Service to Humanity

Miss the previous update about my work at the Brosis School? Read it here.

In conjunction with the beautification of the Brosis school and premises, I've also been teaching a once in a week class with the entire student body, where I discuss the concepts behind each of the above school values and also facilitate practical exercises to demonstrate them.

I haven't been publishing about these lessons, as they've seemed to be a bit of a detail but the one we covered the other day for Service to Humanity was particularly powerful and worth noting here.

creating grace

I started the lesson by writing the following on our blackboard:

Service to humanity is service to God or Nature.
Service to Nature is service to yourself.

By looking out for others, serving your community, and of generally having a disposition of not looking to get or take for yourself, this helps to ensure that your needs will be taken care of because being this way creates grace or serendipity.

This is of importance when you are living in a community, as the children do, with dire financial challenges, where it becomes easy and logical to focus solely on your own survival and forget about service to a larger purpose.

I reminded the students of the sacrifice their mothers made. Carrying them for nine months and literally risking life during childbirth. Then, caring for them, feeding them, and so on. I explained what a grand gift this was, the gift of life.

I mentioned how all the teachers at Brosis are sacrificing on the student's behalf as well, earning so little (about $1/day) for over 40 hours of work/week. I asked each teacher to share why they do what they do and all of them said to help the children have better futures. Another major gift.

I also mentioned the fact that Mother Nature gives to us constantly and for free in the form of oxygen, food, and water. Without these gifts, our life would not be sustained.

The idea with this was to help the students see how much they already have, even while being financially poor with pretty severe restrictions. A simple recognition as this can be enough to break beliefs in scarcity and hopelessness, as well as create a motivation to be of service in some way.

Akshaya Patra


This talk was leading up to an exercise called Akshaya Patra ("inexhaustible vessel"), which was created by my friend, Jyotsana Parmar, an inspiring teacher from India who I got to know last year during programs she facilitated with the kids I worked with there.

Above is a recycled water bottle that has been painted and which has a small opening in the top so you can deposit coins in it.

The idea for the exercise is deceptively simple. You donate whatever you can each day until the bottle is full. After, you give the bottle with the money to somebody else as a gift, and ask them to do something good for somebody else, in a pay-it-forward manner.

Jyotsana designed this for the slum kids she teaches, specifically because they are poor and don't have much extra to spare, if anything. She wanted them to learn the importance and joy that comes from service and to understand that it's OK even if it takes two years to fill the bottle.

It's the process and dedication that's important, and how your thinking about what's possible can be transformed going through it.

Imagine, too, if a young girl from a slum told you she had just spent the past many months filling that bottle and she now wanted you to have the money to do something good for somebody. How would that affect you? What would it inspire? That's the power of Akshaya Patra.

Akshaya Patra at Brosis

Let's remember that the students of Brosis are all quite poor. For example, there is one, Mike, who stopped coming to classes for several weeks, as he was out on the street begging because his mother was not able to earn for a period of time. The idea of introducing Akshaya Patra to them then, on the one hand, doesn't make any sense and might even seem unfair.

But it really does make sense, especially when you define poverty, as I did, as feeling like you have nothing left to give.

I reminded the students that you can always give the gift of yourself, which doesn't cost anything, e.g., by talking to somebody who looks like they need a friend or picking up a piece of trash that hasn't been disposed of properly.

I shared about the few times I've nearly been robbed here in Nairobi, saying that those individuals are truly poor for feeling like they need to steal from a stranger, perhaps even do harm to him.

Then I introduced the following phrase, like a mantra, and had the students repeat it out loud a few times:

I always have enough to give.

That is the key. If I always have enough to give, then I'm not poor. If I'm not poor, then I have options. These ideas can kindle inspiration even in the very poor.

I asked one student to be a project leader with the job of reminding fellow classmates about contributing to the bottle each week and why it's being done. To the right, you can see Timothy, one of the most dedicated students at Brosis, taking up the assignment.

I said even if it's "only" 1 Kenyan Shilling you can gave on a weekly basis, that this doesn't matter. You give as a small personal sacrifice bearing in mind all the sacrifices made on your behalf, and because the act will bring joy to somebody else (and create grace for yourself). Even if it takes an entire term at school or year or more to fill the bottle, this doesn't matter. It's about the journey of getting there.

To wrap up, I put some coins in the bottle and officially handed it over to Timothy. Then, just about all the students and some of the teachers, without asking, enthusiastically put money in it as well. It was amazing to watch.


Notice the smiles!

In all honesty, I don't know if they will continue with this project, it could easily get lost after I leave. But that's not the point.

The point is that we invoked the Service to Humanity value, we planted those seeds, and now we let them germinate however they want.

Continue to the next update about my work at the Brosis School.

C. LowmanComment