Volunteer

The beauty of a few concentric circles

It’s amazing how a few concentric circles slowly evolve into a beautiful mandala. Each line emerges on its own. Most often inspired by something seen in the nature or work of friends. These mandalas started as a gratitude offering to the universe, for everything that I have been generously bestowed with.

how to make a mandala drawing

I am no artist but once I learnt how to make mandalas with a basic template of concentric circles, there is no stopping 🙂

While making these mandalas or stitching the hearts I experienced a beautiful calm that would take over me. I haven’t been able to sit in stillness in a long time. I think it has been almost 6 months that I was able to sit for an hour. Whenever I started on these little gifts, my mind would soon forget its entire chaos and the ordering of the “to-do” list and just focus on one petal to another or one stitch to another. Even though I wasn’t sitting in a specific position or had my eyes closed; it was akin to meditation for my mind and body.

When I start, I have no clue how it will turn out to be. I have no clue of how the design will grow. Sometimes I will start with a pattern and then look it from far thinking this won’t look good. I wasted a card. But then I will go on and complete it only to realise that each has a life of its own and each is beautiful. I often felt like my hand was just a tool and someone else had the design in mind :).

mandala designs

Some of the mandala cards I made. Some original, some inspired, some copied 😀

With the heart bookmarks, I wanted to write a quote on each one of them but was lost on which ones to pick. Just then Vandana didi started on this beautiful project of one-canvas-a-day with quotations and I found my quotes right there. Every day is a beautiful start with her paintings and quotations.

Paintings with quotations

Every morning Vandana didi sends us a picture of her beautiful art. I would say it is her sadhana!

I usually try to sit down for making any art when I am in a happy space but a recent turn of events showed me how art is the best therapy. When I was so stressed that I could do nothing else, I would sit down with a pen and paper and soon my mind will be lost in thinking about how to extend it and just for those few moments forget the impending problem and relax.

All these cards and bookmarks have gone as gifts for friends and strangers. I don’t know when, how and who will receive these or has received them. I am so grateful for having this opportunity to be able to gift some love through these little cards. Each one of them brought me a lot of peace and I hope it does the same for the noble friend who receives them.

Heart bookmarks! The bright African fabric were scraps given by a friend who uses them to make wonderful bags. I love these prints!

Heart bookmarks! The bright African fabric were scraps given by a friend who uses them to make wonderful bags. I love these prints!

With all my love

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Feito com Amor

It started at a morning tea session, when a friend of mine said “For Christmas, I want to make a nice gift bag for the ladies with dry food items like rice, milk powder, oil and some sweets”

The ladies here are the patients of a local maternity hospital. Every two weeks, my friend makes 100 sandwiches and goes to the maternity hospital to feed the ladies waiting for their labour and their families who all wait and live outside the hospital on the road for days.

I started thinking of how we can raise funds for this. The easier option was to just ask in our immediate circle but I wanted to do something more and reach out to more people so that they can all be a part of it. And I just didn’t want to ask money. What was it that I could offer?

Paper. I love paper. I love the way I can turn it into something beautiful. And I was at it. For almost a week, I made gift bags, cards, gift tags, quotation cards, fortune cookie stars, bookmarks… anything that I could think of. My whole room was full of craft material everywhere 🙂

feito com amor, made with love, wisdom crafts

Then I gave them to friends who I knew hosted many gatherings and offered them as wisdom crafts – no price tags; the price of the product is what the buyer is inspired to offer. I put up a paper explaining what they were for and asking people to give from their heart.

What was amazing was how more and more people joined in. One girl came up and said, I know you are making those bags.. I had these felt sheets at home, can you use them?

Another one came and said “I have these glitter tapes I haven’t used for months.. I am sure you can use them for your cards..”

Ribbons, more craft paper, sequins, paint everything started coming from unknown friends!

 

Naama, who runs a non-profit organisation, came to know of it and asked me if I could make 30 bags for their Christmas gifts for their supporters.

At first I thought I will make all of them the same. But as I started decorating the bags, something came over. Each bag spoke for itself and each was different. Before starting I didn’t have any set idea on decoration but slowly every bag’s decoration unfolded as if they were speaking for the person who is going to receive them.

Naama then insisted I create a tag for all of them and thus was born “Feito com Amor” [Portuguese for Made with Love].

feito come amor, made with love, art with heart, craft activities at home

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D-I-Y newspaper gift bags

Holiday season is coming up soon! The season for sharing and gifting. And what better than homemade gifts? There are some great activity ideas, on pinterest, to do with your kids at home during holidays.

Next week I am starting a new, once a week, project with children at the foundation where I volunteer –

“Christmas gift for my family”.

We got a donation of lots of beads from a girl who was leaving Angola and that is what started this idea. Over the next 4-5 weeks I’m planning to teach kids, how to:

  • make a gift bag using old newspapers
  • decorate the gift bag with colourful cutouts and make gift tags- we will try to reuse empty biscuit boxes, wrappers etc for this.
  • Make a Christmas card for their family. This would include writing a letter to their family as well. Telling them what it means to be together during the holidays :).
  • make bracelets or keychains or other small trinket using the beads we received.
  • make christmas ornaments for the tree at home.

Continue reading

Categories: go green, recycle, Volunteer | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Being Palanca

This post was first published on Volunteer Weekly – a platform for celebrating volunteerism.

Palanca is an endangered species of the Angolan wildlife but it is more than just that. It’s a national symbol that represents – Peace, Tolerance, Unity, Self-esteem and preservation of biodiversity.

About a year ago, the foundation brought together 10 artists who gave a blank wooden palanca their expression of these values. The exhibition, called ‘Being Palanca’ ( ‘ser Palanca’ in Portuguese), served to raise awareness among the Angolan people about the importance of the values at hand: peace, unity, tolerance and self-esteem, and to the significance of the Palanca as an endangered species and as the national symbol of Angola.

Going through some of the old material, I found files of the “ser Palanca” or “Being Palanca” project and together Ana and I thought of doing this with our kids at the  foundation. We imagined it would be a great way to engage the children towards thinking about these values and give them an expression.

We started the day with a discussion on each of the five values — what it means, is it important and why? can we live with one without the other? The discussion went into talks of how somewhere lack of tolerance for the other is the cause of current conflicts all over the world. The children were also quick to explain by themselves how peace is the blanket under which each of the other values thrives and vice versa — that without unity, tolerance or self-esteem and a respect for our biodiversity, we cannot have peace.

being palanca, teaching values to children, volunteering with children, volunteering in Luanda, volunteering in Angola

I was intrigued by that. All the children were born in peace time but 30 years of civil war meant that each family had stories of loss and tragedy passed on from parents to children and it was clear how they valued peace more than anything.

After the discussions, each child chose one value that they most identified with and started to give expressions to their thoughts on paper. Each value was depicted by a single colour so each painting was only in one colour. In the end we brought them all together to create one big Palanca. The idea was that the density of each colour in the collage will clearly reflect which of the values the children most identified with.

Being Palanca, see palanca, teaching values to children, volunteering with children, volunteering in Luanda, Volunteering in Angola

Does it mean something that most works were on Peace and Unity?

I am Peace. I am Unity.

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Go chalking!

I love chalk 🙂

Here are pictures of the first few chalk messages…

chalk project, art with heart, window dressing

I didn’t think much before starting these everyday chalk messages but its become quite exciting! My neighbours say they now look forward to reading what’s new on my window everyday!

Categories: Family, Volunteer | Tags: , | 1 Comment

A new magic every day!

It’s already 9 days into the new month but for me the month practically starts today. The first week of June was just busy with packing and travelling and settling back. Finally this week life has returned to some normalcy. While I was in India, I made many plans for the things I want to do once I get back to Angola (don’t know how many will start :P!):

  • Learn how to make a website using wordpress
  • Get back to sketching and learn to paint
  • Experiment with food more. For some reason in Angola I had just fallen into regular cooking routine. It has been such a long time since I tried something new and in this trip my sister inspired me to do more with food and flavours! 🙂 So hopefully My Weekend Kitchen will also get its activity back!
  • I want to do more art for gifting to strangers. I met Swara after a long time and she told me how our one day’s activity of writing letters to strangers had motivated her and she continues to do so even now. When she told me this I felt how I need to pick this one again. So I will be doing more art to gift. I even brought lots of handmade paper, colours and pens with me! 🙂

But one thing that I brought from home and I’m very excited to use is my box of coloured chalk and a small slate! I fell in love with chalk as a medium of art after seeing Lahar’s beautiful creations all over Sugad campus during Moved by Love retreats. Her hands would create magic on the floor and one thing which she said that stayed with me was the beauty of impermanence that chalk brings. Your creating is cleaned the next day and every day you start with a clean slate! Every day a different magic comes alive through your hands…

I was also inspired by the sidewalk chalk projects that many people have been doing all around the world and while I don’t think I will have enough chalk to do that; I plan to hang my slate on my window/ balcony with a beautiful quote every day and that would be my gift for each day for those who read it 🙂

I started yesterday, these are my first two!

art with heart, quotations in chalk on window

Categories: Family, Volunteer | Tags: , | 8 Comments

Mirror mirror on the wall….

What’s the last thing we check before leaving home? What’s the last thought on our minds before stepping out of home? It’s a very subconscious action, but I recently observed that I always brush my hair with hand as I am stepping out of home. If there was a mirror at the door, I would definitely have checked if I was ‘looking’ fine.

The first thing we look into after a shower? The mirror. And so was the case on my first day my in Uttarakhand. After having a bath, I was searching for a mirror everywhere in SNC. After a futile search, I let it be. Brushed my hair with hand and went on with my maths classes. The kids didn’t care how I looked. They cared about what I was teaching.  After a couple of days I wasn’t even looking for a mirror. Days passed, work was happening and one day I came across a mirror. It was almost after 20 days. As I looked into my reflection, it suddenly struck – how liberating it is when I don’t care about how I look! It was almost like discovering a new source of joy! 🙂 A new sense of freedom. I can’t really put it down in words but being able to let go of the ‘need’ to look in the mirror was almost like being free.   Continue reading

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Souls Connected by Service

Volunteering in Uttarakhand, Uttarakhand Volunteering, souls connected by service

Souls connected by service

17th October 2013; 7am; kotma, Uttarakhand

Gopal kaka is 88. Joseph ji is 45. One lives in Ahemedabad, the other is a seeker and a wanderer. They have never met. Yet I felt a beautiful link between them. This post is about that.

Almost a year ago, few sadhaks from Ahmedabad went on a journey to Narmada. As they were walking on the road, one girl noticed that Gopal kaka would keep bending down, very frequently. On a closer look she saw he was picking up stones and throwing them on a side. Why?, she asked.

“The stones may hurt someone who steps on them.”

Unbound, unconditional love and selfless service.

About a month back, I started on a journey in Uttarakhand with Joseph ji. Our journey involved long walks and one day I noticed Joseph ji would keep bending down on the way. And I remembered Gopal kaka. But its not possible that Joseph ji is picking up stones. Simply because then he would keep put in one place as after the floods there is no road as such but stone paths. So what is he doing? I went closer and looked. He was picking up earthworms from the road and putting them on the side. Why?, I asked.

“The earthworms may get hurt if someone steps on them”

Unbound, unconditional love and selfless service.

I looked up and wondered at the funny ways God unites all of us. Two people, generations apart, who have never met, yet are connected in spirit 🙂 I have a feeling they will meet in real world soon!

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Paradise on earth?

16th October 2013, 8am, Kotma
Today is my last day in Kotma, so I came out for a longer stroll today morning. I left the hostel saying I will be late today.
kotma
We came here on 5th for a one day visit. We had heard about Dr. Tulsidas and how after hearing about the Uttarakhand disaster he decided to dedicate his service in the region, choosing the remotest of villages for his medical camps. It was meant to be just one day stop. But the moment I reached the ashram (or the hostel) he has started here and stared at the mountains from there, I knew this place was special. A kind of a calm came over me despite the long trek to reach the village.
We left the next day back to the hustle and bustle of SNC :). After a few days, I found myself back in Kotma, staring at the mountains. Dr. Tulsidas started me on morning walks from the next day and a 3km down and up trek to and from the river has now become an everyday affair.
The first time I came down to the river and walked to the river, I had a feeling as if I was walking on the surface of some other planet. Boulders of every size – from the biggest to the smallest; rusted rods; parts of a truck; torn tin sheets all laid there. As if human beings once lived here.
boulder-river
Earlier I was told there was a hydro electric power plant on the river. It was hard to believe it looking from top because there was absolutely no trace of it except for a hanging pipeline along the mountain.
power plant
Next day I went further down the river and saw the left over building blocks of what must have been the plant. One day I also went up the mountain and came across the fore bay and signs warning people of the heavy water flow through the bay. I smiled at the irony of the board.
banner
A couple of nights when it rained I could sense the fear and see the haunted look in the eyes of children staying at the ashram. Will they ever be able to see ganga as the calm river that it was known as? Children are scared of stepping into the river that had been their playmate since generations. On the surface life seems to be moving forward, people have found refuge in their faith and moved beyond the blame game. But going a little further deep exposes their wounds and memories.
The images of destruction that I have seen are nothing when I see some pictures that people clicked during the first 3 days. Archana had asked me in the first few days itswlf if i want to see pictures of destruction. And my instant response was no. I was reluctant to see them because what I saw on the ground was itself too much for me to take but eventually while preparing a report I did stumble into that folder. What I saw left my wih goosebumps and sent a shiver down. It been almost 2 weeks since I saw those pictures of floods, damage and of dead bodies yet they keep coming back to haunt me. And if that is my situation, I can not even think of being able to empathise with what the people here must be going through.
In about a week’s time I will be going back from uttarakhand. It will be the end of my volunteering time here in uttarakhand but in spirit I know I am leaving a part of me here. the part that will keep reminding me about my place in this universe, the futility of things we worry about when life has its own plan for us.
And now I feel the river is making me jump from one thing to another and I shall close my phone and just enjoy the sound of it.

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Meeting Amma

me_n_amma29/09/2013 Shivanand Ashram, Uttarkashi; 3pm
We were walking from Uttarkashi to Ganeshpur after listening to Col. Ajay where he shared with us few glimpses of the first few days of the floods.
Joseph ji has friends in all corners of the country and he wanted to introduce us to them, so we set out on a walking tour of Uttarkashi. As we were walking, we first crossed the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple. We went in for a quick darshan. Now, Uttarkashi is the abode of gods so temples are a regular sight. We soon came across Omkareshwar temple. The temple had a huge peepul tree in its compound. Since it was afternoon and the sun was very hot, we thought of taking a short break here. Pratyush sat inside the temple, I sat under the tree and Joseph ji, who it seems never needs a break, went down to the banks of river Ganga. There he saw an old lady and after asking her permission called both of us to meet her. I would refer to her as amma from here on.
Amma lived in a tiny room on the steps that went down to Ganga. As soon as we came, she put out a blanket on the ledge outside her room for us to sit, while she sat down. She asked us if we have had food. Even though we told her repeatedly that we’ve had food she insisted on making some lunch for us. “Sab kuchch hai, daal hai, chaawal hai, aata hai. Tum bolo main abhi bana doongi” (There is everything – pulses, rice, flour. You tell me and I will quickly make lunch) 🙂
I was thinking how we get so worried whenever there are unexpected guests at home and here was a lady who had little for herself and is eager to share it all with 3 strangers who just showed up at her door. Such unconditional love!
She obviously won’t have it that we not eat anything and gave me a biscuit packet. I couldn’t refuse it. It was a gift of love. She again asked “kya khaoge” and this time Pratyush replied “maaji gyan khayenge. Thodi baatein sunaiye” (we want knowledge. Tell us something).
Then she started sharing her life with us. Her pilgrimage to the mountains, her travels and stays at different ashrams. She had a smile that reached her eyes and her eyes were sparkling. For the last 40 years she has been living in the room waiting for the time when Ganga ji will take her away.
In between she looked at me and said “tu yahin mere pass ruk jaa” (you come and stay with me) and I sat down with her and I was remembering my grandmother so much. And I addressed her as amma. She held my hands and she started talking about how I should not worry about troubles that come in life because happiness does not come without struggles. And that only when there are struggles will we get closer to God. It was as if she was looking inside me.
She only spoke Garhwali but I could understand everything. It was like she was talking to our hearts. I had one of my most intimate conversations with a stranger, with her.
We went to meet her again the day after and as we were leaving she said fondly “aate rehna” (keep coming).
I am leaving from uttarkashi today and I dont know when I will be back but I say to her “amma I will try”.

Categories: Family, Travel, Volunteer | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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