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  • 6 Jun 2024 1:02 AM | Anonymous

    Menstruation: it seems that the period of three to five days when girls between the ages of 11 and 14 begin to menstruate and continue till they reach the age of about 50, and menopause is something unique to human beings. Well, almost. Biologists say that apes, old-world monkeys, many bats, and even the spiny mouse menstruate. However, what these animals, unlike girls and women, experience in their menstrual cycles is that their bodies reabsorb the old womb lining rather than bleed it out. Alas, for girls and women, these monthly “periods” come with a variety of challenges – physical, psychological, and social. So, how can we help our women, especially our girl children, respond to this monthly experience in a healthy manner and in safe surroundings?

    Girl children are uncomfortable and scared to discuss menstrual health. This response is not confined to India or to girls and women in poor or developing nations. Menstruation is considered both impure and sacred, and people across time and in different cultures have responded to these monthly periods in different ways. What we do know is that poor menstrual hygiene can lead to many issues, such as fungal or bacterial infections of the reproductive tract and the urinary tract. Irritation of the skin causes discomfort and can result in dermatitis – a medical condition in which the skin swells, turns red, and becomes sore with blisters. Knowing these challenges facing girls and women in India, Sewa International educates them on menstrual health and removes fears and doubts about menstruation.

    In villages, women rarely discuss menstrual health. Girls are not offered information and do not know how and where to collect proper knowledge. They feel scared. Inappropriate and incorrect information as well as superstitious beliefs can lead both to physical and psychological debilitation. Sewa volunteers therefore travel to villages with sanitary and other relevant health products and create awareness using especially helpful videos. Dr. Sanjana, a gynecologist from Hubli, in the southern state of Karnataka, is happy to see such a program there.

    Usually, schoolgirls are not completely aware of menstruation. They also do not know how to get their doubts clarified. Sex education in many Indian schools is either not offered or is done inefficiently and ineffectively. Therefore, Sewa’s awareness program benefits these girl children. They are informed of the use and the benefits of switching from disposable single-use pads, which are also expensive, to cloth pads that can be affordable and made locally, even at home. Sewa's women volunteers make them understand how this benefits the environment. They have also distributed cloth sanitary pads to girl students in the program. “We have reached the students for whom it was of utmost importance,” says Richa Handa, a social activist from Hubli. “These teenagers, once they grow and feature their children, must be confident roughly passing at the facts to the succeeding age group,” she says.

     Dr. Jayanti Ramanan, Director of Sewa International’s “SHE Project for the Girl Child,” envisioned this project for girl children in 2018. Sewa has established a team for stitching these reusable cloth napkins, which are eco-friendly. Sewa volunteers conduct free tailoring classes to teach how to make these reusable napkins. Girl students and women have offered their thanks to Sewa for conducting this beneficial program in their towns and villages.

    Sewa has distributed more than five thousand cloth napkins in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. It is planning to extend the project to many more Indian states too. According to a report, more than 23 million girl children drop out of school annually due to inadequate menstrual hygiene resources. “We have a much lengthier way to progress, and many more adolescent girls to attend,” says Dr. Jayanti Ramanan.   

    Sewa Rehabilitation and Rebuilding in Ankalagi

    In Ankalagi, North Karnataka, Sewa International reconstructed a flood-affected school building. The rains in 2019 had come down heavily and caused a disaster. Floods damaged everything in their path, destroying houses, schools, farmland, and more. Flooding has led to the loss of life and damage to buildings and other structures, including bridges, sewage systems, roadways, and canals. Floods also harmed power transmission and power generation, which had knock-on effects caused by the loss of power. Sewa International, after the initial survey, identified the impacted schools. Ankalagi Boys School is one such flood-impacted school. Due to the floods caused in August 2019, the school had become dilapidated. The doors, windows, roof, and the floor of the classrooms were damaged, as water had risen to waist level.

    Sewa got the necessary approval from the school management and started the work in the school. With the help of Sewa's "Rehabilitation Funds," volunteers and workers rebuilt the toilets, urinals, kitchens, floors, roofs, doors, and windows of the classrooms that the floods had destroyed. Sewa International views reconstruction and rehabilitation as developmental activities to be taken up in extreme conditions such as in the aftermath of disasters. Sewa's approach to such programs is positive with stress on building new socio-economic and physical structures.

    "We are grateful for the service rendered by Sewa International, as this helped a lot to the kids and the staff of the school," said assistant teacher, M.V Rajput. "You identified our problem, and we appreciate your effort. We request you to continue giving service as it benefits many," said another teacher.

    Floods due to incessant rains in 2019 disrupted the lives and crops across many states in India. Sewa International was involved in the rehabilitation and rebuilding of the flood-affected schools and homes in many parts of Maharashtra, Orissa, Bihar, and Karnataka. 

    In Lucknow, Toilets for Girl Children

    Monica, a Sewa volunteer, works on the “Toilets and Hygiene Project for the Girl Child”. Sewa volunteers initially surveyed primary and upper primary schools. They shortlisted the schools with toilets in substandard condition or no toilets at all and began working on a plan to build toilets in such schools. During my school review appointments, adolescent girl students put forth their prerequisites of a silent, isolated place separate for toilet purposes, or they went home. If they could not find such places, they decided to quit school. They wasted much of their time searching for an isolated place behind a bush. They faced embarrassment every day due to the lack of toilets," Monica said. According to Monica, if the girl students did not find a secluded location, they simply went home. Once they reached home, returning to school would take more than an hour. So, the elders at home would not let them go back to school, as school was almost getting over for the day.

    For adolescent girls, from the sixth to eighth grades, it is difficult to manage their monthly period without toilets. “They need clean and safe toilets. It is as simple as that," Monica says. In whichever schools Sewa has installed toilets, girls feel more comfortable. There is no need to skip school during their monthly periods. Even the parents of these girls are content as their children need not go out of school to relieve themselves. The toilet facility provided by Sewa has enabled these children to focus on their studies, as they can spend more time in school. They do not need to be absent from school, and they do not miss their studies. The best part is that they can fulfill their natural urges without delay, as the toilets are safe and covered. And most importantly, it is within the school premises. Earlier, the girl students and lady teachers avoided drinking water once they came to school for fear they would have to urinate and there would be no place for them to do so.

    Every girl child feels happy about the clean and safe toilets. That every school should have toilets should not come as a surprise, but those local authorities had failed to ensure that is also a commentary on the poor governance in many rural areas or in low income areas and shanty towns in cities across the country. Sewa has installed twenty-two prefabricated steel toilets in twenty schools and renovated seven old toilets. More than twenty toilet renovations are in progress in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. In Agra, the construction of eleven new bio-toilets and ten restrooms are in progress. In Gorakhpur, Sewa has identified twenty schools for building new amenities and renovated seven toilets. In Varanasi, Sewa has installed thirty-two new toilets. Sewa has installed more than one hundred toilets in South India.

    Google for Toilets: Some of North Karnataka’s Successful Projects

    Sewa International partnered with Google to construct toilets under the “Toilets and Hygiene Project for the Girld Child” in Belgaum, in the Indian state of Karnataka. Belgaum, a large town, is 300 miles north of Bengaluru, the capital of the state. The school in Vadgaon, Belgaum, was identified by Sewa International for the construction of new toilets. The school offers education to some 1,500 children, from 7th to 12th grades. For these many children, the school had only six toilets and ten urinals. It caused a lot of inconvenience to both the children and their teachers. There are about 35 women teachers and 500 girl students in the school.

    Due to the lack of toilets, they were facing many health issues. Lack of access to sanitation was a leading risk factor for infectious diseases, including cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, Hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio. Sanitation is more than just toilets. It involves the facilities and performances that inhibit viruses caused by contact with human defecates. Sanitation denotes the etiquettes that can improve hygiene and lead to well-being.

     After identifying the Vadgaon School, Sewa and Google procured the necessary materials to start the construction. Within the stipulated time, they constructed 25 toilets. The teachers and the girl students are happy to see the improvement in basic amenities in the school. Teachers are especially grateful that their girl students have access to these toilets in the rainy season, which is quite a long one in Belgaum. Earlier, their plight was bad. The headmistress of the school, V.P. Appajigol, said, "Toilets are essential for the well-being of all individuals, let alone kids. So are sanitation facilities and services to maintain hygiene. Open defecation had polluted the school environment and caused health issues and diseases. We are happy as Sewa International partnered with Google to provide us with the most required facilities for both boys and girls and the staff".

    Skills Training and Job Opportunities in Pandemic Times

    Life was simpler, predictable, and easier for many before the COVID-19 pandemic upturned the world. Millions lost their jobs overnight and had to struggle to find ways to get back to their villages and hometowns. After the initial chaos and fears, and as people returned home or tried to figure out what their next job would be, there began a new struggle, compounded by people falling sick. People started suffering from fever, breathlessness, coughs, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, and fatigue. Many found that they had temporarily lost the ability to smell and taste. People with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease appeared more vulnerable. 

    Many lost a parent, a spouse, sibling, or child to Covid. But more people had to deal with the loss of their livelihood. Because of the lockdown, many did not have any income. It was difficult for laborers, cooks, and autorickshaws and taxi drivers to make a living. If the breadwinner lost his job or worse yet, passed away, the women in such families felt the brunt. They could not run their households anymore. Many people struggled for a long time alone without receiving help from the government or aid agencies. The pandemic posed an acute threat to the well-being of women, children, and families due to challenges related to social disruption such as financial insecurity, caregiving burden, and confinement-related stress. 

    Many women required money but did not know what job to do and how to earn it. Some of these families came to know about Sewa International through a random WhatsApp message that they had been forwarded. They began to call, and Sewa volunteers sprung to action. They informed the families about the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) schemes for employment. Sewa also began providing both skill development and job opportunities to these poverty-stricken women. 

    During those challenging times, Sewa was a ray of hope to several families. Sewa provided training and jobs. Some women learned the skill of stitching sanitary napkins, masks, etc. Instead of whiling away at home with pain and trauma, Sewa's initiative brought them together and they found both companionship as well as self-confidence. 

    At present, women are acquiring skills to earn a livelihood and support their families. These women offer their gratitude and thanks to Sewa for its timely support and its help in their darkest hour.

  • 6 Jun 2024 1:00 AM | Anonymous

    I visited Wayanad district in Kerala. It shares borders with both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. I was there as part of my Sewa Yatra. The drive is through hilly and mountainous terrain with nine hair bends. The drive is exhilarating, adventurous. Kalpetta is the district headquarters and is a hill station -- a tourist attraction. 

    The people at the Vivekananda Medical Mission warmly welcomed us with a sumptuous lunch. Dr. Dhananjay Sagdeo started the mission five decades ago, which started as a humble clinic in a small hut. Dr. Sagdeo is the recipient of the Padma Shri Award (2021), given to him recognizing his work in providing medical services for the poorest as well as for identifying sickle cell anaemia among the tribals. Experiencing the impact that the  Vivekananda Medical Mission has made on the tribal community in Wayanad is heart-warming.

    The team of doctors and nurses are all very energetic, and a few of them have been working for the last 35 years in the hospital as nurses. As we all know, there is now a demand for experienced nurses abroad, including in the United States. The salaries offered abroad is extremely attractive. But, these nurses have resisted the lure of the dollar and worked in the cause of helping the poor and the underserved. We have seen mobile medical vans funded by Sewa International actively engaged in conducting mobile medical camps and transporting people in need at the time of emergencies. They have been used by doctors and staff for doing a commendable job during the pandemic as well as  for conducting vaccination drives that have saved many lives.

    We traveled in the medical van to one of the tribal villages. We were shocked to see the living condition in the village, and it was rather gut-wrenching. The poorest dwelled in little huts, but the children and elders were welcoming and friendly. They live close to the river, and part of nature may be the reason for their high spirits, despite the otherwise dire living conditions.

    We traveled back with the deep impression made on us of the poor economic condition of the tribal villagers. This experience will keep reminding me of the social responsibility we have to serve fellow human beings.

    Back at the Vivekananda Mission Hospital we had tea. We took a few pictures and headed back on the road for the four-hour drive to Kozhikode. We suggested to the mission staff that a hostel be constructed to house both tribal boys and girls so that we can empower at least the next generation.

    This Sewa yatra was both informative and emotionally powerful. The impact the tribal villagers made will remain with me for years to come. Dr. Sagdeo deserves much more than the Padma Shri award, as no award can symbolize the impact he has made with his work and for the commitment to the tribes. The work that the Vivekananda Medical Mission has done in serving tribal communities is peerless.

    -Vijay Mallampati

  • 6 Jun 2024 12:41 AM | Anonymous

    Houston experienced one of the worst hurricanes in its history in 2017. Houstonians are not new to hurricanes; however, the devastation that Hurricane Harvey caused and the traumatic experience for the city’s residents have been etched in the minds of people. But, amid terror and tragedy, challenges and difficulties, we have reason to rejoice and to hope. Even as the hurricane lingered over the city, Sewa International could connect close to five hundred volunteers, starting rescue and relief work even as the skies continued to dump rain on the city. These individuals were dedicated, highly motivated, and worked selflessly round the clock. 

    In Houston, like in most other places in the US, houses are built out of wood, and with five to seven feet of water inside for days, the walls, furniture, and furnishings began to rot. They all had started getting moldy and needed clearing. The relief work ahead was massive and strenuous.  

    A team of Sewa volunteers went from house to house clean-up work. We did not look to come to the aid of merely our volunteers and supporters. For example, our volunteers focused on helping a distressed family, and they started their work with enthusiasm. A few minutes later, the house owner started directing our team in a very crisp language. He started taking them for granted and had a little disrespectful demeanor. The owner and their family did not assist our volunteers in cleaning up their house and had a bit of a "being wealthy" attitude. Our team had to leave in 30 mins, so the matter did not go further. However, the same family registered again for help on our forum, and we sent out a team to their place. This time they were helpful and realized that even with financial resources, no professionals were available or ready to do the kind of rigorous work Sewa volunteers were doing. They were very thankful for our support during such challenging times. 

    But the story does not end there. We invited all beneficiaries of our Hurricane Harvey relief work to our annual gala. Surprisingly, this particular family also attended the gala. They not only donated a handsome amount but appreciated all that Sewa volunteers had done selflessly. They moved from being skeptical/critical supervisors to being neutral, and finally to being a believer in the work of Sewa. The impact of forbearance and dedication always renders results. 

    When compassion and humility meet:

    During relief work after Hurricane Harvey in Houston, our volunteers were working round the clock. A volunteer couple was on their way home after twelve hours of clean-up work post-flooding. Clean-up is physically strenuous work, and they were exhausted by the time. On their way back home, they got a call from one of the flood-affected families who needed immediate help to move out their refrigerator and other heavy appliances. Everything in there was rotten, and it was a health hazard to take out the contents. The couple advised them not to open the cold storage and wait for them to arrive. The people who called were ten miles away, but our volunteer couple decided to stop by. They reached the address, spoke with the family, and helped them get all the heavy appliances out of the house. By the time they finished everything, it was 9 pm. The family was so humbled that they even offered to buy dinner, but the couple was already late and wanted to get home as soon as possible. The family checked on our volunteer couple the next day, asking if they reached in time and had proper dinner after going home. For the first time, a distressed family got connected with them emotionally. The beneficiary family are now Sewa patrons and support the local Sewa team. 

    Sewa Covid warriors reached the unreachable:

    Sewa International has been exceptionally active in India's COVID-19 relief efforts. We could see a sea of yellow helping people in need. Relief efforts under normal circumstances come naturally to all empathetic social volunteers; however, Sewa volunteers reached out to the last-mile villages in the Himalayan range of Uttarakhand. Reaching there itself was a big challenge, let alone taking relief material to these villages. Highly motivated our volunteers are, they hiked miles in hilly terrain with relief material to reach the remotest areas of the great mountain range. It is Sewa volunteers' unparalleled fearlessness that did the extensive and demanding tasks. They accessed the communities where only a few could reach. 

    -Anuja Deshpande

  • 18 Dec 2023 5:49 AM | Anonymous

    "This too shall pass!" is the wise saying that guided me through a transformative period in mid-2023. After 25 years in corporate life, I felt my intuition compelled me to break free from the routine to seek more meaning, create an impact, and have the gratification of doing something beyond self-interest.

    Gratitude fills my heart as I acknowledge the leaders of Sewa International who entrusted me with the vision of running an after-school program for underserved children. Despite being new to the task, I felt inspired by the vision, propelling me to learn, adapt, and navigate this uncharted territory.

    Today, it brings me immense joy to witness the transformation of the ASPIRE program (Achieving Students Progress, Instilling Resilience, and Excellence) from a mere concept to a fully funded initiative. The program serves multiple NUSD schools (Newark Unified School District).

    ASPIRE's programs thrive in Newark, CA schools: Schilling Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, and Coyote Hills. Strong partnerships with organizations like Think Together and Newark District have enabled us to engage over 400 students during school and after-school initiatives, making a tangible difference in their educational journeys.

    In the last two months, ASPIRE tutors have dedicated over 350 hours to support students, showcasing our commitment to students’ critical developmental years. Going beyond academics, ASPIRE envisions holistic development, with plans to introduce robotics, mental wellness, and arts & and crafts programs. We are also gearing up to prepare students for competitions like Geography B and FLL (FIRST LEGO League), nurturing in students useful skills and a love for learning.

    A much-needed educational program -- Cultivate Acceptance, Love & Mindfulness (CALM) -- supported by Sewa and an AmeriCorps grant followed soon and came under my radar. We envision a future where mental health is universally understood, valued, and supported, enabling every individual to lead a life of emotional balance, resilience, and fulfillment.

    CALM aims to reach over 1,600 individuals across eight cities through eighty-plus workshops, weekly yoga, meditation, and mindfulness activities, creating transformational change.

    Practicing Sewa’s key mantra -- Together We Serve Better -- is the only way to make these impactful programs successful. Over the last few months, I have enjoyed interacting with mayors, city council members, Representatives of Congress, school board superintendents, and members of many other nonprofit organizations.

    Here are key reminders that have shaped my journey:

         The environment shapes you: Be mindful of your surroundings as they profoundly influence your growth.

         Good intentions manifest: The universe aligns to fulfill the desires of those with good intentions.

         Aspire to inspire: Before our time expires, inspire others.

    The key takeaway is that impactful transitions are not just about change but about embracing the lessons, finding purpose, and leaving a positive mark in this world.

    -Sudha Prabhunandan, ASPIRE, Bay Area

  • 7 Oct 2023 10:36 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    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.

  • 6 Oct 2023 5:17 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    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.

  • 3 Oct 2023 6:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    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.

  • 22 Aug 2023 8:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    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. 

  • 22 Jul 2023 12:39 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    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 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." 

    Sandeep Khadkekar

    VP, Marketing, Sewa International USA


  • 19 Apr 2023 8:17 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    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.

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