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As my mother, Neha Kaushal is Sewa’s Marketing and Outreach Coordinator for SHE National Team, we visited the Government Girls Middle School at Jharsa in the North Indian state of Haryana. Overhearing my mother's conversation with the schoolgirls, I realized some of them are irregular to school because of this issue, against their wish. It made me realize how privileged I was in America. In India, every year, diarrhea and other waterborne diseases kill over 770,000 children due to unhygienic and unsanitary conditions at home and at school.
On my return to the US, I searched online and found that half of the globe and about 30 million schoolchildren across India do not have access to proper sanitation facilities. I told my parents If I could do something to raise awareness about building toilets in rural India, I would not just be helping thousands of kids going to these schools, but I would also be helping raise awareness to do more in response to this problem. I set a goal of building six toilets by raising funds through a Facebook campaign. I shared my goal with various people in my community, school, friends, family and social gatherings, and at after school events.
I printed a QR code on banners and posted it on school notice boards, grocery shops, and Hindu temples.At first, it was a lot of hard work and a low collection on the Facebook fundraiser. Later, I gave presentations to some of my mom’s friends and got a few opportunities to present to different companies like Slalom Consulting, Acronis and Hitachi, and the donations started coming in.
I was able to raise $2,200 over 60 days, which I donated to Sewa International’s Sanitation, Hygiene and Empowerment of the Girl Child (SHE) program. They told me about an opportunity in a rural area around Fatehpur, Uttar Pradesh (my father's native province), where they had recently got approvals to build toilets. We could complete the construction of six toilets in the Government Primary School, Bhagaonpur, with their help. They even sent me a few pictures of kids with smiling faces that would benefit from our little project. It helped me reach my goal and ultimately helped some girls continue their education.
India is a massive country, and instead of being stuck by the enormity of the problem, it is better to do something to solve the problem of a few. It was in part possible because of the various donors who came forward to help. I thank Sewa International for providing me with a platform to make a difference. The lesson for me is it is all a matter of determination and focus.
Samiksha Deme, one of Sewa International’s AmeriCorps team members, was honored with the National Service “Make a Difference” Award by First Lady Cecilia Abbott, the Honorary Chair of the Governor’s Volunteer Awards. This award, presented by OneStar Foundation, recognizes individuals, groups, and organizations that have made a significant contribution to Texas communities through service in the past year.
Samiksha Deme (Sami) joined Sewa International’s Disaster Preparedness Group as an AmeriCorps Outreach Specialist. Her work is transforming crucially needed disaster preparedness training within underserved and often marginalized individuals, encouraging them to take an active role in their community. With her educational knowledge and skills in environmental science, Sami’s preparedness is centered around environmental justice, healthcare equity, and the crossroads between natural and human-caused disasters.
Even outside her service responsibilities, Sami takes on several other volunteer projects, from vaccine clinics to clothing drives for Afghan refugees to personal essential drives for the homeless. She truly embodies the essence of sewa -- selfless service to humanity.
Sewa International congratulates Samiksha and thanks all the Houston Chapter AmeriCorps stakeholders and mentors for taking this program to a new level as it continues to progress through these community outreach efforts.
Shayla Gutierrez Torres, a student at Georgia State University aspiring to become an elementary school teacher, faced an unexpected obstacle in her pursuit: limited transportation options. Fortunately, fate intervened when she discovered the Sewa AmeriCorps program through Georgia State University's job placement website, Handshake. The program's virtual format proved to be an ideal solution for Shayla, removing the transportation barrier. With in-person interaction required only one day a week on Saturdays, Shayla could attend the program with the support of her sister. On weekdays, she joined her peers virtually, leveraging online technology tools, fully prepared to make a positive impact in her chosen field.
The Sewa AmeriCorps program has been making a significant impact in the Atlanta community by providing free tutoring and support to students. This program, a partnership between Sewa International and AmeriCorps, started three years ago in Houston and later expanded to Atlanta. Its primary objective is to assist elementary school children in improving their academic skills and bridging educational gaps. As a result, the Sewa AmeriCorps program has addressed educational disparities and offered valuable support to underprivileged students in Atlanta. With the collaboration of dedicated volunteers, AmeriCorps funding, and the leadership of program director Satish Damle, this program has significantly impacted the lives of numerous young learners.
Sewa International is a non-profit organization with expertise in disaster relief, rehabilitation, and a focus on family services, child welfare, women's empowerment, health, and education. In addition to its commendable work in the United States, the organization has undertaken numerous development projects in several countries. Guided by its vision of a harmonious world free from suffering, Sewa International seeks to serve humanity, aid local communities, implement transformative projects, and mobilize partners, donors, and volunteers to create a positive impact through innovative approaches. The organization's volunteers have played critical roles in assisting FEMA during the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, evacuating thousands of students from Ukraine at the onset of the war, distributing thousands of Oxygen concentrators during the peak of the Delta wave, and providing food rations in Pakistan and Kenya to alleviate food shortages.
The Sewa AmeriCorps program holds a special place in Shayla's heart as she finds immense fulfillment in making a positive impact on the lives of young children. Having grown up just above the poverty line, she intimately understands the challenges faced by students without proper support in navigating elementary school. Shayla vividly recalls the difficulties she encountered, with language barriers hindering her parents' ability to assist her with schoolwork, resulting in grades ranging from 50 to 60%. However, as a tutor with the Sewa AmeriCorps program, Shayla witnessed firsthand the remarkable transformations in students' academic achievements. The immeasurable joy she experiences when students receive A's and B's on their assignments and tests serves as a testament to the program's effectiveness in bridging the educational gaps faced by many students.
Shayla's involvement with Sewa AmeriCorps is part of a larger narrative about equal access to quality K-12 education in the United States. The persistent achievement gap among student populations, particularly along racial and socioeconomic lines, underscores the need for intervention. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data from 2019 reveals significant disparities in reading and math proficiency between White students and their Black and Hispanic peers. Moreover, funding discrepancies persist, with low-income districts often receiving fewer resources compared to wealthier districts. According to the Education Trust, high-poverty districts receive approximately $1,000 less per student in state and local funding than low-poverty districts.
Additionally, a shortage of qualified teachers, particularly in low-income communities and subjects like math and science, poses a challenge. The U.S. Department of Education reports that schools serving predominantly low-income students experience double the rate of teacher turnover compared to schools serving higher-income students. Segregation within schools remains a concern, as highlighted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2016, with an increase in K-12 public schools having high-poverty and mostly Black or Hispanic student populations. Many students lack adequate support at home and encounter language barriers that impede their academic progress. These systemic challenges urgently call for programs like Sewa AmeriCorps, which strive to level the playing field and provide access to quality education. Addressing these policy issues, Sewa AmeriCorps offers vital educational support to students who may otherwise fall through the cracks. With funding provided by Sewa International (24%) and AmeriCorps (76%), this program serves as a model for a public/nonprofit partnership that can effectively tackle these issues at the grassroots level.
The Sewa AmeriCorps program operates through three distinct roles: volunteers, members, and staff. The volunteers are high school students enrolled in the Sewa Lead (Leadership Development through Community Engagement) program, while the members are paid tutors supported by AmeriCorps funding. Overseeing the program's operations is Satish Damle, the dedicated program director. At present, the program comprises ten tutors and two community liaisons who play a vital role in engaging with the primarily Spanish-speaking Latino community. These liaisons work closely with parents to encourage their children's active participation in the program. One such community liaison is Angel Ledesma, a college senior who joined the program with a referral from a friend. Angel perceives this opportunity not only as a way to financially support his college education but also as a chance to serve his community and bring about positive change. His responsibilities include daily communication with parents, ensuring their children attend the program's Zoom sessions, and coordinating Saturday in-person activities held at the Sienna Ridge and Villa De Las Colinas Two apartments.
The Sewa AmeriCorps program follows a well-structured schedule to provide comprehensive support to students. Virtual tutoring sessions are held from Monday to Thursday, while in-person gatherings take place every Saturday. The program caters to different age groups, with a focused approach for each. The first session, from 4:00 to 5:30 in the evening, benefits younger students in grades 1 to 3, primarily focusing on providing help with daily homework assignments, reading, and math. The second session, from 5:30 to 7:00 in the evening, is tailored for older students in grades 4 to 8, with an emphasis on science and math-related subjects.
These sessions offer valuable assistance in various academic areas, including homework help, exam preparation, and targeted subject coaching. To ensure high engagement and attendance program incorporates elements of fun and social interaction, with activities such as Blooket games becoming a favorite among the students. The virtual format, developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, has proven to be successful and efficient. It not only provides flexibility for student participation but also eliminates the burden of daily transportation, enabling parents to effectively support their children's education.
The program's commitment to equal opportunities is evident through initiatives like providing Chromebooks to students who lack access to laptops. By ensuring access to necessary resources, the Sewa AmeriCorps program strives to create a level playing field for all students. These efforts contribute to the program's success in bridging educational gaps and empowering students to achieve academic success.
While attendance is more consistent among younger students who benefit not only from academic support but also from the social outlet provided by the program, older students may join sporadically, seeking assistance only when they encounter challenging topics. Despite these differences in attendance patterns, both groups benefit from the dedicated tutors and the interactive nature of the sessions. Vinita Soni, a resident of Tucker, shared her son Divyan's experience, who attends Henderson Mill Elementary School. Divyan's teachers recommended the Sewa AmeriCorps program to Vinita, and he has embraced it wholeheartedly. Not only does he benefit from the tutoring, but he also finds it a valuable social outlet and eagerly awaits each Zoom call, often logging in 30 minutes early to ensure he doesn't miss out on any action.
The Sewa program has established strong partnerships with local schools, including Woodward Elementary, John Lewis Elementary, and Montclair Elementary. These schools recognize the valuable support provided by Sewa and refer students to the program. What distinguishes Sewa is its commitment to offering services free of charge to students, alleviating the financial burden of private tutoring. Considering that private tutoring can cost up to $60 per hour for an individual session, students in the Sewa program receive the equivalent of $360 worth of free tutoring per week, especially in higher-level classes where sessions may become one-on-one based on attendance.
The dedication and commitment of Sewa AmeriCorps tutors and volunteers go above and beyond to ensure students receive the necessary assistance to thrive academically. Their unwavering commitment contributes to the program's success in supporting students and unlocking their full potential. By offering free tutoring and personalized attention, Sewa plays a vital role in empowering students who would otherwise face significant financial barriers to accessing such educational support. Rosalind Arnold and Cheryl Reeves, both passionate and devoted tutors in the Sewa AmeriCorps program, have personally witnessed the positive impact it has on students. Rosalind, a dedicated AmeriCorps member for two years and a former member of the non-profit organization Scholarship Academy, shared an inspiring story about a student who initially felt overwhelmed by a 30-page packet assigned during spring break. Through the tutoring provided by Sewa, the student gained confidence and completed the work, highlighting the program's ability to empower students and help them overcome challenges.
Sewa AmeriCorps extends beyond academic support and places a strong emphasis on holistic development. For older students in fifth grade, the program initiates discussions about college and the financial implications associated with higher education. These conversations are particularly impactful for families who have never had the opportunity to pursue higher education in the United States, as they open up new possibilities and aspirations. By addressing not only academic needs but also providing valuable information and guidance on higher education, Sewa plays a crucial role in shaping students' futures. The experiences of tutors like Rosalind and Cheryl exemplify the dedication and commitment of the program's tutors, who strive to make a significant difference in the lives of the students they serve. Through their involvement in Sewa AmeriCorps, they have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of education and the tremendous impact a supportive community can have on students' lives.
Satish Damle, the staff coordinator and program director, remains unwavering in his dedication to the success of the program, despite the challenges involved in its implementation and execution. After retiring from a long career in Information Technology, Damle was approached by Sewa to help run the program in Atlanta. Adhering to AmeriCorps' compliance rules and regulations requires significant administrative effort and a steep learning curve, but Damle embraces these responsibilities wholeheartedly. Quarterly reports and regular meetings with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs help ensure the program's adherence to grant requirements, further reinforcing its commitment to transparency and accountability.
Initially, 76% of the program's expenses are covered by AmeriCorps funding, with Sewa gradually taking on a greater share in the future. This sustainable funding model ensures the program's longevity and continued impact. However, maintaining consistent student attendance and securing parental commitment remains an ongoing challenge. Some parents are unaware of the program's benefits, while others face logistical challenges in accessing it. To address these obstacles, the program has proactively engaged in community outreach activities, such as distributing school supplies and providing comprehensive information about the program to increase enrollment and awareness.
Despite the complexities involved, Damle and the entire program team remain resolute in their mission to provide valuable educational support to students in need. Their perseverance, coupled with strategic community engagement efforts, exemplifies their commitment to overcoming challenges and making a positive difference in the lives of the students they serve.
Sewa has exciting plans to enhance its offerings with a free summer camp, to be held at Chamblee Police Station and Keswick Park Chamblee. The camp will be available from May 30th to the end of July, running from Monday to Thursday, between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm. It aims to provide a valuable experience for students in grades 1 to 8, offering a range of enriching activities and free meals throughout the day. Thanks to a partnership with Meals Plus and Bold Ministries, students will receive complimentary breakfast and lunch, ensuring they are nourished and energized for their camp activities.
To ensure widespread awareness and enrollment, efforts are underway to promote the camp within local apartment communities along Buford Highway. By targeting these communities, Sewa aims to reach a diverse range of students and provide them with access to an engaging and educational summer camp experience. The camp will be supported by dedicated Volunteers and AmeriCorps members who will work diligently to ensure a stimulating environment and foster meaningful learning opportunities for all participants.
The success of the Atlanta model, which combines virtual tutoring sessions with in-person interactions on Saturdays, has laid a strong foundation for the expansion of the program to other cities. By leveraging the proven effectiveness of this approach, Sewa International aims to replicate its impact and extend its reach to empower students in additional communities. Through these initiatives, Sewa continues to demonstrate its commitment to providing comprehensive educational support and fostering the growth and development of young learners.
Arunachal Vikas Parishad (AVP), a non-profit organization that runs over 600 projects throughout Arunachal Pradesh is dedicated to improving the lives of the people in the state with a focus on education, health, women's empowerment, youth development, socio-cultural initiatives, and rural development. Its focus on skill development and youth empowerment highlights its commitment to promoting sustainable development in the region.
The organization's work in Namsai and other parts of the state reflects its understanding of the challenges faced by tribal communities and the need for targeted interventions to address their unique needs. AVP's projects span the eastern district of Namsai, an area that is home to a diverse range of tribal communities, including Khampti, Singpho, Adi, Galo, and Deuri.
One noteworthy project among AVP's many initiatives is the education and skill development program. This multi-faceted program offers a range of activities such as yoga classes, skill development courses, cultural displays, group discussions, and lectures, all in one convenient location. The program provides young people with the tools they need to succeed in life, including improved physical and mental health, job skills, and cultural awareness.
The Chandrakant Narkhede Memorial Hall, where the programs are conducted, has a seating capacity of 150. The construction of this impressive project was made possible due to the generous donations of US-based Neha Narkhede and Sachin Kulkarni. Their contributions enable the organization to continue its critical work and make a meaningful difference in the lives of those it serves.
Overall, AVP's efforts in Arunachal Pradesh demonstrate the positive impact that non-profit organizations can have on the lives of people in underserved communities. By providing access to essential services and promoting sustainable development, AVP is helping to build a brighter future for the people of Arunachal Pradesh.
We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Milind Makwana, a real "karma yogi" and a resilient warrior. Milind suffered a massive heart attack around 11:30 pm on July 18 after attending the Cupertino, CA, meeting on the SB403 Caste Bill. Doctors' best efforts and fellow volunteers' presence could not save him.
Milind arrived in Cupertino, CA on July 18 to speak at the City Council meeting against SB403. Throughout the day, he participated in various meetings and the City council hearing, displaying the true spirit of a warrior. He fought passionately for his cause, showing us all the strength of his character and dedication. Tragically, he collapsed moments after the hearing, leaving us all in shock and disbelief.
Milind's journey began in Mumbai. He later pursued his dreams in the US, where he made significant contributions to the high-tech sector as a Technical Program Manager at a Fortune 500 company in Silicon Valley. Beyond his professional achievements, he was an active community member, passionate about learning and teaching Hindu precepts and principles to children. Volunteering with Sewa International for a decade, he found purpose and guidance.
As a Sewa volunteer, Milind visited Tamil Nadu in 2015 to witness and participate in relief work as massive floods hit the state. He went to a government school in Perambur, where Sewa organized a medical camp and helped children get medical checkups. When floods ravaged Mumbai, his hometown in India, and multiple other disasters caused havoc worldwide, Sewa International stepped in to help. Milind supported these efforts by actively raising funds from friends and colleagues. He regularly volunteered at the California Bay Area Sewa chapter, actively participating in various service activities and fundraising events. He ensured he focused his energies on eradicating misery by serving selflessly as his beloved Bhagavad Gita and other Hindu scriptures teach.
Milind contributed to several Sewa projects. When a massive earthquake struck Nepal, he worked tirelessly to get people to donate to the relief efforts. Thanks to Milind's work, the Sewa team won a grant from PayPal. He also ensured Sewa participated in the PayPal Opportunity Hackathon to build a mobile app to match volunteers to service needs. During the Kerala floods, Milind worked hard to raise money. When wildfire gutted homes and forests in California, Milind was at the forefront, assembling volunteers to arrange relief activities for evacuees, firefighters, and first responders. Many Sewa volunteers remember his tireless efforts to provide food, heaters, warmers, and blankets to firefighters battling destructive wildfires in California's Paradise camp-fire and Kinkade fire incidents.
Milind had two setbacks when he was in college. In the third year of engineering college in Mumbai, his father had to deal with several customers breaching their contracts, leading to a substantial debt burden on the family. During this challenging time, he and his family had support from neighbors, friends, and acquaintances. Milind graduated from college, being the first in his community to earn an engineering degree and make his way to the United States. The aspiration was to secure a well-paying job that would help him pay off his family's debts.
In an article in American Kahani, Milind, in response to the coordinated calumny against Hindus, boldly wrote that he had never been discriminated against in India or America because of his caste: "I lived in Mumbai's infamous chawls — crowded, low-quality tenements — where we rented a small, cramped room from a relative. Our neighbors included a priest and a Vedic astrologer. While both were members of what some would deem India's "upper" or "dominant" castes, we were all in the same socio-economic boat. We didn't think of them as superior, nor did they think of us as inferior. We too lived harmoniously, helping one another when needed, lamenting the struggles of upward mobility, and celebrating festivals and special occasions together."
Recalling his life in Mumbai, he wrote, "As someone who grew up in a so-called 'lower-caste' family in India before becoming a technology professional in Silicon Valley, I can tell you that not only are the realities of people like me far more nuanced than they are made to seem but so are our perspectives on how to best address caste-based discrimination when it occurs."
Milind wrote in response to the numerous legislative efforts to introduce "caste" as a category of discrimination in the US. In response to the action by the City Council of Seattle, he said they wanted to ignore voices like his. He wrote, "Part of the reason is that my story does not fit neatly into the stereotypes Americans at large are inundated with. That story wants to tell a story of division and widespread oppression; a story which deliberately distorts and demonizes Hinduism's teachings and traditions and then claims that my religion is not a safe space for Dalits."
In a consequential step, the Assembly Judiciary Committee of California recently conducted a hearing for Senate Bill 403 (SB403), which ostensibly seeks to prohibit "caste discrimination. "Indian Americans are the second-largest immigrant group in the USA. Many fear that codifying caste in public policy would further fuel Hinduphobia in the USA. A few weeks before his death, Milind fervently advocated against SB403 at the Sacramento City Hall. His determination to fight for what he believed in made a lasting impact on those around him.
Milind also wrote for children. In his unique short poem book, he introduced Hindu mantras to children through the daily lives of two American-born Hindus. The book features Sanskrit and English versions of well-known and popular Hindu mantras, with meanings, rhyming words, and beautiful illustrations. Milind donated all profits from the book sales to Sewa International to support local community projects.
His latest book, "Grit, Gratitude, and Mira," is a biography of Olympian weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, "a fighter." Milind was a fighter to his last breath. He was just 44 years old and had so much more to give to the world. He was a loving father, survived by his two children, a 14-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.
In honor of his remarkable journey as a resilient social worker, community organizer, author, and speaker, the community has initiated a fundraiser https://www.truekarma.org/campaigns/28 Let's get inspiration from the life of this great karma yogi and make a positive difference in the community around us.
Arun Kankani, President of Sewa International, said, "Milind's loss is a great shock to all, and a much sadder part of it is that God has taken away such a gem of a karyakarta (volunteer) so early. As we remember his life, let us also reflect on the importance of caring for our well-being. This tragic incident serves as a poignant reminder of the fragility of life. I urge everyone to prioritize their health. As we grieve, let us keep Milind's noble soul in our thoughts and prayers, hoping that he attains moksha."
VP, Marketing, Sewa International USA
In early March, I had an opportunity to run the Publix Half Marathon alongside my eight closest friends. This incredible achievement was not only a personal victory for me, but it was also a testimony to the inspiring journey we all took together to get there. It all began in October 2022 when I completed my first half marathon. Gathering at a friend’s house for lunch, I casually mentioned that I had signed up for the 2023 Atlanta Publix Marathon and was already getting trained for it.
Curious about my experience, my friends started to wonder if they could do it too. I told them that each of us could, and that was enough to motivate ten of us to sign up for the race that day. We created a WhatsApp group and invited more friends from our neighborhood to join us. Before long, nineteen of us had committed to running the half marathon.
With just 112 days to the race and the winter season in full swing, the group was determined to stay on track with our training. We ran 3-4 times a week, and eventually, most of us had run the half marathon distance in training. On the race day, nine of us picked up our packets and prepared to take the challenging Atlanta course. Despite the hills, we all completed the race feeling proud of our hard work and dedication.
Our journey to the Publix Half Marathon was a testament to the importance of self-care. As we know, it all starts with the first step, and the rest follows from there. I am immensely proud of my friends Ram Doma, Mukthesh Saraf, Srinivas Medicherla, Santhosh Yellu, Balaji Peddireddy, Sivakumar Reddy Dodla, Sateesh Tatipalli, and Satish Srikakulapu for completing the race.
Together, we have shown that anything is possible when you have the right support and motivation. It is also a testimony to the power and influence of Sewa International’s SELF program.
Is vaccination essential to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus? Data as of March 28, 2022, shows that 59 percent of the population is vaccinated. Why is this so after a year and a half since vaccines were made available? One of the reasons could be the sheer fear of vaccination, as almost everyone suffers from fever after 6-8 hours of vaccination. In rural areas, where access to information is scarce, the apprehension is higher. Also to be taken into account is the sheer density of the Indian population as well as how scattered the population is across the vast country.
Malku Lal, 70, lives in Saliyana village of Karnaprayag block in the state of Uttarakhand. A daily-wage worker by profession, Malku lost his job during the lockdown. He had to spend all his savings, and his family ended up seeking help and relying on the groceries and essentials provided by the government and non-profit agencies. Then on a bright sunny day, the vaccines arrived, and after some initial days of hesitation, Malku Lal stood in the line and got himself vaccinated -- for he needed to get back to work. But the sudden high fever and weakness shook him off his feet, and he swore not to take the second dose of the vaccination.
His second dose was due before August 28, 2021. The Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) staff at the local clinic tried to reach him via phone calls but failed to lure him in. On August 28, Sewa International volunteers called him thrice, and he did not respond. “Having no other options left, we arrived at his hut (‘kutiya’). Seeing us he started shouting, ‘Vaccine lene se bohut bukhar aata hein, mujhe nehi lena vaccine aur’ (The vaccines cause high fever and weakness. I don’t want to take the second dose). It took us nearly half an hour to convince him, and then he finally agreed. We escorted him to the vaccination center, where the ANM staff waited,” a Sewa volunteer recounted.
This scenario is the same in many parts of the country. Some people think that only the first dose is sufficient for them, while others, like Malku, are afraid of the side effects of the vaccines. Despite this, we, as a nation, have to inform and empower everyone so that all are fully vaccinated.
Diwakar Lele flew to Houston from Kentucky with his wife, for her cancer treatment, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. They were overwhelmed at first arriving at a prominent medical institution in an unfamiliar city. However, with the help of the hospital staff, they were able to acculturate themselves. On the same floor his wife was being treated, Diwakar Lele met a young Indian woman who was also there for her husband's treatment. She was the one who connected Diwakar with Madan Luthra, a veteran Sewa volunteer, and a case manager at Sewa Family Services.
Diwakar Lele called Madan Luthra to talk about the challenges he was facing and how he was dealing with the situation of his wife getting treated at the hospital. Madan Luthra enquired about the food being offered at the hospital. The food system at MD Anderson was different and efficient. They did not have a fixed time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They got served the food that they ordered in about 15 minutes. Diwakar Lele did not tell Madan Luthra that he needed Indian food. But Madan Luthra contacted Sewa volunteers, and they made a schedule on an Excel sheet to designate who could provide food each day.
Jayshri Pandya, a Sewa volunteer, made a healthy food plan for Lele’s wife. The food prepared and delivered was excellent, commended Diwakar Lele. Karishma Thakkar, a GIH (Get Involved Houston) summer intern for Sewa Houston, asked how he felt about the help Sewa volunteers offered when he and his wife were all alone. Diwakar Lele said that he and his wife were so thankful for all the volunteers who drove 25-40 minutes every day to bring to them. “It was nice to have home-cooked meals by people we had never met before. This service was unbelievable and unanticipated,” he said. A few Sewa volunteers such as Mrs. Pandya, Kavita Chandwani, Madan Luthra, Mansukh Vaghela, and a few others had the chance to meet Lele’s wife who offered her own thanks and gratitude.
Aniyah Zaman, another GIH summer intern for Sewa Houston, followed up with Mr. Lele and asked him whether he was still in touch with Sewa volunteers. “Even after we returned to Kentucky, I kept updating Madan Luthra on how my wife was doing. I was sending messages once in a while, and I have also kept in touch with Mrs. Jayshri. To this day, I can't describe the feeling when Mandan-ji showed me the prepared Excel sheet. It was a wonderful experience, and an indication of the selfless service Sewa volunteers have provided. I thank all of them from the bottom of my heart for helping us in our direst need at that time."
“Even for Sewa International’s volunteers this was a new experience – supporting and offering this kind of service. Sarve bhavantu sukinaha – may all be happy – is indeed a goal that calls for us to be innovative, thoughtful, and find out who needs what kind of help, when,” says Prof. Madan Luthra.
Surinder Pal, from Punjab, was a 49-year-old man who had lived for 31 years in the US. He had remained a bachelor and only had friends close to him. One day, one of his friends, Madan Lal, found Surinder Pal dead in the bathroom. He and his friends decided to repatriate the body to India since Madal Lal’s family lived there. “And that is when I called Sewa International,” said Himanshu Sheth, a friend of Madan Lal.
Before Madan Luthra, a case manager at Sewa Family Services came into the picture, Himanshu Sheth and Madan Lal had called different funeral homes, but the prices they quoted for their services were higher than what they and their friends could afford. They thought of different ways to raise the money. Eventually, Madan Luthra and Bharat Patel found a Hindu funeral home in New Jersey that did not charge as much as other funeral homes did. They had to put in a lot of effort tying up all the loose ends, ensuring that this important task was completed with care. They talked to Surinder’s parents in India, and given the time difference, the calls were at midnight. The total expense, in the end, was $7,000, less than half of the initial $15,000 to $20,000 that local funeral homes had quoted. “We did a lot, but Sewa did most of it,” said Sheth.
When the body of Surinder reached the small village near Amritsar, his friends and family thanked Madan Lal for bringing Pal back after thirty-one years. “What we did, I do not even have the right words to describe. Madan Lal was on the phone, and everyone was crying”.
When asked by Karishma Thakkar, a GIH (Get Involved Houston) summer intern at Sewa’s Houston Chapter as to how they got to hear about Sewa International, Sheth explained that he was familiar with Sewa since the time he and his wife moved from India to Houston. He was involved with HSS (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh), and through that, he met Achalesh Amar, Sewa’s Houston Chapter coordinator. When faced with this challenging situation, Sheth knew the first thing he needed to do was contact Sewa through Achalesh Amar, who then redirected him to Madan Luthra, another senior Sewa volunteer.
Aniyah Zaman, another GIH summer intern, was curious about what Himanshu Sheth thought of Sewa’s work and its network of volunteers and community organizations. Sheth believes that the Sewa network is strong and very supportive. He said the whole process of getting the body ready for airlifting to India became simpler with Sewa's help. They did not know all that the legal, funeral, and other processes involved, but with Sewa’s help they learned a lot quickly, and got the very important and challenging work completed. It was not much of a problem to collect the money needed from friends and family, “but getting the paperwork ready would have been a much longer process without Sewa’s help, and we would not have been able to do that easily,” Sheth said.
On the last day before the body was transported to India, Madan Lal, Madan Luthra, Bharat, and Sheth went to the Indian Consulate to send all the paperwork. “Even when we completed the procedure, Mr. Madan Luthra did not leave us until the body reached the airport. Such is the dedication of Sewa. I have known a lot about this, but this was the first experience I witnessed how they do it. Mr. Luthra was there until 7 or 8 pm that night, and he told us that he wanted to ensure that the body was taken to the airport," Sheth said. “There was no selfishness (swarth). Though he had nothing to gain, he did not mind the time and effort needed to get this important work done. Twenty-four hours a day, Sewa is ready to help people, and I run short of words to explain what Sewa International volunteers do. What they are doing is what God would have wanted any of us do. They want everyone to be comfortable. Whenever people need something the most, they are always there”.
In April 2018, just three days before the scheduled Caesarean delivery for twins, Ashish’s H1B extension was rejected. That was shocking as he had worked in the US for five years at that point. The company, with whom he worked for the past three years, asked him to hire a local attorney and transferred their visa to the B2 (tourist visa) category. They also said that the company will not help/assist in this matter. Either he should go back to India in the next one week to retain his current job transferred to the India office, or they would terminate his work. The termination of his work would also end his insurance coverage immediately. Ashish was under tremendous stress, as he did not know what would happen. He was completely at a loss without guidance from anyone, and he was in dire straits, mentally, legally, and financially. His employers had basically abandoned him.
It was a mere coincidence that one of his friends told him to contact Sewa International. He shared the telephone number of one Sewa volunteer in Texas, who said he would ask someone from the Bay Area to contact him. Ashish was surprised when he received a call in the next ten minutes from a Sewa representative, and in another minute, he had invited five others to an online conference, including members of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS). One of those on the call was Sewa’s Minal Joshi.
Ashish had least expected that there could be an organization in a foreign land with such selfless dedication to help someone like him. The entire Sewa team, especially Minal Joshi, were like a beacon to him in his dark days. He was not in a state of mind to plan the celebration of the expected arrival of his twins or worry about his visa and employment crisis. He still remembers the words Minal Joshi said to him on call: "Ashish, call me Minal ji, not ma'am. Never think of anything except your wife's health. Think about the upcoming joy you will be getting in the next two days. Leave the rest to us”.
He cannot say enough about the strength those magical words of Minal Joshi offered him. She is for him none less than his family. She would call him a number of times a day to check about his immigration status, any help needed to take care of his pregnant wife, and other matters.
Minal Joshi helped him connect to many people across the US who had a good knowledge of immigration and insurance issues. She also offered him a place to stay as he was out of salary and running out of money. Within the next 24 hours, Minal Joshi connected him to an attorney to get his B1 status (temporary business visitor) filed. She made various people work on his insurance coverage, so he should not run out of it. She knew that his company had claimed an immediate loss of insurance coverage soon after his job termination.
The delivery of the twins went smoothly, and he became the proud father of Aadhya and Aayanash. Minal Joshi's followed up with him till he boarded the flight to India. She helped him get the fastest way to obtain a passport for his twin babies and an India visa.
With his immediate challenges sorted out Ashish was all praise for Sewa International: "For me, Sewa is not just an organization but a temple. I have not seen God, but what the Sewa International team with Minal Joshi did for me was like God's act only. So, with all respect from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank Minal ji, Sewa International, and HSS. You are the best in the world. May God bless you all, and please let me know how I can support Sewa International”.
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