Sai Ashraya Youth Service
Swami Has Not Gone Anywhere
"Swami has not gone anywhere, He is with us. Within a very short period, the kind of service activities we have undertaken are going to spread all over the country. Not only the country, to every nation and they are going to serve all mankind and provide them protection and nourishment. Therefore, you be ready in your thought, word and deed. It is not just enough you utter the word ‘Swami, Swami’ in your lips; you have to demonstrate it through acts of love and service."
- Divine Discourse, December 25, 2015.
If only one could realise the depth and intensity hidden behind the words of Swami. Even the youth of the Sai Ashraya team could hardly grasp the profundity of this statement, but they sure have been striving to cultivate the desire to play some little role in Swami’s Grand mission.
The team in the Bay Area, while working on finding a permanent solution to youth homelessness also have been doing weekly Narayana Seva for the homeless around the Bay Area for a while now. As the winter of 2017 started to approach and it became more and more difficult for the homeless to stay on the streets, the team started to ramp up on their service to their fellow men. There were several instances when volunteers had come across people picking and eating from the garbage/trash cans, shivering and trying to protect themselves in the cold streets of the very famous city of San Francisco. They had witnessed the lives of abandoned young homeless people without a family, dumping their belongings into temporary shelters and struggling to make it through each day even with multiple jobs. How would Swami react to all this, they kept thinking. This fuelled them to do more Service, giving out beanies, blankets, soups, socks, coffee on a more regular basis throughout the end of November.
Into the second week of December, on a cold winter night, when a group of youth were chatting about the next day's Seva, suddenly one person said, "How nice would it be to serve 500 meals this Christmas, for Swami?” It was as though the number was almost magical and the thought was right from Swami. The fact that they hadn't attempted anything of this sort before did not stop them. There was absolutely no doubt that their beloved Swami would help them in spreading the love and spirit of Christmas and celebrate the season with His chosen ones through this Seva.
And so began the preparations. Over the next week, they worked on a plan to serve 500 people over Christmas and the New Year and decided to give away health care kits along with food.
Some of the items required for the health care kits were purchased at unbelievable rates through a contact who would supply them on large scale. Locations of service activities were confirmed and events were created on One World One Sai platform to serve the homeless population over five different days in different locations hoping to serve 100 people per event.
Swami had come in a volunteer's dream two months earlier and had given a recipe for a vegetable curry to serve to the homeless Narayanas. Through his own ways, he had also advised to serve coffee. Hence, it was decided that it would be a perfect opportunity to serve some hot, mouthwatering, Indian food on two of five days. Again, the team had no idea how this was to be taken by the locals of Bay Area. Between planning the events on One World One Sai platform and getting things organised for the event, the next two weeks became quite busy with a buzz of activities! On December 23, 2017 the volunteers gathered at the home of a youth and helped in packing the care kit items. Each bag that was prepared consisted of carefully selected pieces: one new tooth brush, toothpaste, sanitiser, soap, lotion to apply for dry skin and a pair of socks. About 400 packs were assembled in less than three hours.
On December 24, 2017 volunteers had prepared Indian food, which was "PIPING" hot before it was taken to the location selected for serving. It was after the event that one volunteer had described her experience, which she took as a blessing from Swami for taking part in the Seva. Right after she delivered the curry that day, she had gotten a video of Swami in a white robe blessing everyone in Abhayahasta and there was a beautiful Christmas carol in the background. What was more surprising was this was from a friend who she hadn't spoken to in a while.
Back at the event location, the tables were arranged and the roti, dal makhni, vegetable kurma, rice, chocolates, chocolate muffin and bananas were laid out. Some volunteers started by going out to invite homeless Narayanas but before the team knew, there were many people lining up to get food and the health care kit. They seemed to enjoy the hot Indian food on a cold winter night! More and more crowds turned up and volunteers were singing Christmas carols in an attempt to spread the joy of the season. The food was very much appreciated and some homeless Narayanas loved it so much that they came back for seconds. In less than one hour, close to 135 people were served and the team ran out of food for volunteers! Many commented about how they loved the food. When one lady was asked if she wanted a health care kit that had items including socks, she immediately pointed to her feet and said - "Look, I don’t have any socks, I would really love to have some. Thank you so much!” Sai Ashraya volunteers were reminded of the epochal statement that Bhagawan had made. Swami had, earlier in one of the interviews in June 2017, proclaimed that you just have to be there and HE would use us as instruments.
Starting on December 24, 2017 through the New Year, Swami made every event possible with volunteers pouring in to help. One could observe Swami's love in so many forms. During one of the evenings when food was served, one homeless person walked up to the team and appreciated the food and even enquired who the chef was! The person even mentioned that the team should probably start a restaurant, as she thoroughly enjoyed the quality of the food and flavours in it. Yet another act of love was when a homeless lady upon receiving a sleeping bag reached out from her belonging and handed over to a volunteer a brand new, unopened "Guess" purse that she had received as a gift from another loving person earlier. Can you believe that a homeless lady gifting a purse to a volunteer? Everyone was moved by this action.
Even when they did not have much, the homeless folks are willing to share what they have. They always looked out for each other as the volunteers noticed that once they knew food was served, they would bring their friends or take a plate for those who couldn't walk. One of the most touching incidents was when a homeless person in a wheelchair arrived to take some food, his clothes were tattered, and his belongings were tied to the side of the wheelchair. The volunteers helped to make a plate for him. He silently ate the food and a couple of minutes later asked one of the volunteers - "Who is arranging all this?” While the volunteer almost wanted to shout "It is Swami!” they weren't too sure if the man in the wheelchair would understand. And then it happened. The old man dug into his pocket, took out a $20 bill and handed it out to a volunteer and shouted, "Here, have this and go serve more people". While the youth politely refused it, it was so heartening to see how people are ready to help others, even homeless people who are deprived came out and offered their precious possessions, such was the love seen during the Seva.
Through these incredible experiences and outpouring of love and support of the One World One Sai team, the PeopleShores team, volunteers, friends and family, Swami made it possible not only to serve 500, but more than 700 meals in various locations throughout the Bay Area across the last week of December (Holy-day season). The Sai Ashraya youth of the Bay Area are ever thankful to Swami for this opportunity to experience HIM through the acts of love and service. The volunteers, the homeless, and the bystanders were all drenched in love during the entire period of Seva. The Sai Ashraya team continues to pray for Swami’s guidance and for more opportunities to see God in all and to serve God in all in the new year.