by John Silliphant, 25 July 2005

When the late June/early July 2005 floods hit Gujarat, I was in Haryana, but soon got word that Manav Sadhna had already begun doing relief work, and had adopted a village. As soon as I returned, I hoped to help out in some way. On Saturday, July 9th, I headed out along with a truck filled with relief supplies, and two jeeps filled with 25 eager volunteers.

When we arrived at the first village, we were divided into four groups – one to distribute food, another to distribute medicine, a third to play with kids, and a fourth to do surveys of the situations amongst the villagers. I was put in the food distribution team. Instead of having people come and get food, which would have fostered competition and greed, we carried large bags filled with cooking materials, such as grains and oils, from household to household. In many cases, prepared foods are given during times of disaster. Director Jayeshbhai Patel felt that at this stage it was better to give cooking materials so that the villagers could provide for themselves and feel more independent. Goods were distributed equally with care on a basis of people per household.

floodreliefbathingWhen our job distributing the food was finished, I wandered over to where the kids were being bathed. It was a great celebration of cleanliness, and I helped search through the bags of donated clothing for good matches according to sex and size. The supplies were limited, and some of the pairings were on the comical side, but we did the best we could.

Once most the kids were bathed and dressed, everyone shifted over near the medical camp that had been set up. There, the Manav Sadhna staff and volunteers played with the kids, who were clearly having the time of their lives. The line for medicines was long as many people were suffering from a wide range of ailments. As long as it took to treat each and every person in line, the kids were kept entertained, playing all sorts of games, and dancing the traditional garba with accompanying percussion.

floodreliefmedicalWhen the work was done, we headed over to a second village. There again, food was distributed, a medical station was set up, surveys were taken, and the children were bathed and entertained. I helped pick up trash around the village with some of the local kids and tended to some of the goats that had become seriously ill as a result of the floods. There seemed to be many sick animals and probably one thing that could have made the relief effort even stronger would have been having a veterinarian on hand.

As a result of these floods all the crops had been destroyed as well as most of the housing. Though the damage was great, clearly these efforts were making a huge difference, as the aid found its way where it was needed most. Again, the kids had a blast. When we left, there was a great outpouring of gratitude and happiness.

floodreliefkidsPerhaps what impresses me the most about the work of Manav Sadhna is the understanding and practice that service does not only come in big deeds like natural disasters, but is there to be discovered and expressed at all moments. For instance, on the way to the village, we stopped to fill up a gas tank. There, by the side of the road, was a poor shoe shiner. While this moment could easily have been passed off as down time, and while it would have been very easy to ignore this man, instead, a conversation was started, chai and biscuits were bought for all, and we left behind a spirit of joy that came as a simple celebration of service in the moment.

Similarly, when we stopped for lunch after the first village, Jagatbhai, a staff member at Manav Sadhna, spontaneously picked up a broom and started cleaning the grounds. Nearby, a hungry man went to pick up wet, discarded food near the water tap, and when spotted, he was provided with lunch. Another very poor man with tattered clothing and mental problems stood across the street. Upon seeing him, he was clothed, given food and care.

floodreliefgoatsThese examples show the true intention that goes into the work at Manav Sadhna. It is because of this love and genuine spirit of service that the efforts of Manav Sadhna are so effective in times of disaster. They have proven their work to be extraordinarily effective during the restoration work in Ludiya, post-earthquake, and in Perinduraikuppam, post-tsunami. Not only can they deliver the food, shelter, and medical aid that is so desperately needed, but you can be sure that they will offer it with great love – perhaps the thing that is needed most of all.