From Turning Inward to Turning Outward: Rochester, NY
In March 2020, life as we knew it suddenly came to an abrupt halt due to the coronavirus pandemic. Lockdowns were in place and many Sathya Sai Centers transitioned their meetings to virtual devotional sessions. During such a turbulent time, many Sai Center members turned inward, seeking strength in their faith.
Sathya Sai Center members in Buffalo, Ithaca, Rochester, and Syracuse, New York started to pray fervently, chanted the Sai Gayatri as part of global efforts for peace and health, offered heartfelt bhajans, meditated, collectively read Sai literature like Tapovanam and Bhagavatha Vahini, listened to many uplifting speakers, and tuned into Radio Sai to watch “Sathya to Sai” series, longing for that spiritual connection to Prasanthi Nilayam. Soon, inward concerns with one’s vulnerability and fears of uncertainty dissipated and quickly gave way to an outward focus with questions such as “How can we help?” and “How can we make a difference in the lives of others?”
Given the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19, Young Adults (YAs) of the Sathya Sai Center of Rochester in Upstate New York sought service projects they could conduct online. They connected with Grand St. Settlement located in New York City and volunteered with their Early Childhood Program which serves children of low-income families in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. The program specifically aims to nurture and empower young children from impoverished families, by providing them with comprehensive learning resources. Due to COVID-19 and school closures, many of the children had lost access to these educational resources.
The YAs and Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) students, aged 12 and older, stepped up to the plate and provided the children with a vital reading resource. They gathered their favorite childhood storybooks filled with positive messages and values, and video-recorded themselves reading these books out aloud. They read with heightened animation and great enthusiasm, and made the stories come alive with dramatic voices while pointing at the words so the young children could follow along. The YAs and SSE students even tried to keep the experience fun and interactive for the children by asking questions at strategic points as they read the book. The Young Adults and SSE students felt Sai in their hearts as they expressed their love towards the precious tots.
The SSE students found the experience very rewarding. The YAs unanimously agreed. “We feel blessed for the opportunity! This is just the beginning and we will continue to read, tutor, and provide educational support to help this underserved community, even more so, during this crisis. As Sathya Sai Baba has said, “Education must inculcate respect for human values like truth, righteousness, love and peace." We must be the embodiments of love!" Overall, it was a gratifying experience and a reminder that service is the best way to take us out of our own self-absorbed worrying. Life can surely throw a curve ball but unwavering faith not only gives us strength to overcome difficulties, but to use them for good.