2018 OWOS Conference Special Issue
March 3 and 4, 2018
An introduction to Sai Ashraya was given explaining ‘How it all started’, going back to Swami’s 2016 visit to California, the drive on the streets of San Jose and Swami’s specific instructions to find ‘A permanent solution to homelessness’. The mental health component was emphasised and the various programmes under Sai Ashraya such as the Kids-helping-Kids programme, which was initiated by high school age students with parents involved in the Sai Ashraya programme.
Two of these high school students presented information about the Kids-Helping-Kids programme, the goal of which is to create awareness among high schoolers and to encourage them to share. As was stated by one of the student presenters, “kids will open up to their peer groups and other kids, more than what they will to adults” and “It is NOT a sleepover when a kid is couch surfing and cannot go back home”. This programme fits in very well with Sai Ashraya’s approach of controlling the flow of children and youth into the homeless and unprotected system right at the start, while they are very young.
The Texas Regional Sai Ashraya update was a video presentation by the Texas team who spoke about how Swami inspired them to start the “Feed the Need” programme which resulted in the 108-sandwich service, once a month. The team’s discussion about the collaborative effort during Hurricane Harvey and the rehabilitation efforts after the hurricane, were very touching. The team is now volunteering at an existing shelter and is looking forward to starting their very own.
The Atlanta Regional update presentation included a discussion about the rising need for such programmes in Atlanta which sees at least 10,000 homeless on any given night, 40% of whom are women and children. The youth lead in the Atlanta region is enthusiastically collaborating with other shelters such as Stand-Up-For-Kids for training and volunteering opportunities. One of the high school students from Atlanta who attended the conference, is planning to initiate a Kids-helping-Kids programme in the area, as well.
San Diego Regional update was about all the groundwork that is being done towards researching what is needed to start this initiative in San Diego, which will focus on preventing youth from becoming homeless and caught up in sex trafficking. Working alongside organisations like Lifeline is proving helpful. Another one of the high school students attending the Conference from San Diego is working on initiating a Kids-helping-Kids programme in the San Diego area.
Singapore updates were shared by the lead for the Sai Ashraya Singapore group. Swami’s emphasis on the major issue of youth mental health and the rising count of youth suicides, is now being analysed by the Singaporean youth with utmost care and love. They also plan to bring this care and love to their very own Centre Of Healing. Their upcoming visit to Sri Sathya Sai Sanjeevani Hospital in Raipur will provide good insights on the establishment and daily operations for their Centre Of Healing.
Updates from the Bay Area included Swami’s wish to have the Sai Ashraya programme in the Bay Area, up and running by June 2018 and how this will be the pilot model for other states. In addition to other programmes, three specific programmes were presented:
Drop-In Centre - Provides basic necessities like food, locker facilities, charging facilities, shower, clothing and laundry facilities, internet availability and mentor support to the youth to make them independent and ready
Stabilisation Programme - Collaborate with training and employment organizations and the government. Five youth were helped from Street to Stability by this group. The personal testimonial sharing by one of these youths was very touching.
STRTP - Short Term Residential Therapeutic programme. Providing crisis care services including night shelter, mental health support services and rehabilitation with family and individual counselling.
The USA Western Sai Ashraya Coordinator spoke about the various available volunteering opportunities in Sai Ashraya. By referring to the story of Draupadi Vastraharan in the Mahabharata, she reminded everyone that the DUTY of mankind is to stand up for the right cause, ACT upon it and not just be a by-standing witness to it.
The next presenter, a Professor of Paediatrics, Anaesthesiology, Perioperative & Pain Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, talked about his research with child hair follicles and how the follicles can be used to measure the amount of stress and depression in children as well as how it can aid in identifying and addressing the mental health issues of a child. This study is already being conducted by Stanford in partnership with a few preschools in the age group of three and up.