Annual Medical Camps: Region 8, SSIO-USA
The Pacific South Region of the USA Sathya Sai International Organization (SSIO) (encompassing Southern Calif, Southern Nevada, and Hawaii) holds medical camps annually in the Los Angeles area – one in the Inland Empire at Corona in March and one at Oxnard, usually in October.1 The camps provide free medical screening, counsel, and referrals for a variety of health conditions, including diabetes, osteoporosis, tuberculosis, and breast and uterine cancer. At-risk patients are referred to clinics or medical centers, where they receive ongoing care.
These camps, adopted as annual regional projects in 2006 and 2007, meet a dire need for health care in communities that have little or no access to high-quality medical service. The camps exemplify three principles of ideal health care: medical service that is (1) universal, (2) free, and (3) loving and compassionate. This in itself is the most obvious recommendation for such medical camps, but they fill another, more subtle need as well: the transformation of the volunteers.
The experience of unity, love, and self-sacrifice in service addresses both needs. The camps are an expression of the idea that we are One. The person whom we serve is our Self. The highest treasure of these camps is making that discovery, for in doing this, healing occurs at every possible level: body, mind, and soul; patient and volunteer; individual and society. Through these camps we begin to discover and live who we really are. We fulfill the purpose for which we were born.
Consider selfless service as the best spiritual discipline... But do not believe that you can by means of service reform or reshape the world. You may or may not. That does not matter. The real value, its most visible result, is that it reforms, reshapes you.
Sathya Sai Baba, 21 Mar 1967
Many patient and volunteer stories prove how terribly necessary the medical camps are. At Oxnard, for example, a 24-year-old father of two children said, “My wife has been feeling unwell for some time. The Psychological Services they told her that she is suffering from postpartum depression and guided her as to what to do about it. My wife is not covered by my insurance, and could not have received this help anywhere else."
Primary-care doctors noticed the skin discoloration on the face of a 55-year-old woman. They sent her to Dermatology, where a doctor suggested follow-up care for her pre-cancerous skin condition. Of the four teenage children who accompanied her, two were referred to a free and low-cost dental clinic, one for a root canal and the other for fillings.
A heart-breaking story told by a Pediatrics Task Force Leader (TFL) involved a Spanish-speaking family with several children above the age of 7 years. The child of concern, the eldest child, about 11 to 12 years ols, was in a stroller pushed by the father. His head was at an odd angle, tilted upward and to the right; his eyes had no focus, his mouth was wide open, and he could no longer walk. Many weeks earlier he had fallen at school; prior to that incident he had been a normal boy. The family had no insurance and no money. The emergency physicians who examined the child had found nothing wrong. The family went to other doctors, but since no doctor took responsibility for diagnosing the child, he continued untreated for several weeks.
Then someone told the family about the free medical camp in Oxnard. Desperate, they drove a great distance to seek help for their son. The pediatrician who examined him determined what treatment the child needed and put her assessment in writing. Now, with a doctor’s written assessment in hand, no medical clinic or center could legally refuse medical care to the family, even without insurance or money.
Without the kind of service the Corona and Oxnard camps provide, underserved and marginalized communities have few means of addressing frightening or even life-threatening or life-changing health conditions as well as routine illnesses.
Universality of Medical Care
Sathya Sai Baba is emphatic about the universality of service offered to others – animal, human, or the environment. He says, “Feel always kinship with all creation.”3 The most desirable type of love in service is like “sunlight, ever engaged in purifying, activating, illuminating, knowing no distinction.”4
At both camps loving, compassionate service is offered universally, available to all regardless of race, religion, citizenship, gender, profession, or socio-economic status. At the Oxnard camp, this kind of service elicited the following reaction from a 35-year-old Spanish-speaking man: “Everyone is treated equally here, and no questions are asked about where we come from. I am grateful.” A more succinct but no less enthusiastic report on the treatment she received at the Oxnard Camp was offered by a teenager: “Awesome!”
Free Medical Care
The second principle guiding this program as enunciated by Sai Baba is that the universal care offered at the camps should be free. In fact, free education, free medical care, and free basic amenities such as water should be available to all. He explains that “these three cover the main requirements of life.”5 The Pacific South Region of SSIO-USA selected the locations of Corona and Oxnard because most of the families in these areas are 150% below standard poverty levels. They have no access to medical care. They struggle for food and shelter.
And they deeply appreciate the free, universal care they receive. One Oxnard patient wrote in a thank you note, in Spanish: “I give lots of thanks because many of us don’t have these health benefits….” And another: “The health fair is incredible – help can be received even if you don’t have a job and no matter where you come from….”
Loving and Compassionate Medical Care
Sai Baba’s third principle is the one that implements the first two: while serving, we must “have constructive thoughts, consoling words, compassionate acts” and always “be on the lookout for eyes filled with tears, hearts heaving in sighs.”6
A distressed gentleman came into the Corona camp, agitated and upset. He told a Registration Task Force Leader (TFL) that he didn't need medical attention but had just lost his job and medical insurance, a frightening turn of events. The TFL led him to the Referral Department, where volunteers gave him information to enable him to receive ongoing medical care. He was visibly relieved and returned to the TFL’s post to thank him.
Loving and compassionate service mends the body, mind, and soul.
The impact these camps have on those who receive medical service cannot be overstated. But the impact is equally profound on the person offering compassionate service. Volunteers inevitably experience an opening of the heart through giving to those in need, a sense of satisfaction at offering talents and time to Sathya Sai Baba, a refinement of character through loving action, and lessons in truth learned from the patients themselves. The volunteer experience at these camps includes four essential components: (1) a sense of purpose, (2) a sense of unity, (3) a sense of gratitude, and (4) effacement of the ego.
“Feel always kinship with all creation.”
Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol. 4, Discourse 12
Purpose in Service
The awareness of being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing – a very personal sense of purpose – is a universal effect experienced by volunteers who serve the camps. Greeters coordinate all incoming patients. One greeter explains what she does: “I greet them and try to connect with them and make them feel comfortable and secure, to feel ‘at home.’ I try to make it fun for them. I try to liven it up, to break up the boredom. I call their number as if they just won a prize on a game show. They get it. They have a good time and laugh. I serve them with love and feel a lot of love back from them.”
The patients ask her how she speaks such good Spanish when she is “fair-skinned.” She explains that Spanish is her first language. Her father was from Colombia, her mother from Spain. Since her mother passed away in 2004, she has few people with whom she can speak Spanish on a daily basis. This adds poignancy to her service at the camps, because she is using her mother’s language to lovingly serve others. She says, “Speaking Spanish in service is very emotional for me. I feel like I have found my niche at these camps.”
A sense of purpose is powerful medicine. It can galvanize an individual at any level to produce a lifetime of exquisite beauty. It can transform a society into a peaceful realm.
Unity in Service
A cross-section of volunteers describes the unity experienced in working with so many diverse others. All of them feel they receive much more than they give by working in the camps. The Corona Camp Coordinator emphasizes that when we render service here, “we actually help ourselves by helping others.” Sai Baba states that “when you love all and serve all, you are serving yourself most, yourself whom you love most.”7 The Corona Camp Coordinator continues: “The point of doing these camps is nothing but transformation of the heart and bringing unity to the community.”
This unity is seen in the non-sectarian mobilization of many separate organizations working together on a single goal under the leadership of the Sai Organization. For example, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and School in Oxnard, and the Corona-Norco Unified School District in Corona, provide facilities free of charge for the annual medical camps. A TFL for the camp’s Social Services Department states, “The main thing for me spiritually is the feeling that comes while watching so many people from such different backgrounds work together to make it happen.” The Corona Camp Coordinator says, “The unity in diversity is incredible. I have witnessed and felt that the love flowing in my heart is also in theirs.” One mammogram technician, a non- SSIO members and working toward certification for owning her own company, was so inspired during her first year at the Oxnard Camp that she offered her service and the services of her new company for the indefinite future. She has maintained her unstinting resolve over the years and continues to serve the camp up to the present time.
In short, the camps run the gamut in diversity of volunteers. But their goal – loving service – is one. The discovery and experience of unity heals the volunteer at the same time that the volunteer “heals” the patient by meeting their specific medical needs.
Gratitude in Service
In addition to a sense of purpose and oneness, gratitude seems to be an essential component of the volunteer experience at these camps. The act of volunteering may be the outcome of gratitude. It may be the very gift for which one is grateful. But it is also the occasion for many marvelous instances of extemporaneous dispensations of divine grace, blessing both patient and volunteer with a deep sense of gratitude.
The TFL of the Specialty Department at the Corona camp shared a personal story: “Two years ago, I was feeling like I didn’t have enough energy to do all the work before me. One night Sai Baba came in my dream. ‘I need energy, Swami,’ I told him. He said, ‘Yes. You will get energy when you help others." “That is what happened,” the grateful TFL explained. As Sai Baba says, “The person who dedicates time, skill, and strength to service can never meet defeat, distress, or disappointment, for service is its own reward. Their word will be ever sweet and soft, their gestures will be ever revered and humble. They will have no foe, no fatigue, no fear.” 8 That person will have much for which to be grateful.
Sometimes God’s grace allows a volunteer to witness a patient’s suffering and experience relief and gratitude at the alleviation of that suffering. A TFL in Pediatrics at the Oxnard Camp tells the following story. A family with several children entered the department. The child of concern was a girl about 8 years old, in excruciating pain. A tooth had gone bad, and she was in tears. She would not allow the doctor or anyone else to touch her. The TFL, who as a child had experienced similar dental pain and witnessed it in other members of her family, was distressed to see the child in this state. The pediatrician sent the patient to Dentistry. Dentistry gave her an ice-pack and referred the family to a free clinic. The family departed immediately for the clinic. A few hours later they reappeared at the door of Pediatrics to finish their examinations. The girl was smiling. The pain was gone. Gratitude and joy overcame the TFL.
Sathya Sai Baba says, “Serve with that sense of gratitude, for it is God who accepts it from you.”9
The most desirable type of love in service is like “sunlight, ever engaged in purifying, activating, illuminating, knowing no distinction.”
Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol. 4, Discourse 48
Ego in Service
In the words of Sai Baba, “To remove the evil of egoism, service is the most efficient instrument. Service will also impress on the person doing service the unity of all mankind.”10 Effacement of the ego, the fourth component of the volunteer experience, is difficult. In fact, we might say that without God’s grace it is impossible. Participation in the camps requires such effacement. But it also potentially endows such effacement.
A volunteer who works as co-coordinator for set-up at the Oxnard Camp and as a TFL in the Specialty Department at the Corona Camp describes how the camps have affected him: “Service at the camps helps me get rid of my ego. By seeing myself in every person, I develop a sense of oneness. That is when the ego goes.”
Effacement of the ego may be learned from one’s fellow volunteers and also from the demeanor of the patients themselves. A Registration TFL states that he has seen devotees serve in “lowly” jobs without complaint, with joy and dedication. Another Registration TFL recounts that he has seen patients wait quietly one or two hours for medical care, with gratitude for the service they received. He says, “I learn from all of them.” A Primary Care TFL observes, “I see goodness and beauty, love and gratitude in these patients. I hear not one word of complaint, even though 600 to 800 patients are served in a matter of a few hours. I need to learn to be humble like them and to be grateful to God for all that he has provided to us.”
Surrender to God is effacement of the ego at the highest level. A Registration TFL, reflecting on the history of the camps, states, “I am amazed when I look back at how much we did with so few resources. At that time I thought, ‘I am doing this.’ I know now He does all of it.”
Sai Baba says, “The Bhagavad Gita proclaimed the path of disinterested action as the royal road to perfection. It exhorts man not to crave the fruits of action and [instead] merely perform one’s duties in a detached manner, leaving the results thereof to the Lord.”11 Such renunciation is the most significant transmutation of ego a volunteer can manifest.
The medical camps conducted by the Sai Organization, both here and worldwide, are nothing short of a divine boon. Sai Baba says, “An opportunity to be of some service to fellow men comes to you as a gift from God.”12 He states that we have no reason to feel proud when we are able to help another. Our skill, wealth, strength, courage, or official position that gives us the chance to serve is the gift of God—whether we recognize it or not. He says, “You are only offering this God’s gift to another God’s gift—namely, the poor, the illiterate, the weak, the diseased, the grieving, the broken-hearted, who seek your help.”13
We who have experienced love in the form of Sathya Sai Baba and have been changed by it are potential catalysts to both individual and social transformation that leads to unity in more encompassing contexts. The Corona Camp Coordinator says, “The loving care that takes place through the camp, the cooperative effort, and the generous offering of time, talents, and resources are Sai Baba's message to the world.”
Selfless service can instil the sense of the basic ONE more intensely than any other activity... There can be no higher austerity than this, nothing more rewarding. Selfless service opens the eyes to the comprehensive unity of creation.
Sathya Sai Baba, 8 July 1971
 The Corona medical camp began in 2002, organized volunteers from among the Sai organization, though it did not bear the name of the Sai organization; from 2003 through 2006, the camp included participation by Sai devotees from Region 8, though not always sponsored under the name of the Sai organization. The Region 8 Sai organization sponsored the camp in 2004, and it became an annual Region 8 project in 2007.
 The stories for this article were collected during the September 2009 Oxnard and March 2010 Corona medical camps.
 Sathya Sai Baba, discourse on 25 Feb 1964, pdf file.
 Sathya Sai Baba, discourse on 16 Dec 1964, pdf file.
 Sathya Sai Baba, discourse on 11 Oct 1997, pdf file.
 Sathya Sai Baba, discourse on 8 July 1971, pdf file.
 Sathya Sai Baba, discourse on 26 June 1969, pdf file.
 Sathya Sai Baba, discourse on 28 Aug 1976, pdf file.
 Sathya Sai Baba, discourse on 7 Jan 1971, pdf file.
 Sathya Sai Baba, discourse on 28 Aug 1976, pdf file.
 Sathya Sai Baba, discourse given in 1979 during a summer spiritual camp (Summer Showers in Brindavan 1979), pdf file.
 Sathya Sai Baba, discourse on 7 Jan 1971, pdf file.
 Sathya Sai Baba, discourse on 22 Nov 1970, pdf file.
—Sathya Sai International Organization, USA Region 8 (Pacific South)