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Day of Community Service

Miss the previous update about my work at the Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh? Read it here.

After a year living in India at a leprosy community — a place that has become like home and its members like family — my visa is about to expire and it’s time to go to Kenya to continue the journey with new faces, new kids, and a new culture.

I take off on the 20th, time is quickly running out, so this will not be the usual update that goes into great detail. Rather, I’m going to share and comment on some photos from a recent program I helped launch that should communicate all I would in a more exhaustive update.

A New Idea

One of the main issues I've observed in the community is an understandable lack of responsibility/leadership for the care and upkeep of areas outside of personal living spaces.

The residents are mostly uneducated, poor, many beg, there are those with the leprosy disease, they live in a slum area, so you wouldn't expect there to be much investment in matters outside of their own personal well being and survival (which is what I was trying to work on with the kids in the Loving Leadership program throughout the year).

These uncared for areas of the community tend to be the ones where people dump their trash, spit, go to the toilet and so on. It's subtly demoralizing when a community has unsightly waste out in plain sight and creates a loop where the environment gets worse because it's not giving much incentive to be cared about.

I thought, why not gather the younger generations and in a spirit of community togetherness, clean up the public spaces, especially those dirty areas that are not being properly cared for?

This would be the first such day of service in the community's 40+ year history and it was an unexpected success.

Here is Aruna, one of our young leaders, leading her group in prayer before starting clean up work in the playground area.

Most of the young men and boys, under direction from the gym members, worked in one of the most troubled areas of the community, pictured above.

Everybody was having fun, enjoying their time together, and within 2.5 hours this incredibly dirty area — that you wouldn't really want to walk through — was more or less clean.

This was a surprise. Older members of the community, who we didn't ask to get involved with the program because we guessed they wouldn't be interested, started to help out. In hindsight, I recognize this as a big mistake. We should have invited them and included them even though they've historically expressed little interest in being involved with our activities.

We provided chai for everybody helping out, even those who weren't. :)

This was important.

Here are some of the community leaders who, in all honesty, don't totally share our values, in the midst of the clean up effort. They were talking about how good the program was and were impressed with the work everybody did.

Some tense words were exchanged when our community approached members of an adjacent community, one considered to be of a higher class, whose members are known to dump trash out of their windows and onto our property.

When asked if they would stop dumping their trash like this, we were called something to the effect of a "Low class leprosy community" and were met with an attitude of, "We'll do what we want because you're low class."

This was the first time I experienced the stigma associated with the disease. I said that we can't do much when people feel this way and we should not get angry but continue to clean the area because it's the right thing to do.

A few moments after this exchange, a neighbor from this other community donated 500 Rupees ($10) to get the kids some snacks because he was impressed with how hard they were working!

We received some announced visitors, who fortuitously arrived toward the end of the clean up.

The three gentleman seated above were all visiting from the US and dropped by to distribute some school supplies for all the kids. Coupled with the snack, they were really happy.

Something I took away from this wonderful day is that creating healthy, caring communities and societies isn't that difficult. It boils down to loving leadership based on trust and respect to help guide people in a positive direction.

That's all I/we did this day and the rest took care of itself.

Continue to the next update about my work at the Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh.