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Return to Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh

If you're new to my relationship with the Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh, a leprosy colony in Ahmedabad, India, here are all the previous articles from my first stay there in 2011.

To quickly recap: This is a community I lived in for an entire year, where I helped facilitate a number of development and education programs that primarily benefited the community's youth.

The Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh (a.k.a. and sometimes referred to as "Loving Community") faces challenges similar to those of other slum areas but with the added twist of the stigma and social exclusion the leprosy disease creates. Many of the residents are out on the street begging during the day, there are the leprosy patients with their medical issues, the kids don't have access to great education, and the community has been without a strong leadership base to work toward constructive solutions.

That last point is where my focus has been and what's been at the center of the circle of my activities because it's much more sustainable for change to come from within a community vs. from without.

And that's the idea I have for this place. The resources are there, the right people are there, and the soil is ripe for the community to be solving its own challenges. What is not totally there yet is the inspiration and organization to do so.

That's what I can help with.

Effort Less Service

If anything, by being here, I've helped demonstrate you can still care about your surroundings and feel a sense of dignity about who you are, even if you live in a slum, even if the whole world around you says you're "low class." Not caring is the root of every form poverty and is thoroughly reinforced in slums where you are given good reasons not to care.

Consider the symbol of an educated citizen of the US — the country that so many I meet  want to go to — willingly living in a far off slum area and within a leprosy community nobody particularly wants to come in contact with. People here naturally come to understand, as well, that I earn no income and that I come on behalf of no organization or mission.

I'm constantly out in the compound dressed in white, cleaning up filth in unkempt areas, and doing odd jobs that need to be done. I personally carry myself with dignity and treat others with it, especially the neediest leprosy patients who face stigmatization within their own stigmatized community.

The choices I've made in life and the fact I care the way I do, tend to inspire others to care, and I'm seeing is a powerful form of silent, effortless service.

Though this tended to happen in 2011, most notably with the kids, it's been uncanny to notice over the past few weeks how when I initiate some basic activity, such as sweeping up a pile of trash, somebody else will join in, or ask to take over the task.

This happened just the other day with a leprosy patient, missing fingers and all, who started sweeping with me in the morning and used his bare hands to transfer piles of litter to a garbage can.

Invisible Service

In 2011, I mentored a group of kids or "loving leaders" for several months. The idea was to nurture their already caring characters and help inspire them to be future leaders within the community.

I don't know if the seeds we planted during the year had anything to do with it or not but I found it remarkable that upon my return this year, a few new and older individuals, who I didn't get to know so well, before, have stepped up in a major way by volunteering to take charge of service efforts in the community.

Aruna

Aruna

Vishnu, Balram

Vishnu, Balram

Vijay, Jyoti

Vijay, Jyoti

You may recognize Aruna from the photo above. We worked closely together in 2011, most notably on the mentoring group with the kids.

She was among, if not the first person in the leprosy community to really start caring about its welfare and who actively started working towards change, initially by trying to engage the kids to adopt better habits and values and take their education seriously.

Now there are several others (not all photographed) who have joined with her like Vishu, Balram, Vijay and Jyoti. Together, they have created something of a youth leadership group and organize service activities within the community, most notably the community-wide day of sanitation we started in 2011.

Their intention is to be the change themselves and encourage others to do the same (particularly the youth), with the goal of slowly uplifting their community.

What lacks is a cohesiveness to the group, some guiding values, as well as inspiration to see past the main challenge they relayed to me. Many people in the community, especially the established leadership, don't really care about what they are doing and even discourage them, which they say disheartens them and hampers their efforts.

And so my role for this chapter of the journey with the Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh will be much more behind-the-scenes than it was before. I will not be so much the initiator and one in front, but the one who gently nudges this already capable group in a good direction, perhaps showing possibilities they didn't see before, all while sharing positive values and effective practices.

A Good Outcome?

As an example, we are going to attempt to organize a community fundraiser, as there are a number of things that need attending to, with which there is no budget for.

Why not? We have a beautiful community hall, connections to people who could help with the invitations, ability to cook large amounts of food, and enough equipment to provide entertainment. And this group, with a little guidance, could manage everything on their own.

If the event is any sort of success, why couldn't they do it again, without me? They easily could. And then we'd potentially have a situation where the community is able to summon its own resources to work towards solving an issue vs. waiting for somebody else to do it.

That's the principle at least, it will probably show up in its own way as we start working together over the next few months.

Continue to next update about this year's work at the leprosy community.