Building Homes with Love
The Buffalo Sai Center was blessed to have been involved with Habitat for Humanity projects in the past. Habitat for Humanity is a nationwide organization that builds and renovates homes for people who cannot afford the costs. Volunteers donate time, talent, money and materials to accomplish this. In return, they are rewarded with the satisfaction of having contributed to a worthy cause, a sense of accomplishment, increased self-confidence, and added skills, to name a few.
On June 8 2013, we were involved building a house for the underprivileged. Thirteen volunteers from our center (6 men and 7 women, ranging in age from 40 to 72) reported to the work site at 9.00 AM on a Saturday. Amongst the volunteers were doctors, teachers and housewives. None of them seemed to have either the physique or the rugged constitution to carry out construction work. It was a dreary, drizzly day. The worksite did not have a bathroom and had only limited access to electricity to power the tools. The house itself was cold, damp, and cluttered with building materials.
The site supervisor informed us of the tasks that needed to be accomplished. They included the dismantling of an indoor brick chimney that rose up three stories high from the basement of the house and adding thickness to the framing lumber to make it suitable for dry wall installation.
The Sai center volunteers joined other volunteers and formed small teams and started to work, all the time encouraging and assisting one another. They were quick to learn the necessary skills, while improvising as the situation demanded. A group of volunteers began the work of dismantling the 3-storied high chimney. Donning hard hats, goggles and gloves, they began with improvising a working platform by placing a sheet of plywood on rafters. Some worked by standing on this platform, while others stood on ladders to chisel away the mortar holding bricks. Dismantling began at the top of the chimney. Bricks were removed along with sections of flue liner and handed down to volunteers on the floor to clean and to stack for future use in other building projects.
When you get a chance to help someone, rejoice at your good fortune. The very eagerness to serve others will endow you with the power and skill necessary for the required service.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba (SSS 14:7, July 25, 1978)
A second group of volunteers worked on adding thickness to the framing lumber to prepare it for dry wall installation: The house we were working in was constructed in the early 1900s and had deteriorated considerably with the passage of time. To renovate to current industry standards, the interior of the house had to be stripped and redone. Also, the modern energy efficient windows have thicker frames. We had to add thickness to the framing lumber to provide sturdy support for the new windows. It would also provide an even surface for anchoring the dry wall. This was a labor intensive process, requiring multiple measurements, trips to the scrap wood pile, choosing a piece that would meet the specific need, cutting it to the precise measurements and attaching it to the wall.
For most of us, it was a huge learning curve to take in all that new information and understand all of the requirements of the tasks. But Sai Baba was watching over us as He enabled and energized us to rise to the challenges of this daunting task. Whatever we lacked in skills, with Divine Grace, we more than made up with our ingenious improvisations and incredible level of cooperation. No one complained in spite of the crowded work area littered with construction material and debris. While everybody was focused on their tasks, they were also watching out for the safety of all. Each seemed to be sensitive to the needs of others in the vicinity and cheerfully pitched in, whether through silent understanding, a smile, a helping hand or an encouraging word.
During a short break, the members shared their snacks and satisfaction with other volunteers. At their request, one of the members briefly explained the mission and nature of the Sai Organization. At the end, the group was happy to have completed the assigned work, both to their own amazement as well as that of the site supervisor. Finally, everyone helped to return all the tools to their allotted bins, swept and removed all the debris, and tidied up the place. In less than four hours, the tasks were completed and we concluded with chanting three Oms and singing a devotional hymn.
This service project served as an opportunity to understand Sai Baba's words, "Have faith and patience, I will be with you always". Participants expressed their immense satisfaction in being involved in the project, while feeling their faith in Sai Baba had been strengthened by this experience. As the day progressed, the volunteers (who had no experience previously in any construction type work) were so gratified to see that their proficiency and quality of workmanship had increased remarkably. We were able to be meticulous in our efforts to maintain the highest quality of work, while conscientiously looking out for each other’s safety. We felt deeply that Sai Baba had guided us throughout and enhanced our efficiency, enthusiasm and congeniality.
There was an unmistakable flow of love and compassion from our volunteers. Noticing a member experiencing knee pain, others substituted for him by transporting pieces of lumber up and down the staircase. Although no one mentioned this aloud, everyone in the group beamed a smile of approval. The silent empathy was an index of love in action. Such unscripted acts of kindness reveal the inherent divinity of the person enabling us to see the same Divine in others. One wonders, if this is what Sai Baba meant when he addresses his audiences as, “Embodiments of Love.”
No one will embark on any undertaking unless at the outset he has the confidence that he can do the job. Faith is, thus, essential for every activity in life.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba (SSS 30:33, Dec 25, 1997)
Although no one assigned specific chores to the individual volunteers, each of us enthusiastically found our respective niches and tried to excel in our contribution to the overall accomplishment of the group, somewhat like the contribution of individual musicians to a philharmonic orchestra, with our beloved Guru, Sai as the conductor. We felt it was He who orchestrated the entire day, enabling and energizing us to carry out our tasks.
Here are some comments from participants reminiscing about their service experience at this project:
- ”Time flew, and it was exciting. People were supportive and super. I learned to use power tools and learned a few skills that would come handy in maintaining my house. We should do this every month.”
- ”I was reminded of Sai Baba’s words “Paropkarya idam shariram”* (This body is meant to serve others).”
- “I truly understood that He is the doer, and I am His instrument”.
- “The kind and caring gestures of strangers made me understand that service is not limited to carrying out the tasks, but also serving the needs of fellow workers. It enhances the attitude and scope of love.”
- “What an enjoyable way to serve our beloved Sai!”
- ”I am a novice at this kind of work, and yet I was able to work non-stopwith enthusiasm and without fatigue. I wonder if Baba did all the work!!!”
- “What a wonderful way to expand our horizons by encompassing others and looking and moving beyond our narrow, myopic focus on our little world comprising of ourselves, our immediate family, our relatives, our work, our fears and our aspirations.”
- “Team spirit was clearly abundant and it was unmistakable! I understood the acronym –TEAM –Together Everyone Achieves More.”
- “I am grateful to our beloved Sai for this opportunity to serve Him and be His instruments. We pray that He grants us many more such opportunities to serve Him in the near future.”
Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian ministry founded on the conviction that every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live. They have more than 1,500 local affiliates in the United States and more than 80 national organizations around the world. Together, they have helped to build or repair over 600,000 houses and serve more than 3 million people worldwide. See http://www.habitat.org for more information.