Youth Retreat Surat 2018 - Towards HOPE!

Posted by Mihir Kaji on Jan 23, 2018
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Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all of the darkness – Desmond Tutu

Earlier this month at the Youth Retreat in Surat, a bunch of us got to witness this light of Hope. We got together with some inspirational youth from various parts of the country to learn about their service journeys, and to collectively hold questions around it. With a soulful prayer to ground the collective energy, Jaimit reminisced about listening to his grandmother sing prayers when he was a child, and how that eventually blossomed into him holding prayer circles in his home town of Vadodara. Resonating the sentiment, Avani reflected that in today’s world which is geared towards instant gratification, how endearing it was to see slow-stories evolve organically, such as the evolution of Karma Meals and the journey of Vineet and friends who went from serving food to those in need out of sympathy, to actually sitting, talking and having those meals together with them, out of compassion.

The opening circle was seeded with the questions: What breaks your heart when you see the world around you? And what gives you hope?

What emerged next was a mirror reflecting what we as a society have brought upon ourselves: Siddhant reflected discriminations in various contexts that are prevalent, Poonam from Maher shared her anguish at seeing parents abandon their girl child who is then left to fend for herself, Zilong observed how young parents are consciously or unconsciously diluting what it means to be a parent by outsourcing their time and duties towards their children to the screens of various gadgets, and Gauri’s heart breaks on seeing underage children having to sell stuff on the streets. Shreyas feels the anomaly where in today’s digitally hyper-connected world, the depth of our ties is actually being lost, and Nipun bhai added to that by sharing how it pains him to see people designing for greater disconnection in pursuit of short-term gains. Bhavya and Vijay rued the fact that we are wasting our natural resources, while Parth and Siddharth are anguished seeing people ensconced in their small worlds of me-and-mine, being completely oblivious to their universal responsibilities.

The youth of today are not ones to get bogged down, though!

Vinayak derived hope from the fact that there are people like Sister Lucy and Gaus who took him and his sister in when they found themselves orphaned and on the streets at the tender age of 7 and 4 years old. Another truly inspiring young lady deeply moved us all by sharing her story of how she faced sexual abuse as a child and suffered tremendously from its psychological baggage, but over the years could heal herself enough to be able to access the unbroken part of her heart and find the love and the courage to go and talk about the issue with the perpetrator, and to forgive him. Hurt people, hurt people. Healed people, heal people. I chose love over hate” she said. She now works towards spreading awareness about mental health, and also counsels others dealing with similar experiences as hers.

Sunidhi, along with Kat-Katha, works with sex-workers and their families at Delhi’s largest red light area - G.B. Road and have been quietly transforming the brothels into classrooms, community centers, and safe spaces for the women and their children to learn, explore creative arts, and come alive with a sense of connection, expression, and possibility. She recalled an incident from the early years of her journey, when she went to talk to an elderly lady at one of the brothels, who would resist even talking to Sunidhi. She had pre-conceived notions about NGOs due to some unpleasant experiences of the past. But after a while, Sunidhi could find an opening in her heart, and the lady openly shared what was inside her. As Sunidhi was leaving, the lady hugged her and with tears in her eyes said that that was the first time someone actually listened to her without any agenda. This kind of connection gives Sunidhi hope. Parth shared he derives hope from his lived experience of witnessing how what goes around, comes around. A few years ago, he had gifted a box of chocolates to a kid who saw Parth carrying treats with him for someone else. Recently Parth was at the railway station carrying some heavy bags, and a porter came and started carrying the bags for him without Parth having asked him to do so. Parth was a little hesitant, thinking he would ask for money later, but was surprised later when he did not. The porter reminded Parth of that kid to whom he had given those chocolates – he was that kid’s father. Being a Thalassemia Major patient himself, Parth now pays-forward the blessings of the donors who literally help him live, by trying to help others undergoing similar circumstances as himself, through his NGO The Wishing Factory.

Reflecting on the nuances of service, Nipun bhai talked about the power of compassion by sharing the story of how Sister Lucy took in a lady whom she found naked on the street, brutally abused, and in such a state of trauma that she could not speak. They later realized that she was pregnant. Recently, the lady delivered a baby girl, whom they named ‘Swara’ (meaning ‘a musical note’ in the Hindi language) when Nipun bhai visited them. She still does not speak, but Maher (meaning ‘Mother’s home’ in the Marathi language) is taking care of her and her child like a mother would. Sharing the story of Julio, Nipun bhai presenced the question: How do we amplify Compassion quotient? And how we can move from giving and receiving, to dancing?

Invoking the Gospel of Thomas, Zilong shared what inspires him on his pilgrimage:

If those who lead you say, 'See, the Kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.
- [The Gospel of Thomas (3)]

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth that which is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
- [The Gospel of Thomas (70)]

Reflecting on how he felt held by the Universe, and the inner goodness he witnessed in the people he met on his pilgrimage, Zilong recalled how he has been with over two hundred families, and there had not been a single bad experience. No flat tires either. The intention he carries on this journey is that those who give to him, get the greatest merit – and as the Dana Parmi says, when the recipient of a noble act of kindness is walking on the path of self-purification, the giver receives the greatest merit. With this compassion, Zilong is cultivating the noble precepts as he goes along on his journey. Asked why he chose to go on the pilgrimage across countries on a bicycle, he says: “The reason why I chose the bicycle is because I want to travel as slowly as my spiritual evolution allows. The more spiritually prepared I am, the slower I would travel. Guri and Nipun, they walked. Reverend Heng Sure bowed. I know I'm not ready to walk, much less bow. The slowest I can go at this point is to bicycle.”

To explore how the youth would like to put their inspirations into action, we broke out into few groups, holding the question: How would you want to put your Hope/Inspiration into action, assuming there are no constraints? Some truly creative and insightful ideas emerged: from having Playing Circles in schools where children can learn values and grow their imagination and intellect via some physical activities, to having (and may be even broadcasting!) Prayer Circles, to hosting Awakin Circles in schools as part of the PTA meetings, to having Suspended Meals like this.

As we all hugged each other towards the end of the retreat, one was enveloped in the feeling of HOPE. With youth like these, there is every reason to be hopeful – and in current times when the mainstream media is predominantly emphasizing negativity and despair, this was like a breath of fresh air. Feeling grateful towards these amazing youth for giving everyone this gift of Hope, and taking inspiration from their journeys, we go ahead looking for ways to pay it forward!

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Comments (4)

  • Trishna Shah wrote ...

    I'm moved to read about what gives these young people hope and inspires them to be the change -- we all know there's a beautiful world that lies ahead if these teens are paving the way. Thanks for sharing the ripples from such a beautiful gathering of young minds and hearts.

  • Birju Pandya wrote ...

    yes! THANK YOU for sharing :)

  • Zilong wrote ...

    Thank you, dear Mihir, for quietly laddering us from the side, taking such thorough notes, and weaving together the inspirations from the day!

  • Sarthak wrote ...

    Beautiful written.💖💖