The Chai Table - 2017


A Visit to Manav Sadhna

By Amoli Kothari (age 16)

There is usually great anticipation as to how to celebrate the milestone which marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. While many people choose to throw a huge party and invite everyone they know, others may choose to keep it simple and hang out with a few close friends and family. However, for my sweet sixteen, I got the best of both worlds; after celebrating my big day with all of my friends and my twin sister, me and my family traveled to India and celebrated with grandparents and close family members. However, we wanted to do something unique and original to celebrate our milestone. To make it a lasting one, we visited dozens of underprivileged yet bright kids at Manav Sadhna. This is an organization that has been doing amazing social work on the Gandhian principles for decades, right from the aptly suited location of Gandhi Ashram in Amdavad.

I communicated with Vandanadidi at Manav Sadhana, the backbone of the organization, before traveling to India. I was extremely excited to finally visit the place that I had heard so much about. It was a blazing hot afternoon when we entered the riverside campus of Gandhi Ashram, which once served as a hub for independence movements. The atmosphere was filled with tranquility, with the sudden departure of traffic congestion and noise. Many large shady trees blocked the scorching sun and a few squirrels took notice of our arrival, while stray dogs were unperturbed as they rested next to a small puddle. The courtyard of Manav Sadhna was filled with the cheerful voices of kids. We removed our shoes and assembled in an artistically decorated room. The kids began to file in upon an announcement of our arrival by Jagatbhai and Yogeshbhai, an enthusiastic man with an energetic voice. He greeted our family and introduced us to a group of curious kids whose gleaming eyes were upon us.

A small child approached us with a birthday card, made from handmade paper. All of the children sang the usual happy birthday song and a few other songs to wish us. We handed over custom-made backpacks and sweets to all of the kids. It was such an amazing, unimaginable feeling to experience. I began to admire how well the children could overcome the melancholy of their reality, by wearing such beautiful smiles on their faces. I suddenly felt connected to them, which led me to spend several afternoons with them for the next two weeks. I shared one on one conversations with many of the children. Each child came with his or her own story about his or her dreams and aspirations. They felt so comfortable talking to me as I taught them English and in return they helped me polish my Gujarati. In the process, I enhanced the Manav Sadhna website (www.earnlearn.org) by adding pictures and information about the children. Furthermore, the children were proud to demonstrate their creativity by creating greeting cards, key chains, and other gift articles, all made from recycled material or hand-made paper. My humility grew when I met a young man of around 19 years, who once attended the program to learn basic life skills and eventually became self-sufficient enough to run his own delivery rickshaw. He is now supporting his aging parents, while tutoring kids at the ashram and hauling goods to earn a living.

I realized that the spirit of Gandhiji is still present at the Ashram. It is evident that the lives of these growing children are being changed, one child at a time, by teaching them the essential skills of life, developing their curiosity, and building their self-confidence so that they can dream big. The social impact that results from converting plastic bottles to colorful planters and making handicrafts from rags is truly impressive. Until now, I felt grateful to live in America and to be able to afford a lot more than I need, but now I'm feeling truly blessed to have visited this Ashram on my sweet sixteen. It has taught me to discover the beauty in the small things in life and to be grateful for everything I have been given. The experiences I collected in those two weeks are irreplaceable.