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Serving the Living, and the Ones Passed: Sewa Volunteers Always at the Ready

10 Mar 2023 6:28 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

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”.

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