Written By: Dhrithi Karangula (Grade 11) and Janani Dharmarajan (Grade 11)
Sewa International’s Charlotte Chapter, located in North Carolina, partnered with Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) and created a COVID-19 Helpline to reach out to those in need of support and help in these unprecedented times. We were given the opportunity to interview Mahesh Dongare Ji, Venu Rao Ji, Shantanu Wadodkar Ji, Amol Talap Ji, and Harikrishna Nagabandi Ji on the volunteer and sewa events that were organized and on how they were able to bring this idea to life.
Community outreach was part of Sewa’s goal to establish helplines to help deal with the pandemic situation. This outreach started around mid-March when the pandemic was beginning to hit various states and is still online now for people to call and ask for help. The goal of the initiative was to provide struggling families with non-medical help. This included suggesting different medicines to people for various issues and converting any Indian medicines to their US medicine counterparts. The helpline in Charlotte has over 20 volunteers available to give advice from 8 am-8 pm every day.
This initiative started with the idea that the world is one family, Sewa’s continued inspiration behind all their efforts. Along with the helpline, Charlotte Vibhag participated in mask making and rock painting to encourage and support front line workers (images shown to the left), as well as in an initiative called Sewa Annapurna. Sewa Annapurna is an initiative through which they have been able to donate over 2000 pounds of food to various organizations. Some of the organizations and people they have helped through this initiative include Supportive Homeless Shelter, Bhutanese refugees, hospitals, and homeless people on the streets. This initiative started around mid-March and stopped around the end of May when cases began decreasing. Through their partnership with HSS, balas (kids) and kishores (teenagers) have been making notes/thank-you cards for front line workers as well.
Rock Paintings to support workers
The inspiration and motivation behind these projects was Yashwant Belsare Ji’s dedication and self-realization of how small their problems were. Knowing they could make a difference and seeing how many people were willing to help once there was a structured process helped further encourage them to continue the sewa efforts. Some advice that the leaders of these volunteer projects have for teenagers is to always follow the path of dharma and keep those values close to your heart as well as to take up responsibility and leadership roles. They also advised everyone to keep the saying “vasudhaiva kutumbakam” which means the whole world is one family, in mind.
Sewa Annapurna Donations
Through these experiences, our interviewees informed us that they had gained a lot of valuable insight into how an organization is structured. Here are some of the most valuable lessons that were told: if an organization is structured and smooth, then the process becomes much smoother for everyone involved; there will always be people willing to help, but they are looking for inspiration and initiation; and that everyone has a different thought process, so there is not just one specific way for going about tackling an issue. We hope these volunteer efforts influence other individuals to realize the difference they can make and lead them to create ways to better their community as well.