A key part of Sureshbhai’s method for improving sanitation in villages is training kids to viewing sanitation in a fun and positive way and inculcating good habits in them. They are taught to view nature as a sustainer of life, and to maintain cleanliness is a part of the nurture and sustenance we provide to nature in return.
Sureshbhai conducts learning pilgrimage tours and nature camps as part of connecting with nature and feeling a deep interdependence, for sustainability of sanitation activites within villages. Most of these have children involved, who are very excited to travel to new places outside their village, and to learn more about the world. A learning pilgrimage tour in Feb 2013 involved 100 children at the primary school level traveling to Somnath, Dwarka (holy places associated with Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna in Indian mythology) and the Gir forest for a 2-day learning experience. The immersion in nature also involved prayer, singing bhajans (devotional songs), cooking by themselves, having lunch and dinner together, deeply connecting with nature and spirit.
Similar to the learning pilgrimage, Suresh bhai conducted a 2-day nature camp during 13-14 April, with 35 kids from Pedhamali village. The program revolved around the combination of Nature and God, and was set around the temple of Sapteshwar Mahadev on the banks of the Sabarmati.
April 13, 2013
None of the children had traveled as far as the Mahadev temple before and spirits were high during the journey. On the first day, the children built rope tents near the temple. Next followed a circle of sharing, which included thoughts about “Why are we doing this activity?” Each child talked happily about his or her ideas and expectations of the retreat. Towards the evening, they also cooked together and ate a meal together at the campsite. During their activities of cooking, cleaning, eating and washing up, the kids used the water from the Sabarmati River; and naturally, the conversation turned to water. The kids spontaneously began speaking about how the river gives us water without asking for anything in return, how it nurtures trees and plants, purifies naturally, and so on. They were filled with a deep appreciation for all they had received from Nature. Before going to sleep at night, they all concluded with songs of gratitude for Nature and God.
April 14, 2013
On the 14th, the day started early, at 5:30 in the morning. At the stroke of dawn, everyone was up, sat for a group prayer, and followed by a laughter circle. (Laughter circles are a common practice in India, where laughter itself is used as a therapy to induce joy in one’s oneself, wakes up the physical body and move to). As the camp was right next to the Sapteshwar Mahadev temple and it was a Sunday, the tourist rush started early. All the previous training the children had been receiving came to the fore and they swung into action, to clean the area around the temple. All 40 of them decided to clean the area around the temple with bhakti (devotion) and dedication. They reasoned that it was an incredible opportunity to clean the area – all the dirt and garbage they had dumped on Mother earth until that day, they decided to replace with cleansing activities. They organized themselves into groups for collecting garbage, managing it, and separating it (into compostable, recyclable, etc.). With their indomitable spirit, the kids made the garbage collection a deeply fun and engaging activity, instead of treating it merely as a duty.
After this, the kids went for a 1-1.5 km trek in the hills nearby. They hiked up until a cucumber farm, and visited the farmers who owned the land and cultivated the farm. They were offered cucumbers by the farmers and they happily snacked on the cucumbers and khakra (crunchy cakes) that they had brought along with them from home. Traveling back towards camp, they learned how to find water by digging a deep ditch, identifying clean water to drink, and quenching their thirst. Slowly, they began to appreciate the magic of Mother Nature – how she has given them water, a place to stay, nourishing the food they eat, even at such a remote location.
They followed up with games in the cool water that refreshed and relaxed them after the trek. Suresh bhai asked them to stand in a silent circle in the water, feel its coolness and connect towards it deeply. To feel gratitude for the life-giving abundance in which they were standing, and the protective hand of Nature all round them. To feel gratitude towards the earth for its fertility and beneficence. After centering their hearts in Nature, they children began to associate each of the entities in Nature with an object of reverence. Themes in their conversation that stood out were – the Earth is like a Mother (dhartiimaa), trees are temples (vrukshmandir), and mountains like blessings (pahaadaashirvaad). By associating personally with each of these entities, they felt a deep gratitude and bhakti for all.
To share their feeling of joy, abundance and reverence, the children spontaneously decided to serve the pilgrims and tourists coming to the temple with small acts of gratitude. Though they did not know the pilgrims personally, they felt they could show their gratitude to the world by passing it on through acts of service. Some of the children cleaned the public toilets around the area, some spend their (little) pocket money on tea and gifted them to thirsty and tired tourists, some began to cut the nails of children who were visiting the temple, some helped decorate the stalls of street vendors, some helped wash dishes at food stalls around the temple, and others cleaned and beautified the general area around. Unbidden, they came up with several out-of-the-box acts of creativity, joy, fun and sharing, that Suresh bhai’s eyes filled with tears on more than one occasion. Instead of teaching the kids, he felt he came away with a lot he had learned from them instead.
Following a snack break, the group left the temple area at 4 pm to return to Pedhamali.