Learning to Serve

Let’s talk about potatoes. No really. After six straight meals, I was seriously considering how my life would be as a potato. After all, you are what you eat. Hare Krishna. So Renu (see below) and I moved into our home-stay two days ago, and after a lot of struggle we devised a few rules to keep us sane:

1. No complaining. If we speak, we speak about the good things. There are a million stars at night. The raita tasted good. The peaches are sweet. The same goes for people. Especially people.

2. We will be as happy as possible. Having each other is a blessing.

3. We promise to stick it out for one week. And completely be open while experiencing it.



PC: Saksham Nijhawan

The word for service in Sanskrit and Hindi is ‘seva’. Selfless service. And it is the product of a heart that is filled with compassion and awareness. The biggest thing I have learned is that you really have to be able to put aside your own self, emotions, and interests in order to be able to understand what a community wants and needs. The more you become self-consumed with your own reactions to a particular situation, the less you are actually able to help or be effective.

As people, we have to learn how to balance our own process- giving ourselves time to reflect and feel- while still being open to a situation and taking it in. This is something that I struggle with all the time in daily life- in relationships with people, at school, with family- and at the risk of sounding abstract, here are some things that I think are important:

-Recognizing privilege- both in self and in others. The more objectively honest you are, the more real and lasting your solution will be. For example, our host mother is Gram Pradhan- head of the village. She has a lot more time on her hands than other women because she doesn’t have to walk a kilometer for water- there is a pipe that brings it to her house.

-Coexisting with pain and suffering in the community without passing judgment. There are difficult situations like caste-based discrimination. Or malnourishment and disease that is often the result of tradition and custom rather than circumstance. Or the social ostracism of infertile and widowed women. Understand and coexist with these situations before trying to become an agent of change.

-Loving difficult situations especially when nothing is changing. You have thought about a situation long and hard. You have good ideas. You have solutions. And people will often not care. The hardest thing to do is love even when you are persevering to effect change, because the people you are trying to work with and for will be the ones who often undermine you. Take a step back. Breathe. And love them anyway.

-Putting aside personal interests for community good and development. This is a BIG one. You have interests and your target community has interests and often times, if you are working with an NGO, the NGO has interests. I’m not saying give up your goals. If you came to do a project, do it. But always keep the larger ideas in mind. There are goals which will outlive your three months, six months, or one year stay with the NGO. When you align yourself with a larger goal that is worthy of your intention, you have become a part of something bigger.

-Adopting an attitude of learning and openness. When you are genuinely willing to learn, then your interests, insights, and questions inspire others. Then even normal conversations can become a teaching tool. This is humility- it is recognizing that there is no one in this world that you cannot learn from. It only takes an attitude adjustment on your part. And as a result, they feel valued for who they are and for the experiences that they have lived through. This is one way we can all give simply by receiving with the right attitude.

Much love to everybody. For me, these are life lessons. Every relationship is dynamic because at any given moment there is giving, receiving or a combination of the two happening. It is like diffusion across a permeable membrane. And I personally, am always looking for that healthy, steady-state equilibrium with constant flow and peace.

My personal blog is on http://aardra11.wordpress.com/ so feel free to visit that too. Many same posts, some different posts.


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About Aardra Rajendran

I'm a recent Bioengineering graduate from the University of Pennsylvania. I will be headed to Chennai, India over this next year to conduct public health work as a Fulbright Student Research Fellow. My interests include Eastern spirituality, medicine and contemporary approaches to healing, hiking, being part-lion/part-owl, and watching the stars at night. Peace.