Today, all the volunteers met up at Manav Sadhna and gathered in two jeeps to head about forty minutes out to the Blind School and Hostel. Here, we are told stories about how this blind school started. Two blind brothers felt they needed to do something for the blind community, so they started in a small room. I can't possibly articulate the images I'm seeing in India. A video can't possibly do it justice. We sat in a room and watched thirty blind Indian students who live in the hostel downstairs sing and play the piano and drums. We listened to them sing their prayer. We watched them interact with one another. We saw the blind man who created the school come in. It's really interesting to see. I'm coming from Austin. Where we have one of the best deaf and blinds schools in the nation. In the United States of America. And I'm sitting in India. In one of the poorest communities in the world. In a room where these blind children have been given an ounce of hope - because this man decided he could make a difference.
It's a bazaar feeling of joy being here. I'm feeling so much happiness and joy to be here, but so many people are living in extreme poverty. Completely disadvantaged from the rest of the world. And yet I'm here feeling joy. But my joy comes from hope. I know that. I see the triumphs these people and children are making every day in these communities. How could I not feel joy from that? But still, I feel a bit of guilt because I am able to feel that joy - and see that hope. And maybe they can't - and they don't.
Every slum, every project, every community center, rag picking, computer class, sewing class, and blind school has a story. We have heard every story for every project we visit. And they are all so heartfelt. I honestly cannot keep up with all of the projects and centers we are visiting each day. Manav Sadhna is so deeply woven into the Gujarat community in Ahmedabad. I wish that every person in the world could experience what I am experiencing right now. I wish every human could see the light and love this center pours out into their community. They are building a city on hope. And love. A city that was first built on garbage and slums.
Everything Manav Sadhna does is done with the intent of spreading joy. We ate dinner last night at Seva Cafe. The meal was FREE. That started a pay it forward experiment eleven years ago. It's still going strong. The concept was the first batch of guests all ate for free. Those guests left a donation, if they could. Those donations would then pay for the next nights' meals for the coming people. And so on and so forth. All of the people working at Seva Cafe are volunteers. They created a spectacular dinner restaurant based on DONATIONS that has been in business for eleven years.
Each person associated to Manav Sadhna has a story to tell. A story of how this changed their life. I wish my eyes were video cameras and I could capture these moments of true, passion, and joy pouring out of their faces. I wish what I was seeing right now could be made into a documentary.
Ajaybhai is the head of the volunteer orientation. He came from one of these slum communities. Every story he tells me I can feel his heart grow with joy. We are getting to speak first hand to people who grew up in these slums and are coming back/staying to help build and be a part of these community centers. These people are so amazing. They are building something bigger than I think any of us can comprehend.
One of our stops today was in a slum where Muslims and Hindus live side by side in peace. This is the truth of Ghandi's teaching in action. This is also unheard of. This is the only community living this way. There was a Hindu Temple and Muslim Mosque within seven feet of one another. And it wasn't built by Manav Sadhna. It was built by the people in the slums. The lady who gave us a tour of this slum is named Vaishaiye. She grew up in the slums. She said this particular slum, she calls Unity. She said in 2001 or 2002 all of the Hindus and all of the Muslims throughout all of India were fighting. Except in this community. So when they decided to build a community center here, they built it around the temple and the mosque. The Hindu and Muslim children now go to school with both religious monuments in one facility.
In another slum we visited today, we visited a sewing class. There were around eight young women in an upstairs building (above the slums) sewing. An older woman had been teaching them to sew for the past five years. Most of these women are Muslim, and they are not allowed to leave their slum communities. Not even for an hour. Not even for the market. They are not allowed to leave at all. They have seen nothing of the outside world and they have no skills. No education. The goal of this Manav Sadhna project is to uplift these women who have no skills and no way to make money. So this woman has been teaching them to sew. So that hopefully they can feel empowered and make some money for themselves and their families. One of the girls asked if I'd come back tomorrow. I will be back. Tomorrow at two.