Homework Enrichment for Children at a Shelter
Since 2006, members of the Sathya Sai Baba Center of Central San Jose have been helping children at the San Jose Family Shelter (SJFS) with their homework. The Homework Enrichment Program aims not only to help school-aged children improve academically but also to develop their social skills. The goal is to foster mentoring relationships so that the volunteers could make a significant difference in each child’s life.
We are at the shelter two evenings a week, and work with about fifteen children on any one evening. who range from kindergarten to high school in age. We currently have four center members taking part in this service activity, with at least 2 to 3 members attending each evening, on our assigned days.
The program is structured such that the first hour is solely dedicated for school homework. Once completed, we spend the remaining time reading with the child. The next hour is spent in fun activities such as playing board games, doing craft activities, coloring, or helping another volunteer group if they are doing a special project with the children. During this playtime, volunteers get to develop a closer bond with the children.
Each child has vastly different academic and social needs; some children may have learning disabilities. These children at the shelter are also going through a tough time emotionally, facing instability in their lives and no permanent place to live. The volunteer, acting as a mentor, becomes for a while a significant stabilizing support for the child. Indeed, parents of the children are grateful for their children spending time with the volunteers. The children themselves enjoy the mentoring and most of the time, respectfully listen to the volunteers, who communicate to the child in a loving way as possible.
Over the years, I have felt Sathya Sai Baba’s guiding hand during the HEP. Sai Baba has stressed “the end of education is character”. He has emphasized the importance of teachers being exemplars of love for the children to help them blossom and realize their full potential. This service activity has allowed me to experience this principle first hand. I also try to integrate the human values wherever possible when working with the children at the shelter. For example, on occasions when the children misbehave and are rude to each other, we take the opportunity to discuss the value of respect, cooperation, and harmony. It is gratifying to see how quickly the children grasp these concepts and change their behavior as a result. Patience is another virtue that I have learnt, especially if the child is being difficult or not focused on their homework. Rather than speaking in a harsh and angry tone, I find that speaking softly, lovingly and with a smile really does help smoothen our interaction and it builds trust with the children, as they become more comfortable and less fearful when talking to the volunteers.
I have had a child ask me some time back “Do you like to come back to this place? Why?” Although the question came as a surprise, I recall my answer was an emphatic and unhesitant “Yes!” As I reflect on the question, I realize that the HEP has helped me with my own personal spiritual development. I have become more patient, loving, and able to exude positive energy when I am with the children. I have come to understand what selfless service really means, especially after an exhausting day at work. God tells us that we should put our heart fully and sincerely into any service that we engage in. This is truly a challenge when you have spent a full day at work, with its own set of frustrations and stresses. The child’s question also showed me that the children do notice the volunteers that come to HEP and who converses with them. Some children even say, “I know you” when they see you regularly for HEP.
During the summer school vacation, we run a “Summer Program” during which the children engage in arts and crafts, watched value-based movies, and read value-based e-books focused on themes such as caring, compassion, courage, forgiveness, honesty, kindness, self-confidence, teamwork, and thankfulness. The discussions on values are usually lively as the children share their understanding of these values and their experiences. We also emphasize the importance of putting these values into practice at school and with their parents, siblings, and friends.
I have grown in many ways from being involved in the “Homework Enrichment Program”. Initially when this program began, I was hesitant to participate since I did not have teaching credentials. With God’s grace and encouragement from fellow center members, I put into practice my limited skills with a pure heart and God took care of the rest. On some occasions, we face challenging situations. For example, the child maybe disruptive in class or acts aggressively with other children. I have learnt that responding with love, calm and patience, is more effective than reacting in a negative, frustrated manner. We truly can learn a lot from children if our motive is pure, sincere, and infused with love.
Despite HEP being held during the working week, I feel so energized and re-invigorated as I drive back home from the shelter. Though on other days, I feel drained. However, I always find myself reflecting on how I could have improved my responses to the children on any given day, as well as whether or not God would be pleased with my actions. My goal is to strive to infuse my actions with love and compassion and practice the spiritual discipline of surrendering to God in my actions, especially in dealing with challenging situations with the children, whenever they arise. Through surrendering and remembering God in such situations, one begins to uproot one’s ego, and begin to recognize that God is the real doer of all of our actions and we are just an instrument in His hands.
Many times, I find that silently chanting the “Gayatri Mantra” prior to class puts me in a positive frame of mind, and helps the class go smoothly. Over time, you begin to detach yourself from any praise or blame, and keep your personal ego at bay. As we gradually become more selfless in our actions, with no attachment or expectations of anything in return, the inner spiritual prompting grows within to continue with the HEP. And so my answer to that child who asked me why I keep coming back to the shelter, would be that it is because of the wonderful opportunities for experiencing love and the joy of being His instrument. I keep coming back to the shelter again and again because it is here that I experience my most Divine self.
“If you cannot pray for the total welfare of the community around you in whom God lives, how it is possible for you to worship an invisible God? The first thing you have to do is to look after the welfare of the living community around you."
– Summer Showers 1974, p.218
“You should believe that service is a path to God-realization. Service activities are to be undertaken neither for the sake of the Sathya Sai Organization nor for the sake of society. They are purely and essentially for your own sake – to transform your own lives and redeem yourselves.”
– Sanathana Sarathi, Sept. 84, p232
“The Lord too, will provide many tests to ensure that your faith is firm, that your spirit of service is full and universal. The weaker practitioners of this spiritual discipline will soon be shaken by these tests and stray away from the right path.”
– Sathya Sai Speaks 10, p.219
“Whatever you do, wherever you are placed, believe that God has put you there for that work.”
– Sathya Sai Speaks 9, p.20