Service Task Force
In August of 2021, the Sai YAs of the USA came together from across the nation to form a Young Adult Task Force to focus on these two related chronic challenges in our nation - Child Malnutrition and Homelessness
The goal of this Task Force is to take a holistic approach in understanding all aspects of homelessness and child malnutrition, and work towards their eradication in whatever ways we can, transforming ourselves along the way to be more able to effect positive change.
Below are some statistics on Homelessness and Child Malnutrition in the United States:
- "On a single night in 2020, roughly 580,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States." - United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
- "Today, there are an estimated 17 million children struggling with hunger in America": - Save the Children
Homelessness across the nation.
Stats on Child Malnutrition
Source: UN Sustainable Development Goal 2
It is often shocking to see such statistics in a developed nation such as the United States of America. However, this very difference in perception and reality proves the need to spread awareness on homelessness and child malnutrition, so we can collectively find the necessary solutions to such complex issues.
As members of the Sai organization and of the very same communities experiencing homelessness and child malnutrition, we can do more to learn, understand and serve!
So far, the Task Force team has gained valuable insights into some of the more complex causes and structures behind these systemic problems. The team will soon be working closely with center and regional service coordinators to get involved locally on projects, both existing and new to address various facets of these issues such as improving education of child nutrition amongst families, figuring out ways to overcome food deserts in a sustainable manner by providing access to quality food and other projects!
The Task Force meets every 2 weeks virtually, all are welcome to participate and share your ideas! As we gain a more in-depth understanding on these topics, we will uncover deeper challenges that are important to address. Specifically, we need young adults who can help us research various opportunities and work closely with service coordinators in ensuring that homelessness and child malnutrition are considered holistically, through existing as well as new initiatives. If you are interested in learning more or joining the Task Force please submit this form. Remember, Together We can make a difference! Jai Sai Ram! Please contact us at email@example.com.
September 14, 2021
Understanding Homelessness Holistically
- About those experiencing homelessness despite having full time jobs or school.
- About those experiencing homelessness with special needs such as mental health needs, family with a young kids, and the elderly without family support.
- About various organizations serving in this space, and the lessons they've learnt around the cause and solution for homelessness. One of the major causes of homelessness is the catastrophic loss of a family member. Therefore, to help these members of the community, we need to provide more than just a material roof over their heads but also build a community to support them holistically.
We also learnt about the challenges faced by children across the nation with Hunger and how the Sathya Sai organization has been helping in this space (Blessings in a Backpack). The key here will be to build partnerships with schools and other institutions already working with children to identify those in need safely and help them.
September 28, 2021
Way Back Inn - a transitional housing program in Washington
Food Deserts and Food Nutrition
- Short-term and Long-term transitional housing - Provides a safe space for those experiencing homelessness and some peace of mind, a first step in getting back on their feet.
- One time utility and rental assistance - Gives those at the brink of homelessness a chance to avoid falling through the cracks.
- On the other side the organizations finds volunteers for
- Resume writing, job search, interview skills, navigating education pathways, clothing/food/basic needs resources search.
- Light cleaning, and home organization to spruce up the homes for new families. You get a chance to chose items from our storage to help make a house feel like home.
In addition, various Task Force members presented information on Food Deserts and their impact on child malnutrition and growth - A Food Desert is an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food such as vegetables and other fresh foods. We looked at various barriers to food access in parts of Austin, and what initiatives are in place by the local communities to help increase both awareness and access to nutrition rich food to these areas.
October 13, 2021
Addressing the unsheltered homeless
Sis. Sristi Roy presented a project that was conducted by the Beaverton Sai Center that brought together multiple external organizations with a goal of up-skilling members in Digital Literacy of the homeless population. The Digital Divide is very real and affects many low income families. In today's world 66% of new jobs require medium or high levels of digital skills. Furthermore, basic day to day tasks require the use of technology, including school activities, financial activities, and beyond. At the same time 27% of American families don't own a computer, and 1 in 10 families don't have internet at home. Helping these members of the society with vital skills that will help them become independent is a very useful service to society
Bro. Tarang Parashar spoke about the specific challenges faced by a subset of the homeless population: the unsheltered, especially in harsh climates. For many reasons, some members of the homeless community may not be able to go to a shelter. Ensuring that we provide immediate relief as a first step to these members is important. Finding the courage to engage such members in conversation and offering to buy a drink or some lunch may go a long way in serving them for that day. Learning about nearby shelters and other resources that you can share with this population can also benefit them as they may simply not be aware that a particular shelter is open and has available space!
October 26, 2021
Preparing to serve the homeless
Bro. Herbert Hickey has a lot of experience working with vulnerable populations, especially homeless children. He urged us to keep an open mind while serving these members of the community as there is a continuum and homelessness is not all alike: "Homeless does not always mean helpless...but it could mean overwhelmed, afraid, lacking access, uninformed, etc." He reminded us that what we do may "Help someone get through life...or just get through the day". It is important to be understanding of the needs and in many cases be prepared to serve. Whether it is walking around with extra items in your backpack such as Hand warmers or granola bars, to knowing what resources are available nearby that you can point them to. At the same time, "being aware of how our helpful intentions are being received" is very important as sometimes what we do may not be as helpful as we think, we have to always evaluate their need and be able to appreciate their perspective.
November 23, 2021
The Task Force Commitment
For Swami's 96th birthday, the Task Force humbly offered our pledges to carry forward His message of service by helping in the homeless and children in hunger in a letter: Link.
January 28, 2022
Serving underserved communities by providing access to low-cost and comprehensive healthcare
Dr. Geetha Govindarajan is physician-scientist, innovator, and global public health practitioner with a focus on health promotion, improving access to equitable and compassionate healthcare with an integrative medicine lens. Dr. Govindarajan shared insights from her wealth of knowledge and experience in serving the medical needs of the underserved that linked the overall living situation of a person to their medical needs: If a person doesn't have a fixed location, how will they access healthcare, how will they access any medication, or other resources? If they don't have an available phone, how can the health care team contact them for follow ups? Dr. Govindarajan talked at length about the multi-dimensional challenge that medical seva brings in the underserved and potentially homeless populations. She emphasized the role that technology can play in helping bridge the gap and providing healthcare to those in underserved communities through telehealth. "We must embrace the 'power of one' to recognize a need and serve in the best way we can without any judgement."
February 22, 2022
Human Values in Community Revitalization, Environment and Social Justice
Ms. Chitra Kumar is a public policy and planning expert at the US Environmental Protection Agency. Throughout her nearly 20-year federal career, she has held various roles creating partnerships with federal, state and local organizations to develop more equitable strategies for environmental protection, land use and infrastructure, particularly in economically distressed small towns, rural areas, and urban neighborhoods. Ms. Chitra Kumar talked about how the challenges we see in society can be a result of institutionalized bias and inefficiencies, but in her experience has seen incredible impact through individuals' actions when these individuals feel one with the community and empower everyone in the community to improve their own lives, i.e., sustainable change. She talked about two examples: Williamson, WV and Shamokin, PA. Both of these communities depended heavily upon coal mining in the past but since the world has changed, and the demand has shifted, the population in these areas have also shifted causing an economic depression. In both towns, individuals and small groups came together with a mission to revitialize their local communities and their efforts slowly started paying off as they attracted more attention in the form of solidarity, more hands and even financial support and have created a positive impact on the lives of those in the community.
Although justice may require large scale policy changes, each of us can work towards creating more equity and have a large impact on our community, especially the underserved.
April 26, 2022
Who am I? Journey of self-inquiry through service
Ms. Kiruba Murugaiah shifted her career from technology to service through education after attending the First World Youth Conference at Parthi in July 1999. She has more than 17 years of experience as an educator and as a humanitarian professional. She also worked as a tenured math faculty at a community college, serving the most vulnerable people in Boston. Kiruba shared her personal story of where she is from, where she’s going, and Swami’s guidance through it all. Where she is from is a story of forced migration and a quest for her identity. Where she is going is a story of self-inquiry through her work in education in countries affected by war. Kiruba shares how in retrospect, her many inner and outer movements were Swami’s experiential lessons on how to love all and serve all. She also expressed gratitude to her parents and the people she’s met on her travels in lighting her path along the way. Her journey has included many challenging situations such as working through various refugee education projects in war stricken places around the world and the lessons learned while being in action. A key learning was appreciating the importance of deeply understand the communities that we serve, not just in the moment we are serving them, but also understand their cultural nuances and background to develop true empathy. Service done in this way can be truly self-transforming. This can sometimes mean talking about things that are not always comfortable (e.g., the historical context of race relations in America and how that's codified in many institutions today), but it is very important to be aware and appreciate all the context to be fully immersed in the service. In her own words "The relationships are the most important; In my work in Africa, the relationships we built with the community are most important, even more so than any funding that we received" - emphasizing the heart to heart connection needed when serving. Kiruba's story was inspirational and educational!