Sneh Yatra - A journey to connect hearts
Saurastra, the land of Gir is famous across the globe for it’s the home of Asiatic Gigantic lions. Gir is also the biggest forest of the state of Gujarat. Saurastrian culture is aspired across the country, because of the spirit of people as they believe in sharing and caring rather than selling and billing. Since last one and half years we are delving in this culture to connect with Jal, Jameen and Jangle (water, land and forest) while building bonds with local community there. We are grateful to wildwoods resorts as it became the instrument for us to experience and explore this land of Gir.
Through Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI) we are conducting integrated activities in twelve villages of Amreli district of Saurastra. Activities such as awareness about water conservation, sanitation, plantation, health and hygiene, conservation measures of lions, animal husbandry, promotion of local art etc are part of holistic engagement. We are connecting with heart of people in order to make it a program driven by local people so that it sustains. To ensure the same 60 local people have been hosted in ESI, Sugadh in two retreats focused on hand, head and heart engagement. Director of ESI Jayesh bhai Patel, cofounder Manav Sadhna and founder of Gramshree, Anar Patel, also did Pad Yatra (walking pilgrimage) to building bonds with people’s heart.
In the beginning awareness campaign was hosted in five villages, seven villages were yet to be connected. In the spirit of reaching out, Nandini van (a caravan) was thought to be taken in these villages. Seven people from ESI visited seven villages from 5th to 12th May for Sneh Yatra – a journey to connect hearts.
Villages from two blocks Dhari and Khambha – Khishari, Hirava, Dhavadiya, Gidardi, Patala, Tersingada and Rajsthali were covered in Sneh Yatra.
Nandini Van (service on wheel) :
The moving home – service on wheel- Nandini, attracted people’s imagination particularly children who would run after the van as it enters the village. Villagers too would wonder and connect with the sneh yatris to understand the purpose of this moving wonder. A conversation about Nandini worked as an ice breaker between villagers and Sneh Yatris. Yatris explained about the wisdom behind space utilization in Nandini, how villagers too can learn about ideal home structure with a focus on cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation. Nandini carries an exhibition panel within comprising 52 hoardings and placards with messages of sanitation, water conservation, health and hygiene. Nandini would be parked at locations where maximum people can visit and have a look of the van alongside can benefit from the education through the exhibition.
The team spent 24 hours in every village with a humble effort to connect with maximum number of people. The Gandhian philosophy was the strength behind connecting heart to heart of sneh yatris and villagers, children, women and youth.
The day would begin with Prabhat Ferry, an amalgamation of service and spirituality wherein all the sneh yatris will chant prayers of well-being and walk around the village across streets smiling and spreading love. They say mind and heart are fresh in the morning, in addition the fresh ambience of villages have positive impact of the prayers on everyone who listens. We all sensed the difference, everyone on the way of Prabhat Ferry would greet us with smile and children would join in the chanting and prayers.
Internal and external service and meditation :
After couple of rounds of village collective meditation, prayer and “chintan” righteous thinking would be done for half an hour. Followed by that, everyone would engage in cleanliness activities. The dirtiest patch of the village would be identified and sneh yatris equipped with cleaning tools would clean the land as well hearts. Service is external meditation and meditation is internal service, the morning begins with both internal and external service and meditation.
Lok Sampark (village rally):
Throughout the day, sneh yatris reached out to the villagers to communicate, converse and connect. Bonding with children facilitated the entry to their mothers. Geeta and Aruna connected with Anganwadi incharge in all the villages, they spoke to hundreds of women and adolescent girls in villages. Atul, Raju, Shailesh spoke to youngsters and villagers while Suresh bhai connected with panchayat leaders, Sarpanch and held more than 10 circles with children. In the afternoon, the whole team took round of village while beating drums, chanting slogans about sanitation and cleaning garbage on the way. Through lok sampark the details of evening program was communicated to villagers.
Building bonds with children:
Gandhiji used to say that I learn lessons of Satya and Ahimsa from children. In the same spirit the team focused explicitly to connect with children as not only they are teachers of values but also the future of the village and the nation. Right from the prabhat ferry to the closing of the evening gathering, team engaged with children incessantly. Children are the future of the nation, in order to pay explicit attention to enhance their holistic understanding about 15 circles with more than 2000 children were hosted in all seven villages. The circle hosted discussions and sharing about values of cleanliness, education, sanitation.
Snehyatris interacted with children while cutting their nails and washing hands. These small actions acted as a mode of connection and deep routed conversations. In the afternoon traditional and conventional games were hosted with children.
Women Gathering :
In two villages Khishari and Patala, two circles were created explicitly to engage with women. Messages around home sanitation and child care were communicated through videos and dialogues. Most of the women had very limited exposure about the world outside, however their curiosity was spell bound. In Khisari village about 60 women gathered and hosted prayers and chantings with traditional bhajans and songs. After a while the shift in conversation happened towards discussion on sanitation and child care. When these women were taken to Nandini for a visit, they were awestruck observing the moving home. A consistent message was communicated to all the women that if they would be strengthened, the whole family will be strengthened.
Educational slogans, written on walls work as a tool of powerful communication. Good writing – reading on the walls create momentary transformation as it registers in the mind. In all seven villages with the spirit of equality of all religions more than 400 wall slogans, inspiring quotes, logos of sarva dharma (all religion) were painted across the prominent walls of the villages.
Vinod bhai, known as painter bhai is providing his selfless service of writing slogans on the walls since last twenty years. Inspiring people through quotes and slogans is devotion to him. He firmly believes that it’s a powerful educational tool that has immense impact on the readers particularly children and youngsters.
Creation and distribution of dustbins:
As we enter the village, few Sneh Yatris observe whether there is any dustbin in the village. In almost all the villages, there was none. To instill the sense of cooperation, Sureshbhai, Atul and Shailesh went to villagers and begged for waste oil tins. Wondering about purpose, villagers happily donated tins as these were to be converted in dustbins.
The tins were to be shaped for that labor of love was performed in the center of the village so that villagers can observe this small and seemingly insignificant work of love. This facilitated conversation with people and Sneh Yatris spoke about the importance of plastic and garbage free villages.
After proper cutting, Painter bhai would paint the bin and write – please feed garbage to me , converting the tin to dustbin. The dustbins were gifted to village shops from the villagers only.
Engagement with youth:
Across the villages, we found that there are many youngsters who are looking for inspiration and are willing to be the ladders. Throughout the sneh yatra, about 10 circles were created with youngsters. Conversations over technology, education and values assisted in building bonds. Tobacco chewing is a prevailing social ailment across villages, these circles also assisted in addressing this issue. Youth leaders were identified and a facilitation was provided so that they can shoulder the responsibility of positive transformation of self and hence village.
Gram Sabha, Multimedia Show and Skits :
Every evening a gram sabha was hosted in all the villages. Inspiring documentaries on sanitation, water awareness, education and hygiene were shown to the villagers.
Sureshbhai introduced all sneh yatris to the villagers and appreciated everyone’s humble efforts to connect with self through service. Efforts of wildwoods resorts were appreciated and communicated to the villagers.
Every village has its own unique challenge along with common challenges. The sneh yatri team would discuss the challenges as understood throughout the day’s observation and would create a skit. Every sneh yatri would play a role and address local issue through the skit / drama in a language familiar by the villagers.
Towards the end, Sureshbhai would share various government schemes on water sanitation, soakage pits, nirmal bharat etc. which villagers can be benefited from. Sureshbhai addressed all gram sabhas and communicated how villagers can be benefited from local participations. Govt schemes on water sanitation, soakage pit etc.
Towards the end, villagers were asked for the feedback and inputs that can be inculcated, addressed and communicated to the concerned body.
The whole team was welcomed whole heartedly in all the villages. Villagers took care right from suggesting appropriate placement of Nandini, providing electric connection, hosting and humbly taking care of all the meals of sneh yatris.
The team wanted to have breakfasts, lunch and dinners at different houses so that multiple people can be offered the opportunity to serve, however almost all the hosts wanted to offer all the meals to the whole team!
The team followed a practice of offering meditation and prayers before every meal, and the hosts felt the grace and served with even more love and compassion.
Throughout the journey the tea was offered umpteen numbers of times to all the sneh yatris. Everyone was spell bound by the hospitality of all the households across villages.
Sensing the spirit with which Sneh Yatris were operating, multiple grandmas and grandpas opened their homes and requested to host circles there.
In Khishari village, learning about the small impact happening in village through Nandini and sneh yatris, the talluka Vikas Adhikari participated in gram sabha in the night and wholeheartedly appreciated efforts of the team.
Towards the end of the journey, at 11 PM on the last night, one of the household wanted to host us and was bewildered what to offer. And to everyone’s surprise the couple managed to get sugarcane juice for all the yatris. What a sweet ending of the completion of 7 day long sneh yatra.