By Sonia Mackwani
The idea was never to change the world but only to express my love through service to humanity. Thus, more than any external factor, it is an internal journey that inspires my social service and entrepreneurship.
For most of us who are inclined to work in the area of social sector, the external environment is more or less similar. However, the beauty of it is that each individual contributes in their own unique ways to solve the challenges around poverty, health, education, housing, migration, relationships, human rights, and other conflicts. For someone like me, whose inner voice has directed her towards service, I believe that challenges offer a perfect setting where I’m called to contribute in my own unique way. I must be sounding selfish here, but since childhood I have always felt that external settings are only opportunities for us to practice our moral values. Thus, to repeat, the idea was never to change the world, but to practice these basic fundamental moral values that we are born with in our day-to-day lives.
The first thing I have felt along the journey towards humanity and social action is ‘gratitude’ towards all the people whom we call ‘beneficiaries’ in social terms. The gratitude I feel is just a gesture of ‘acknowledging’ their presence in our lives; their lives give ours’ meaning and purpose. Their lives and evolution become our dreams to be lived along the way. Thus, before I share some of the challenges and tough and honest lessons that I learnt being a social worker, I would like to acknowledge that all my work depends on a single foundational belief that I hold—‘I believe that it is completely my need to serve than saying, I serve the needy.’
Few Challenges and Lessons:
- While serving any cause, the outcome may turn out to be completely different from what you had thought and planned.
I often find myself saying this line in my head – ‘Listen, you only intended to do good and your acts of service is already noted by this universe who when you die is only going to look at what you did than what outcomes it reaped.’
Sometimes, certain experiences rip you apart. While helping to organize a successful painting exhibition of an asylum inmate who was suffering from schizophrenia for the past 22 years, our only aim was to rehabilitate him and share his expression of art with the world; to generate funds and hand it over to him to make him independent. Finally, however, we were left with the accusatory remarks of family members who said– ‘NGOs are big money-eaters.’ Well, the fact was that the family members became insecure and apprehensive about the man showing signs of improvement and being send home to them. I also heard them cursing me for clearing the way for someone who, according to them, was mentally sick and who would be a burden to their families rather than a part of their home. Eventually, the man himself chose to live in the asylum so as to further continue his paintings.
- Overcoming the doubts and questions of people along the way.
I do not want my work to be only called an NGO or a social organization. My work is intended for ‘self-evolution’ and ‘inner transformation’ as well. How I grow as a soul doing what I do is a question I ask myself often.
As a social worker one always encounters questions and labels by your own people or by people in general.
– You seem to be doing a lot for the world, what about your parents?
– You seem to be supporting the poor in the slums, what about helping those in our community?
– Would you like to give a letter attesting that I worked as a volunteer in your organization so that I can get admission for MBA?
– Would you like to take some funds from me and then give an 80G and give my money back too? Want to convert my black into white?
– Why do you need funds for teaching children? And why such high running costs?
Well, there are endless questions and doubts that you face when you are in the social sector; questions from the beneficiaries, donors, volunteers, and public. I have two examples to share here.
a) Recently, I ended my presentation to a corporate house by stating that my service was not a commodity and my projects were not some products to be sold to them. I made this statement after listening to a series of questions by the corporate who felt that the project did not match ‘their parameters’ and ‘their needs.’ So, often we find ourselves working to meet the needs of the corporates than to fulfill the needs of the people we work for.
b) As we started working with the slum communities, some people in the community labeled us as ‘prostitutes’ as they did not want any transformation to happen in the slums. The prime reason for these verbal attacks was that we were teaching in a space where the men generally would sit and drink.
These experiences do often leave me with little energy. However, my inner dream always strengthens me to accept whatever I encounter as lessons learnt along the way and as opportunities to further enhance my courage and determination.
- Serve always with love and compassion
The ultimate act of service is to open up the stream of love and compassion inside oneself. I might sound a bit meta-physical here, but I believe that one could serve in two ways—firstly, through actual ‘doing-ness in action’ and secondly, through ‘doing-ness in heart/mind.’ For example, let us take the case of people asking for money at the traffic signal. We often encounter this and we end up not giving generally. The times when we do not want to give or cannot give in kind are the times when serving can happen in the heart. I usually connect my heart to the person’s heart, see a stream of white light of blessings and prayers and thus, serve in a world where souls connect.
Serving should happen because someone deserves your acts of kindness not because there is something in your house that you want to discard. Once I remember receiving nine big boxes of toys sent by a big fashion outlet as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility. Upon opening the boxes, however, I was in tears because they were filled with wet, torn, discarded, and dirty toys which were unusable by any child.
I have shared some of the challenges and lessons along the way, but the list is endless. However, the journey has been inspiring, for the transformation of others add light to our soul and takes us closer to a life that is mindful of our inner voice.
Practicing moral values begins by forgiving, letting- go, and feeling gratitude for each and every experience around. The journey towards humanity nurtures truth and honesty which eventually emanates through each and every action taken in the process. There is more to do and more to experiencing you through humanity.
[Sonia Mackwani is the founder director of Touching Lives, an NGO based in Mumbai. She is also a trustee of Atmaviswas Vidyalaya, a rehab for mental illness. She holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology and Hypnotherapy. She is a healer and an author, Karmveer Puraskaar Awardee, and a CNBC Young Turk Transformer.]