During an interview in April 2017, Swami specifically guided some youth from the Netherlands on what type of Seva activities in which devotees in their country should actively partake. He said, “serve the elderly and inspire the youth”. Ever since, several of the youth have been actively looking for Seva opportunities in elderly homes. Several times they were turned down, simply because in the country we live in, these homes are financially well-off and can cater to the basic needs (food, shelter and medical attention). But the youth persisted and had faith that if Swami has pointed it out, there must be opportunities which would help improve the lives of these elderly. A few weeks after the interview, via a personal acquaintance, there was a contact made at an elderly home in a neighbouring city. For the first meeting with the manager, the youth expected they needed to persuade them to allow them to volunteer. Instead, after a few minutes of introduction, the manager immediately welcomed them to become official volunteers, signed them up, and set a date to get started.
The volunteering activities range from serving food to the elderly, help them eat (cut their food in small pieces), clean up, and take them for a walk. At first, the youth thought that this work would not make much difference since there are several staff available, especially for serving food and cleaning up. The average age of volunteers they typically get is over 60 years old, so when the elderly are served by such young people they are so positively surprised, they smile and want to talk more. The youth noticed as well how much a smile can help them.
Indeed, a change was just around the corner. With every passing smile, the cold serving of food and the mechanical collection of leftovers was transformed into an opportunity to interact and actually have a conversation at the lunch table. One such example, while an elderly was celebrating her 92nd birthday, she looked at the 29-year-old serving her and they were intrigued by the reversed numbers in ages. At the same time the 29-year-old was thinking how life would be if the numbers were reversed to 92! They both had a laugh and thankfully there were no regrets in either situation.
Curiosity kept growing among the elderly until finally someone asked why the youth are doing this. Why do they come here every week trying to help? Is it for the money, or is it for some experience to add an internship on a resume? But when the youth replied that their time is for free and all they want to do is help and feel special by making someone else feel special – even though the elderly don’t know Swami, the youth hoped that they could see the values which Swami has taught them.
An elderly lady asked again, but why? And this time the youth replied because we have the time and we are able to do so at this age – so we should make the best use of our healthy time given by Swami. To the surprise of the youth, she too, still able to walk by herself, started to help the other elderly so that she could make the best use of her abilities. Such is the contagious love which flows from Swami to youth and to others.
Being part of the elders not only demonstrates that youth – who are strangers to these people - can touch hearts, but also gives the youth a chance to really reflect and learn from experiences with those interactions. From the elderly lady who speaks in the local language, knowing that the young girl does not understand but wants her to learn as she feels it’s going to be good for her, to the elderly gentleman who wouldn’t leave a chance to joke with the young and pull their leg but does not forget to shower his blessings when they bid goodbye for the day. Every connection leaves an impression on youth hearts and reminds them, no matter what the situation may be love only reciprocates more love. With every passing smile, came double smiles back and even an occasional pat on the back. With every slow walk, came the energy of gratitude they showed the youth after the walk was over. One would think that repeatedly doing the same tasks would make the task boring and mechanical – but there is something the youth feel, that extra magic which gets created, which only motivates them to look forward to the next visit no matter how tired or busy life gets. The youth are grateful to Swami as He has given us this chance to reflect on their own selves, learn from these experiences and truly treasure the moments with these new members of the family.