya.
There’s scores of other Ananda Marga schools and children’s homes in India and around the world, in areas and situations where kids would otherwise not have been given the kind of care and attention these projects provide, such as Didi’s school in Haiti, the Nile River School in Egypt, the Albanian Sunrise School, the Sunrise kindergartens in Romania, and our school in Lebanon for the children of Syrian refugees. There’s a didi who also runs a care centre for refugee mothers and babies in Athens, Greece, and another who’s been running a project to empower women in Peru for years. We do homeless feeding in downtown Los Angeles and London, and there’s a multitude of other service projects, community development projects and eco-villages around the world. Not to mention meditation and yoga centres run on a non-profit non-commercial basis, and prison yoga, yoga in schools and yoga in the workplace programs. In fact, one of the most important things we do is teach meditation completely for free wherever we are.
Then there’s the disaster relief. AMURT (Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team) and AMURTEL (Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team Ladies), both highly respected in the international relief community, have covered natural disasters such as the tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan, earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal, and hurricanes in Haiti, the USA and Puerto Rico.
One of the many things that inspired me about Ananda Marga right from day one is the concept of selfless service (serving others without expecting anything in return) and putting that concept into practice in one’s daily life. When I first learnt meditation my teacher was a bit taken aback when I immediately asked what I could do to help. That seed of selfless service grew into a tree when I was doing my yogic monk training in the mid-90s. Once when a didi visited and talked to us about her community development project in a remote village in Africa, her story infused me with a burning desire to serve the needy. We finished our training in India and one day there was a social function where we had to feed a lot of the villagers from around the area. Because the kitchen staff were short on hands, one of the cooks asked me, “Can you serve?” I remember thinking, “Can I what!” and spent the next couple of hours delightfully ladling curry, dal and rice onto banana leaves before being the last to eat.
Oddly, that’s about the only bit of hands-on service I’ve ever done. At least that I can remember. But for hundreds of my colleagues it is a day-to-day reality that I salute. You might like to consider giving one or more of their projects a helping hand this holiday season.