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Loving Leadership Pt. 2

Miss the previous update? Read it here.

In 2011, my focus primarily was with mentoring a dynamic group of young kids. The idea for the program was to further cultivate and encourage their already outstanding characters and also, more idealistically, plant seeds for future leaders inside of the community.

The then and current level of community leadership consists of a group of older men, who, from what I observe, are simply the ones "in charge." They don’t necessarily lead. They don’t have much, if any, constructive contact with the youth apart from telling them what to do.

They can be seen sitting around all day playing cards and gambling, some smoke and drink. No question, they have the best interest of the community at heart, what lacks is a certain level care, stronger values, and proactiveness when it comes to community issues.

Returning this year, I was surprised to discover that a youth leadership group, led by Aruna (who I worked with before) and a teacher, Vijay, formed on its own among individuals in their late teens to early 20s. There are about 20 members of the group.

From what I’ve seen, their mission is to serve the community, keep it clean, and especially inspire the younger generations to do the same and not develop the values and habits typical in slums. For example, twice in a month the group gets together on a Sunday to clean the entire compound.

I can’t help but assume that all the energy we invested in the concept of “loving leadership” the other year had something to do with this unexpected movement.

Very quickly, I gleaned the opportunity.

What if I could help organize this group better? Help make it an attractive, fun team that others would want to be a part of? And mentor and encourage the five core members who lead everybody else?

Daring to Care

It’s actually not hard, practically speaking, to improve conditions in a slum environment. Able bodies are there. Cleaning supplies are there. Time is there.

What’s hard is finding those willing to do it, i.e., those who care. What you have to understand is that you have every reason not to care living in a slum. The sanitation issues. The poverty issues. The lack of hope. Those around you don’t care. And to top it off, those who are supposed to be caring (i.e., government officials) about your conditions, typically, aren’t caring.

What’s the point going against the grain? You’re just going to lose. There’s definitely truth to this and I have sympathy for those that take the stance.

But we’ve got something truly unique and inspiring happening here at the Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh, something I haven’t seen in any of the other communities I’ve worked with, something, I’m sure, is unique to slum areas in general, and something, I’m guessing, has a lot to do with Mahatma Gandhi’s continuing legacy in Gujarat.

“The truth is still the truth even if you are in a
minority of one.”
— M.K. Gandhi

That seems to be the concept at work here and it’s a principle to live your life by. You care and act like you do, not for others, but for yourself, because it’s the right thing to do because it’s your truth.

If you see trash piling up and feel called to do something about it, knowing it will be a thankless job, people might tease you, and very likely, tomorrow, the trash will build up again, what do you do?

Anybody in the service of others (from yoga teacher to MD) is there to provide an intervention to somebody who needs a little extra help. That intervention, ideally, should not only help solve the issue but also help move the beneficiary in the direction of self-sufficiency and sustainability. That seems to be exactly what’s going on this year.

Moving Forward

  With the core team at the Seva Cafe.

With the core team at the Seva Cafe.

I’ve started sitting with the core group (above) weekly.

It's a good sign they all eagerly show up at the agreed time and I can't believe it when I receive an apology if somebody is five or ten minutes late. Truly unusual. It can be a colossal effort, at times, to round up a group because of the culture and how fluid time is.

The idea for the weekly sits is simply to bring us together as a group. Sometimes we sit in silence for a few minutes. Sometimes I ask a self-exploring question of the day (e.g., What is your best and worst habit?). We share what's on our minds. I'll share a leadership insight or tip. And we discuss ideas about programs to do inside the community.

It's very informal. The power is in the regularity of our getting together and the shared intention of improving the community and our leadership skills.

This core group then sits with the larger group and basically does the same with them, in their own way. I'm not involved in these meetings and don't need to be. It's better I'm more behind-the-scenes for sustainability purposes.

  Youth leaders meeting in the community hall.

Youth leaders meeting in the community hall.

In an effort to jell the group the together, I've requested they come up with a name. Once they do, we'll photograph each member, create some kind of mission statement, and post it all on a bulletin board inside of the social hall for everybody to see, perhaps coupling with an inauguration ceremony. We'll make some fun t-shirts as well to wear when we're out doing work.

The idea being to make the group official, to make the members feel like they are a part of something important, and to make it attractive for others to join.

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