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  • 10 Mar 2023 6:31 AM | Marketing Sewa (Administrator)

    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.

  • 10 Mar 2023 6:29 AM | Marketing Sewa (Administrator)

    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.   

  • 10 Mar 2023 6:28 AM | Marketing Sewa (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”.

  • 10 Mar 2023 6:25 AM | Marketing Sewa (Administrator)

    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”.

  • 4 Aug 2021 1:22 AM | IT Team (Administrator)

    News of Covid menace were pouring every day. Number of Covid affected people was on increase every day. My mind was numb with every morning news of people dying by Covid. I needed to be positive and therefore, picked up the book “My Life in Exile” by Freedom Warrior Savarkar, but my mind kept on wandering and wasn’t still and I couldn’t continue reading. I was telling myself that I must do something in this Covid atmosphere. Just then, I became aware of crusade “Covid Warrior” undertaken by “Rashtriy Swayamsevak Sangh” and “Janakalyan Samiti”. I was then undergoing Post Graduation and was staying in student’s Hostel of “Garware College, Pune”. I was pleasantly surprised to know that the lodging arrangements for these “Covid Warriors” were made in my Hostel only. I then started to find out about their activities in Thane. Incidentally, my mother, Mrs. Kavita Walavalkar, was then a member of Executive Committee of “Late Wamanrao Oak Blood Bank”. I got some information about the “Janakalyan Samiti’s” work in Thane. I was also getting many updates from many workers of “Akhil Bharatiy Vidyarthi Parishad”. Through these updates, one day, I learned the they are planning to form “Girls Teams”, just like “Boys Teams”, which were working in the field. I immediately decided to join the Girls Team. I took final decision of joining them during the night of 16th May. There was no question of any objection coming from my parents. As a matter of fact, this urge of “Social Service” was instilled in me by my parents only. My father was a full time Volunteer of “Akhil Bharatiy Vidyarthi Parishad”. I was observing acts of Social Services of my parents since childhood and was moulded in automatically.

    The third batch of Covid Warriors was being assembled and on17th May all these Covid Warriors were brought together in “Shivasamarth School.” We were then had to undergo some Medical Tests. We attended few information and training sessions. We were trained in many skills, which included activities like “Use of PPE Kits, how to wear, how to un-wear and fold it properly and fill them in Disposal Bags. The Girl’s Team included six girls, namely, me (Surabhi Walavalkar), Namrata Kulkarni, Ankita Desai, Vaishnavi Gujarathi, Mayuri Patwardhan, and Ketaki Pawagi. The Girls Team then arrived at the auditorium of “Bharatiy Streejivan Vikas Parishad” at Thane (East). We were accompanied by Vaishali Taee Bhagwat, who was “Vistarika” of “Rashtriy Sevika Samiti”.  Another Team of 15 Boys also came to same Auditorium for lodging. Our field work was scheduled to start on 18th May, but was postponed by three days due to some unavoidable reasons. Thus, our 11 days Camp became a 14 Day Camp. These three days were very difficult and at times we were thinking of dropping out and were about to return to homes. But then at one moment we decided that we will go back home only after executing the field work. Mr. Umesh Deshpande conducted “Vipashyana” training course in the mornings of these three days. This training helped us in stabilising our minds. In the process of Vipashyana we were asked to sit still and close our eyes for 10 Minutes. Once we closed our eyes, our minds started wandering in past. All good and unpleasant incidences of our past were keeping our mind occupied. The real achievement was to keep mind in the present and not allowing it to wander around. We were trained to achieve this objective. We were benefitted by this morning sessions of Vipashyana along with “Surynamaskar” and Yogasans. In the evenings, we recited “Ramraksha” and “Hanuman Strotr” which pacified our minds.

    18th, 19th and 20th May was over. On 21st May, Mr. Surendra Champanerkar arrived and we learnt that our actual field work will start in the evening of the same day. I was very happy. It was this moment for which we were preparing ourselves all these days. We had learnt and practised wearing PPE Kit on the 18th May. But now learned the difference between our mock-practice and actual field working using PPE kit.    

    It was evening hours and the Sun rays were considerably slant. I was murmuring a Hindi film song “kahi dur jab din dhal jaye” in my mind. It took 15 minutes for me to wear the PPE kit properly on this first day. We walked and come near the entrance of a settlement. We were divided in teams of 3 members each. One girl will fill up the sheet containing Name, Nos. of occupants in the house, their Mobile / Contact Numbers, Any signs of illness, etc. The Second Girl was to record the body Temperature using Temperature Gun and third Girl was to distribute “Sanjivan” (Aayush) Tablets. Our two Girl groups, together visited 89 houses on the first day. During work on first day, once I had great difficulty in breathing wearing PPE Kit. I felt like quitting and stopping the work; but at the next moment I gathered myself and the energy started flowing through me and I realised that I can still work and should never quit.

    We worked with increasing zeal on 22nd, 23rd, and 24th May. Our capacity and efficiency to work was also increasing. We had gone to field on the 1st Day in evening hours and were not bothered by the Sun on that Day. But next three days were very difficult. The hot afternoon Sun, profuse Perspiring in the PPE Kit, breathing difficulty due to wearing double masks, fogging and water drops our Sun Goggles and thereby impaired sight. We used to be without water for those five hours. Throat used to be very dry. Gloves were creating difficulty on the grip and writing was difficult. But we kept on and made huge efforts in collecting information from locals. We conducted survey of 189, 222, and 276 houses in these three days. Fortunately, our group didn’t find any Patient in first two days. Our second group found Patients on the 2nd day itself. It was a real test to exp-lain the situation to the residents. People were panicking if the recorded temperature was high. We used to tell them to keep their calm and to visit Doctors for further checks. Few people tried to hide their temperatures but in overall people were positive and responded well. Some houses offered us water to drink, some offered my beloved Tea. Our 2nd group was given a standing ovation in one lane and people clapped their hands in appreciation of our efforts. This encouraged us and we were ready with double vigour. We were helped by Mr. Nishikant Mahankal and other residents of Thane East. Mr. Uday Lele, Mr. Sanjay Prabhu Ghate, Mr. Mahesh Joshi, Mr. Sachin Lele, Mr. Tanay Dandekar from RSS helped us, guided us in achieving our goals.   

    We learnt on very first day that breathing becomes difficult, painful and troublesome when you are talking with wearing PPE Kit. So, on next day we kept on changing our roles after every interval. Most troublesome job was of that warrior, who was distributing Tablets. He had to explain to all residents individually, about how to take the Tablets, how many tablets at a time and when to take them during the day. Then there always used to be counter questions and they will also have to be answered. The warrior who was checking and recording Body Temperatures was at least botheration. Initially, during First two days we didn’t come across any Covid affected patients and we thought that there are no Covid patients. But on third and fourth day we found some patients with high body temperature, we felt bad. Especially, we felt bad, thinking about other members in the family. The worst painful experience was when a fifteen-month-old child was having temperature as high as 104 Degree Fahrenheit. We found 2-3 senior citizens above 65 years of age having temperatures as 102 Degree Fahrenheit. Their homes were very small and problem was compounded with 10-12 people living in a room. In such a condition, how one can expect them to maintain social distance? Above all, they were having a common Latrines and Toilets. Thane creek was also very nearby. These were the main reasons for spread of Covid pandemic. All these situations were beyond imagination for us, born as middle-class citizens. We had earlier, some experience of working in Tribal areas, but we were aghast looking at the such poor establishment in a progressive city like Thane. We felt that this vast gap between us urban citizens and these hutment dwellers must somehow be reduced.

    We were under severe tension as we started finding patients with high temperatures. We had to hide our emotions because it wasn’t advisable to show our emotions, fear and tensions to the patients. I was trying my best to console every person coming across and was advising them to take due care. Once we finish our day’s field work, we used to go the designated Municipal School to dispose of the used PPE kits. We had to remove our PPE kits, fold them properly and put them in the “disposal” bag. Used PPE Kit were classified as “Solid Medical Waste” and were required to be sent to “Medical Solid Waste Management Centre” of an institute, namely “Enviro Vigil” at “Kalva, Thane”.

    These four days of field-work were full of huge tension and fear, but we were also charged with indomitable energy and deep intention of working in any adverse situation. We never realised that how these days were over in the midst of human mind turmoil. We also realised, that if due care is taken, you will never be infected by Covid-19.

    One more thing I enjoyed along-with this field-work was the excellent food offered in our Camp through efforts of Ketaki Taee Marathe. In my School days I used to go to Ketaki Taee for learning to play Harmonium. Now, I was meeting her after so many years and I cannot describe how satisfying was this meeting. Ketaki Taee and her Ladies Group pampered us with very healthy food with excellent taste. This healthy, tasty and delicious food gave us the required energy to our Field task in best manner. I heartily thank Ketaki Taee and her Ladies Group.

    By 23rd many of my friends, my parents’ friend groups and relatives knew about my joining this activity. That followed many encouraging messages and phone calls filling me with more energy and determination to complete the task. But the best thing I liked was the testimonial given to us by Vaisahali Taee at end of the fourth days field-work. That was an unforgettable Testimonial. It said………………

    “Exhausting body, mind and wealth

    will complete this Social Life Task

    will take my India to highest peak of fame

    this is the resolve and is the determination

    Crores are singing songs of “Hail India”

    Proud of you

    Three Salutes to your Patriotism” 

    We were very happy with this testimonial and felt that our efforts were meaningful and useful to the Society. As a parent, Vaishal Taee is  best but more than that she is best human individual. Vaishali Taee and our group of six became instant friends. It is true that friendship happens naturally when minds with similar thoughts, similar objectives come together.

    Experience acquired in these four days taught us many things and gave a new direction to our lives. Covid-19 patients are increasing continuously and it is requirement of the day to stand unitedly against this deadly virus. There is a need for many Covid Warriors and I request you that if you have an able body and spirited mind and if you wish to do something for the Society, then please join this movement. Country needs you. We the young generation of India should rise and march towards our goals and never stop at anything………….

    Surabhi Walavalkar

    Prayvaran Dakshata Mandal, Thane

  • 22 Jul 2021 2:59 AM | Marketing Sewa (Administrator)

    Anuja Deshpande

    During the ongoing pandemic, vaccination is one beacon of hope and a simple solution to this aggravating problem. However, it is not as straight forward as it seems, especially in multi-cultural country like India. In Sewa team's recent visit to a couple of remote villages in Maharshtra, it was quite evident that lack of education is crippling our health care efforts. Residents of these villages were hesitant to get vaccinated on account of an ongoing rumour that it results in loss of life. Sewa volunteers made an effort to address their issues about vaccination and motivated them to get vaccinated as soon as possible. To support the awareness campaign, we also spoke about right nutrition and distributed health and hygiene kits to the women in these villages. We are committed to strengthen our communities from inside out.

  • 22 Jul 2021 2:55 AM | Marketing Sewa (Administrator)

    Anuja Deshpande

    Lakhmapur and Mandva in Nagpur District, Maharshtra. As a Sewa volunteer, I was looking forward to this event, since I perceived it as a great opportunity to connect directly with the community. However, I did not anticipate the depth of our interaction with the residents of these villages. When we reached Lakhmapur, we had a very heart-warming welcome. Jankalyankari samiti runs an initiative where they train Arogya Sevikas (Health care workers) and Sanskar varga sevikas (After school tutoring) from remote villages for sustainable development of these areas in long term. The kids from Sanskaar Varga presented welcome song and were excited to meet us. Distribution of kits was a small part of the event. It was more of a safe platform for women to share their issues about health and education. It was heart wrenching to see young women craving to study but schools and colleges are closed. They have no other means to get educated. Many young women wanted to pursue under graduation, however, these villages do not have regular public transport especially during pandemic. Since March of 2020, when the lock down started, the kids have missed out on studies. This is such an important age for mental development and missing out on education will have long term repercussions. The Sanskar Varga Sevikas are bridging this gap and trying their level best to lead children of these villages into right direction. Our team also spoke to young women about self-reliance in face of adversity. As Sewa volunteers we obtained a fresh perspective on from where we have come and how far we have to go as a community.

  • 26 Jun 2021 12:12 AM | Marketing Sewa (Administrator)
    Gitesh Desai, Houston

    Hemang Thakkar, Senior Territory Manager at AbbVie, a highly focused research-driven pharmaceutical company, is more than a sales professional. He is a singer, musician, and concert performer and has his own band called Rhythm of Dreams. More than his titles and positions, he loves to serve humanity through his music.

    One evening last month, Hemang invited a female vocalist Lakshmi Peter to join him for “Singing for Sewa” at Nirmanz Food Boutique, a local restaurant in Houston. Hemang and Lakshmi repeated it the next day, encouraged by the the experience of the previous night. They both performed for six hours in two days to raise funds for assisting Sewa International’s ‘Help India Defeat COVID-19’ campaign. The event was a spontaneous gesture by the singers in which the owner of the establishment, Nirman Shah, matched 100 percent of funds collected from the patrons.

    At the end of the two days&#39; efforts, Hemang offered a twenty dollars tip to the restaurant’s employee Carlos for helping load his musical instruments into the truck.

    Carlos, a poor immigrant from El Salvador, refused to accept the tip. Carlos wanted to be a part of Hemang’s endeavor of serving COVID-19 afflicted people in India. Hemang insisted Carlos accept the tip, however, Carlos was adamant in not taking the tip money as he felt for contributing to a noble cause. They both were wedged to their positions about the tip, nonetheless, at the end both agreed to split the tip money in half so

    Carlos could donate $10 for the charity as well as Hemang could give Carlos $10 tip for helping him.

    Although Carlos is extremely poor and struggling to support his own family for more than a year due to the financial crisis created by the pandemic in the United States, his heart was beating for helping fellow human beings suffering on the other side of the world in India who he does not even know. His contribution is invaluable and inspiring.

    On June 11, Hemang organized a formal fundraising musical concert - Ye Jeevan Hai (This is Life) – in Houston to support Sewa International’s efforts to help India defeat COVID-19. More than 100 people were in attendance and donated for the cause. Anis Chandani, a flute maestro and past music director of Sa, Re, Ga, Ma show, singers Maha Krishnan, Lakshmi Peter, Raj Vishwakarma, table player Bobby Jutley along with Hemang’s daughter Rheana and son Shyre performed in the concert.

    The main sponsor of the event was Amir Dodhiya of New York Life. The Alings Chinese Bistro, Nirmanz Food Boutique and Bombay Brasserie served delicious food free of charge and the beautiful banquet room of the Hampton Inn in Missouri City was on the house.

    Hemang raised over $25,000 with his musical talent from his spontaneous singing at Nirmanz and a formal fundraising musical concert “Ye Jeevan Hai”. His employer AbbVie fully supported Hemang in his endeavors of fundraising for Sewa and matched 100% funds raised by his efforts.

    Hemang supports Sewa International’s humanitarian work for a long time. In the aftermath of hurricane Harvey in 2017, he raised funds by holding two musical concertsand donated a few thousand dollars for relief and rehabilitation efforts.

  • 20 Jun 2021 10:28 AM | Marketing Sewa (Administrator)

    A male voice on the other end said that it was Irfan Motiwala. He said he had raised a small sum of money to donate to Sewa International and requested Kavita Tewary to meet him in person. Kavita, who received the call, is indeed a good friend of Irfan and his wife Shaolin, as well as Shaolin’s sister, Lin. The call was initiated by Kavita so that she could learn more about the journey of both Lin, and her brother-in-law Irfan, and how they had responded to the COVID-19 pandemic as they owned and managed a restaurant, “Aling’s Chinese Bistro,” in the bustling, big city of Houston, which is now the most diverse city in the US!

    It was a pleasant conversation in which they told Kavita about their struggles, and how the hospitality industry had suffered the past year due to COVID-19. But they wanted to make a difference, and despite their own challenges they wanted to make a difference in society. They had thought about it carefully and had decided to donate free meals to frontline workers. That over the past year they have served 15,000 of those free meals is an amazing story, a classic American story. 

    Shaolin and Lin’s grandparents had moved a long while ago from China to Kolkata and had then relocated to Mumbai.  Shaolin married Irfan in Austin in 2010. Both Shaolin and Irfan, who have settled in Houston, Texas, are from India. Lin and her husband Gary Yan, who is also an Indian, left for Toronto, Canada and later moved to Houston and they run the Indo-Chinese restaurant, Aling’s Chinese Bistro, with Irfan.  Gary is a chef and had worked at a famous restaurant in Mumbai. And in an interesting combination of roles, Shaolin, Irfan’s wife, is also a chef.

    The two couples have been part of the Houston community since 2010, but they continue to maintain their strong links with India. Kavita was curious about how they negotiated their complex mix of identities – Indian, Muslim, Chinese, American – and wondered about their connections back in India. They are well-settled in the US but consider India home: “Of course, we have come to America and now we are living here. But we love India as much as we love America, and our home is still India,” Irfan told Kavita.

    Last year, with the start and spread of the pandemic was both unexpected and really hard in the beginning. People stopped going to restaurants, and Lin and Irfan found it hard to lay off more than half of the restaurant staff: “We have a family kind of setup in our restaurant, and everyone has a big smile on their face at work. So, you can imagine how hard it was… like losing one’s family, when Irfan had to let go of people, and that too when none of the staff wanted to quit,” Lin told Kavita. The kind of commitment to work and to the restaurant could not have come without the love and respect which Lin and Irfan have earned from their employees.  

    Kavita had called Irfan one day last year, and he had sounded a little careworn, depressed. He had found it difficult to let go of some of the employees, and it was weighing him down. But he was also thinking of doing something positive in response to the pandemic. “We want to do something for the frontline heroes. We feel helpless when doctors, nurses, and others are suffering so much,” he told Kavita, and since he knew Kavita was involved with Sewa International had asked how he could work with Sewa.   That conversation led to something big for both Aling’s Chinese Bistro and Sewa International, setting as they did a trend in Houston by serving hot meals to frontline workers. 


    “We are at war,” Kavita remembers Irfan telling her about the pandemic, “and the only people fighting are the doctors, nurses, medical professionals, and frontline workers. We must give back to society in some way. We know how to prepare food. The country has given us so much. Whatever we can do now serving these frontline heroes cannot compare with what we have received from this country”.

    Kavita recollected what Irfan told her about the morale of the staff. They were stressed, feeling low, but then came the decision to cook a meal for hospital workers. Later, there was an order to deliver to a police station, and more meals at the mega vaccination sites, with people standing in the hot sun all day trying to do the testing and the pretesting for the virus. Irfan said that his staff felt good that they were doing something useful. It was hard as the staff worked extra hours, without any income. It was then that the bistro’s customers decided to do something and help Irfan, Lin, and the restaurant staff. People had started asking how they could be part of this effort by the Bistro, and how they could also contribute. They began donating, which was unexpected, and which encouraged Lin, Irfan, and the restaurant staff in many ways. Customers and their children came forward to volunteer, and helped in delivering the food to the hospitals, and police stations, confirming the Sewa belief that “together we serve better”. One of the customers who began raising funds to support the restaurant collected more than $15,000, and because of that money Lin and Irfan could cook and distribute quality food to those they deem heroes. 

    After seeing the work of Lin and Irfan five other restaurants started serving food to hospitals and COVID volunteers. Now, many more restaurants are doing so. But Aling’s Bistro has served the Houston community the longest and are still serving. So far, the Bistro has donated more than 18,500 meals to frontline workers. And Irfan and Lin have spent over $15,000 dollars from their own, and they have done their work in collaboration with Sewa International.

    “Why did you choose this fundraising project for Sewa International?” Kavita asked Irfan who told her how he had admired the work Sewa volunteers had been doing even before the pandemic, and that he knew some of the Sewa volunteers. “One thing that I admire in Sewa is volunteerism. You have so many volunteers who come out all the time, constantly, no matter what the situation is. You spend so little on administrative expenses, and you offer so much to the community. We knew Sewa even before the pandemic. I always admired Sewa because I knew a few people -- you, Dr. Raj, Gitesh ji, Akhilesh, Nikhil… and you are all doing amazing work,” he told Kavita.

    Kavita thanked Lin and Irfan for trusting Sewa International and told them about what inspires Sewa volunteers -- the joy of service, believing that serving humanity is serving divinity, and serving all without favour. “It is such a beautiful synergy when people work together. You are the experts in food, and we organize events and bring volunteers to serve. In the end, it is the community that is the beneficiary, and it is our community,” she told them.

    Irfan told Kavita that he has met many wonderful people in Houston, and that one woman, who took the lead in fighting the pandemic had raised money to help 200 refugee families. “She provided them groceries for a week,” he told Kavita.

    Asked to share some final thoughts and concerns about what is happening in India, Irfan said he is praying that India would soon get a handle on the situation. “I cannot imagine what they are going through, right now. But we should do our best to support India. The country has gone through hardships and a lot of ups and downs. People are volunteering, they are coming forward to fight against this pandemic. Indians are very brilliant. They will come out of it. It is a matter of time,” he said. 

    Kavita told them that the global community is supporting India, and while the initial response was slow everybody now realizes that we are in this together. “None of us are going to get out of the grip of COVID-19 until everybody gets out of it,” she told them.  

    Lessons have been learnt in responding to the pandemic not just in the Houston community but around the world. People are coming together, and this pandemic offers us a moral about the need to ignore differences, build bridges. People like Lin and Irfan embody that spirit.

    (The recorded conversation between Lin, Irfan, and Kavita has been edited for clarity.)


  • 20 Jun 2021 10:25 AM | Marketing Sewa (Administrator)

    By Danny Pereira

    There are many who have dedicated their service to the afflicted, in these Covid times. Many have also sought to take advantage of this difficult situation. However, the Sangh and Yuva Brigade have established themselves as organized NGOs, committed to social welfare. I was introduced to the genuine secularism of these Hindu activists, which was beyond caste, creed, or religion, when faced with a crisis in my own family.

    I received a call from my niece, Sushma Pereira, a nursing graduate from Kolar one week ago. “Dad has undergone a CT scan. The report says he suffers from Covid pneumonia. Severity is 16/25, and oxygen is not available anywhere. If I got oxygen, I would take care of him at home. He is not able to breathe. Oxygen saturation is at 70-75...” She was miserable, without knowing what to do. I was in Holenarasipura, near Mysore, and tried to contact someone I knew who could help. The people who came to my mind were Gururaj, the All India Saha Pramukh of Gramvikas and the young leader of Yuva Brigade, Chakravarti Sulibele. I called them both, and what happened later was the unveiling of the benevolence of the volunteers responding to another's hardship.

    Sulibele tried to get an oxygen cylinder in many places, but in vain. Finally, he got a cylinder in Malur, a town in Kolar district. It was brought to the town by a volunteer from Kolar. But the flow meter could not be found in Kolar. Sulibele made a very difficult search in Bengaluru and arranged to send the flow meter. It had to be brought from Bengaluru to Hosakote and then to Kolar. Here, in the hospital my brother's condition worsened. Eventually, the cylinder and the flow meter reached us. The moment the oxygen cylinder was fixed, Sulibele called me. The gratification in his voice was like he had done it for someone in his own family. The stirring words, he uttered so achingly, are still ringing in my ears during these crucial moments of COVID-19. The many expectations of loved ones -- some people need oxygen, some need a ventilator, and a bed for some -- it is difficult to set it all up during this pandemic, but somehow, we manage. A few days later, Sulibele called me to enquire about my brother. When I said, “though you helped a lot, he did not survive,” there was a lot of pain in his voice. I cannot forget the assurance he gave me trying to relieve me of the pain of my loss.  

    The oxygen from the cylinder, which we received with so much difficulty, was used for only half an hour. Those who gave it and brought it did not know the fact. The reason was that the cylinder was for industrial use. When I informed Gururaj, he immediately contacted the district pracharak of Kolar. Though he straightaway contacted the district hospital of Kolar, all the beds were filled with patients, and they could not take my brother in. Prashant, the district pracharak of Kolar, did not stop trying. In the meantime, we got KGF Sambhram Hospital, in Kolar, to take my brother in, as the former MLA, Mr. Sampangi was able to persuade them.  My niece still remembers the way Sangh activists comforted her during those tough times. The volunteers were calling her from time to time and requesting her to let them know if she needed any help. She was in awe, amazed about these people as she knew nothing about the Sangh. She heard that Mr.  Sulibele had bought the oxygen cylinder by paying Rs.20,000. When my niece tried to pay that amount, he refused; the taxi driver was being paid by a Sangh volunteer, Vasanth from his own pocket.  

    Thus, the Sangh volunteers did their best to see that her father recovered – these were people whose faces my niece had never seen before. Though my brother seemed to recover for a day or two, the initial consumption of five litres of oxygen rose up to seven litres gradually. It was planned to have my brother transferred back to Kolar hospital due to non-availability of oxygen ventilators. Not only ICU but also the beds were filled out in the Kolar hospital, yet Prashant continued with his incessant efforts. The RMO, Dr. Balasundar of SNR Hospital, who was the sanghchalak there tried to reassure my niece.

    Within fifteen minutes, my brother left the world, for ever. When my niece sought to hire an ambulance to take the body to Chikkamagaluru, the price she was quoted was Rs. 60,000. It was difficult for her to bear this cost. The Sangh volunteers came to her rescue again. The district pracharak contacted the Member of Parliament and arranged for a private ambulance and the MP himself rented the ambulance to transport the body of my brother. Besides, he arranged a car for my two nieces and their mother to return home. The funeral was held with the help of Kolar District Pracharak Jagdish, Mysore Division Pracharak Akshay, Division Karyavaha Vijay Narvey, Chikmagalur Sangha Vyavasta Pramukh Mallik, and others. My niece is still grateful for the help of the Sangh's various activists who felt the hardship of hers as theirs and regularly phoned her to inquire. She remembers the humble words of the volunteers that they perform what Sangha advises and they are not doing anyone any special favors.

    We are Christians. The Sangh stood with us when we were bewildered by this Covid crisis at our door. Not knowing these people, without being familiar with them, how they reached out to help fills my heart with gratitude. If we phoned to thank the activists, they would say that we have not done anything special; this is what we consider service. I had read and knew about the philosophical doctrines of the Sangh. Now we have got acquainted with their real service mentality.  My brother was a steadfast Christian who was a critic of the Sangh. I wanted to tell my brother about the selfless service of Sangh after he was healed, but alas, that chance is lost.  The help that the volunteers of Sangh offered us is not ordinary. They believe that what they do is for the good of society, for the good of the country. Their humility and their devotion to service is commendable. That they serve without discriminating based on caste or religion fills my heart with pride.  


    Original essay in Kannada, by Danny Pereira, published in Vijaya Karnataka on June 11, 2021.

    Translated by Ganeshprasad

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