In Romania, AMURTEL is sharing its expertise in emergency psychology and coordination with the government and NGOs present at the Ukraine border point of Siret. We train local Romanian first responders and volunteers in psychological first aid and self-care. AMURTEL also supports a local civic society logistics operation called Help Ukraine Romania in northern Romania, at the Siret border point, and has established this website for the purpose.
In Moldavia, volunteers fed hundreds of refugees on the border in a consortium of organizations during the early surge of refugees.
In Western Europe, AMURT is supporting Ukrainian refugees with accommodation in Poland, Italy and other countries of their choice.
AMURT US works with AMURT UK to provide cash support for a network of people within Ukraine. Funds are distributed through phone apps to community coordinators, who then provide whatever food and medicine are needed for others in their buildings or immediate neighbourhoods and centres for internally displaced people.
This album is notable in that all of the vocalists are based outside of India, showing their worldwide appeal of the songs, which come from the collection of 5018 songs written by P.R.. Sarkar in the years 1982-1990. They are known collectively as Prabhat Samgiita (Songs of the New Morning). While most songs are in the Bengali language, some are in Hindi, English, Sanskrit, Urdu, Magahi, Maithili and Angika. The poetry of lyrics expresses elements of love, mysticism, devotion, neohumanism and revolution and the songs present a wide spectrum of both Eastern and Western melodic styles.
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In Burkina Faso our AMURT team is moving ever forward, despite the security challenges we are now facing in the Sahel Region. The conflict in Mali is beginning to affect our project areas there, which is forcing us to keep a lower profile while we wait for the situation to improve. However, the conflict is not interfering with the development of our master unit – Ananda Viirata. This year has been focused much on developing agroecological aspects. In addition to producing organic vegetables and fruits, we’ve also planted over 20,000 new trees, with many more growing nicely in our nursery.
This upcoming year, we are initiating a master unit based program that aims to 1. assist area farmers to maximize production on their landholdings, 2. cooperatively produce and process moringa and other locally grown items, 3. make moringa powder available as a nutritional supplement to vulnerable populations (pregnant women and young children). For more information, click on the Ananda Moringa image.
For this program, we are seeking $33,000 to construct agro-processing facilities on Ananda Viirata (our Bissiri community center). This facility will not only serve as the basis for our new program, but will bring us closer to realizing our vision of local self-reliance. This last month, we have distributed over 15,000 moringa trees to area farmers, with an aim to begin large-scale processing of moringa by next summer. Our goal is to finish construction by Spring 2013.
Dada Padmeshananda has brought a new wave of dedicated service to Burkina.
A year ago our school in Bissiri was launched. Over 100 children came to register. It was a great day of shared joy as from now on the children won’t have to face the over 30 km (both ways to the main city) bicycle on bad dirt roads to get to a junior high school. I was so happy to meet all of them; it feels like the family keeps on growing! The vision of this educational project is to provide students, in parallel with their academic studies, with a holistic education that would give them every opportunity to build their own future in accordance with the values of solidarity, service to others, wisdom, Neohumanism and ecology.
Now in its second year, the school has 119 students up to grade 7. The students are making sincere efforts, despite many still having difficulty understanding French. Still, thier determination is strong and their spirit high!
Prout Lessons from Development Work in West Africa by Dada Daneshananda
In June 2000 I arrived in West Africa to coordinate AMURT development projects. These last twelve years have been an incredible adventure for me, giving me the special privilege to work closely with the people in villages in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. I am very grateful for having had this opportunity to expand my mind and open my heart to the beauty of the human spirit that, in spite of the continuous struggle for survival, shines brightly in the African village.
Lesson 1: Seva Clinic–The community must initiate and own their projects
In February 2002, a group of community leaders in the Mafi-Zongo District of Ghana requested us to help them start a primary health clinic. We called a big meeting in April, and 150 women and men from ten villages attended. The discussion was long and lively with many different opinions about where to locate the clinic and how it should be managed. We made it clear from the beginning that the community would own and manage the clinic, not AMURT.
“Even with good intentions, clever planning and enough funding, if the communities are not empowered from the beginning, we are not likely to achieve true development and the projects will not last.”
At the end of the meeting, the communities agreed to complete a half-constructed building in the village of Seva, to send candidates to be health-care workers to the Domeabra AMURTEL clinic for training, and to obtain official permission from the government health department to open the clinic. Everyone agreed to finish all this by September.
It was not until April 2003 that the building was completed, all affairs with the health department were sorted out, and the local health-care workers were ready. We spent April arranging furniture, equipment, supplies and medicines. The clinic opened quietly on May 1, 2003. From the first month, the clinic has been financially self-sufficient in operating expenses and staff salaries. AMURT has played a supporting role to help improve the facilities and services available to the community.
AMURT helped train women health promoters and Traditional Birth Attendants to educate and assist births in the villages. The women named themselves Kekeli Women. Kekeli means “brightness” or “light”. In 2012 we started a new program for teenagers called Kekeli Girls. In Burkina Faso, AMURT’s presence in Deou Department goes back to 1986, when we began construction of a hospital. The safe motherhood initiative there has trained midwives in 37 desert villages. Today AMURT works with the communities on surface water harvesting schemes to make it possible to grow more vegetables in the arid semi-desert region.
These projects are self-reliant and supported by the communities due to three crucial factors:
1. The community identified their own needs and priorities.
2. They took the initiative and made the commitment to make it a reality.
3. And crucially, the community provided the leadership.
In my experience these are the most important factors for a successful community development project. Even with good intentions, clever planning and enough funding, if the communities are not empowered from the beginning, we are not likely to achieve true development and the projects will not last.
AMURT is a partner and a catalyst. Relief workers can play an important role, but we must never consider ourselves to be more important than the community. If we do, we will create financial and psychological dependency. We will perpetuate the debilitating neo-colonial attitude which is exactly what we wish to break down. If we are not careful, our presence could even cause more harm than good.
Lesson 2: Mafi-Zongo Water Project–Set aside western notions of timelines and efficiency
In Ghana we helped start a big water project in Mafi-Zongo. The sources of drinking water the people were using were not safe, were often shared by animals and they dried up in the dry season, forcing the women and girls to trek long distances to fetch water. A local assembly member from Mafi-Zongo invited AMURT to come in. A medium-sized reservoir was planned with a slow sand filtration system to purify the water. This simple technology is affordable to maintain, and the people can learn to operate it themselves. It is also ecologically sound, because it doesn’t deplete the underground water reserves, which are already scarce in this part of Ghana.
The design called for a reservoir to be constructed on top of Kpokope Hill, from where the treated water would flow by gravity to all the villages. The hill is very steep and to bring cement and other construction materials up was a huge logistical challenge. We called a meeting with representatives from all the communities and explained the situation. The communities agreed to collect the sand, transport it to the foot of the mountain and carry it up the hill in three weeks.
It took three months, with men and women from a dozen communities working hard, to bring enough sand to the foot of the mountain. Then we called an emergency day of communal labor for all the communities. That day the hill was alive and swarming with dozens of men, women and children, carrying pans of sand, making the difficult climb to the top.
This delay would have been avoided if we had bought the sand and paid workers to carry it up. But that would have been a mistake. Community development projects are not about meeting deadlines of international donors, but about bringing the whole community along together.
After that the people of each community dug the trenches and laid the pipes connecting them to the dam. In total, a network of 61 kilometers of pipes was laid that now provides safe drinking water to 10,000 people in 30 villages.
AMURT was first invited to Mafi-Zongo in 1993. The work started in 1994. It was not until 2005 that the first ten villages got piped water, and it was not until 2011, 18 years after it began, that the project was completed. The sense of pride and accomplishment felt throughout the villages when the project was completed created a sense of ownership and tied the populations of the 30 villages together. That pride and unity remains today and has been essential to the sustainability of the project. In African villages, people are not bound by clocks and calendars. They are patient, because they perceive time as moving in cycles. Time is vast, like the sky. People have enough time. Westerners, on the other hand, see time as linear. We are always in a hurry, we lose patience and lament if we “lose time”. We could learn a lot from African villagers.
Lesson 3: Ebonyi Maternal Health Program–The emergence of new leadership Nigeria has the ninth-highest maternal death rate in the world. In 2010 AMURT chose to work in Ebonyi state, the poorest and least developed state in southern Nigeria. In partnership with the communities, local NGOs and the government, we have set up three primary health care centers with outreach programs to serve the people of Ekumenyi, in the Abakaliki Local Government Area, where the maternal mortality rate is double that of Nigeria’s national rate. Our special focus is to reduce infant and maternal mortality, saving lives. We also work with water sanitation and hygiene committees elected by each village, to drill and manage boreholes.
We needed a baseline survey at the beginning. We trained a dozen health workers to go from compound to compound. They registered 5,000 women of child-bearing age, 15-49, in 36 villages. We were shocked by the results, because the surveys reported there had been 31 maternal deaths in the last three years. We decided to verify each one. The unenviable task fell to Paulinus, an unemployed health worker from one of the villages in the project area. Visiting the different compounds and asking about the mother who had died in childbirth, he met suspicion, and at times hostility. One man who had lost his young wife threatened Paulinus with a machete! Often his questions brought anguish. The father-in-law of a woman who died started weeping openly, and as a result all the men, women and children also started weeping. Paulinus verified all the heartbreaking details of 31 maternal deaths from 2009 to 2011 from a population of just over 20,000.
Our outreach health education program includes home visits to all pregnant women in the area. Only by maintaining staff on duty 24 hours a day in the clinics, can the maternal health program work. All the planning and investment would come to naught if we had failed to recruit dedicated staff from the nearby communities. They communicate well with the people, and so there is a high level of trust and understanding. As the women’s confidence in the health centers grows, the numbers coming for prenatal care and delivery is steadily increasing. The health centers are owned and managed by the local committees, and the com- munities feel that the health care centers are their own.
Blessing was only 17 when she first volunteered on immunization days at her local health post. Since then she has trained and worked at a number of clinics and health centers. Because she came from a poor family, she never had the chance to go to nursing school. When the AMURT clinic at Offia Oji opened, Blessing was 23, but the government health department did not pick her to work there. Still, she came and worked as a volunteer.
It was impossible not to notice Blessing’s dedication. She has helped at the clinic almost every day, always volunteering for weekend and holiday shifts. Of the 150 deliveries at the clinic, she has assisted in more than 100. In community meetings, local traditional leaders and the women leaders sing her praises. It’s moving to see how this young woman, without formal education or position, has earned such respect through her dedication, sacrifice and positive attitude.
The success of the maternal health program can be directly traced to the emergence of new local leaders, such as Paulinus and Blessing. In West Africa I have found that genuine leaders, who have the welfare of their people at heart, can be found in every village. They are like scattered jewels. Our challenge is to invite these dynamic people to come forward and take charge. Community development projects are opportunities to serve for those who truly have the welfare of their people at heart. The best hope for the future of the neglected communities lies with the new leadership. They are more important than us, more important than any money or technology or clever concepts we have to offer.
Lesson 4: Thinking in terms of all-round growth
Community development is the micro-view of PROUT and can play an important role in social change. By working at the grassroots level, from the bottom up, keeping PROUT’s key principles at the front, work for the poor takes on a revolutionary character. In one’s spiritual life, a meditation mantra leads to self-realization and helps to morally guide our choices. In a similar way, I believe that before undertaking any new project, we should think Proutistically and decide whether or not this action will promote the good and happiness of all.
Dada Daneshananda talks about AMURT’s maternal health programs in Nigeria:
AMURT (Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team) was one of the first NGOs on the ground after the super-typhoon.
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Here’s a letter from Dada Dharmavedananda, written soon after the typhoon struck:
First came the greatest earthquake that any of us had ever experienced.
Our relief work was still going on for the survivors, when only 3 weeks after the quake, came super typhoon Yolanda, or as known elsewhere hurricane Haiyan.
This one was said to be the strongest hurricane in world history.
In the beginning hours the news was scattered and mostly in the form of rumors , with electricity cut all over this part of the country. In the worst hit areas even cell phone coverage was wiped out.
At least in our Ananda Marga Wellness Center and in the Yoga Center in Cebu the only losses were numerous trees ripped out by their roots, and the trauma of seeing countless objects roaring past our doorways and windows. In the midst of it, a heartfelt strong kiirtan enabled our own fears to subside. But when the winds diminished we found some of the neighbors roofs blown off, including the homes of some of our own staff.
And then it was quiet, and yet still news only came in drops and dribbles. Apparently at that point the outside world still knew more than we did.
It is now midnight Tuesday. Yesterday morning we sent a team to survey the damage in northern Cebu Province, where the Eye directly passed.
Yesterday evening we sent a team by specially charted ship to survey Tacloban.
And this morning we sent another team to the already surveyed northern Cebu Province – this time with food for the suffering.
The Tacloban team had a tough time even reaching there. To get there we partnered with the Federation of Volunteers through Radio Communication (FVRC), of which the Chief Officer is our close friend. The FVRC is one of the first to go to any catastrophe area, as other communication systems are usually down. The ship arrived in Hilongos, due to the danger of sailing directly into Tacloban, where at least 10,000 were already dead. From Hilongos the 140 kilometer trip was by 4-wheel drive jeeps, and it took many hours not only because of trees across the road, but especially because of numerous people lying on the road – people who wanted to stop and then ambush the jeeps and steal whatever food and water was on board. But our staff and partners had wisely hidden their foodstuffs, and so gradually they passed through that test.
They reported that from the half way mark until finally arriving in Tacloban – 99% of the houses and structures were demolished. Try to imagine that.
In the city they temporarily established a base in the damaged but still standing city hall, and from that time we began intensive communication with our team leader, Avaniish. Approximately in his words:
“The faces of the people look completely blank – like zombies. The damage is 10 times beyond the earthquake (where he had also worked for many days). Debris is piled everywhere, and the smell of death is unavoidable. All the government offices are wiped out, no where to turn for protection. The military only to be found at the airport. Here they are in the worst need for food.”
Then he joked that even though shops had been ransacked for food, at least while stealing gas from the gas stations everyone was patiently standing in line.
And so we have made a plan to borrow $5000 to purchase food tomorrow (Wednesday) for Tacloban, and are arranging military escort and a ship – hopefully by tomorrow itself. We will most likely send it with cooking equipment and served it cooked, as people simply have no stoves to prepare uncooked materials we might give them.
It will be far from sufficient, but at least it is a start.
As to the team that went this morning to northern Cebu Province: Our van had less than a 3 hour drive before encountering a scene hardly better than Tacloban. Again most of the houses leveled to the ground. Children and adults standing in the road begging for food and water. The only difference from Tacloban was that not so many had died because there had been no storm surge, so no drowning. But the hurricane winds had done their work with equal power, demolishing almost everything in sight. Tens of thousands of houses were destroyed.
Our contacts were in Bogo City, precisely where the Eye had passed. No government workers, no non-governmental workers had been there to help them. We were the first on the site, and the people were overwhelmed with happiness to see our volunteers. We brought cooking equipment, and a small amount of food, enough to serve 600 people. Upon receiving the food, many cried and embraced those serving. In fact it was painful not to be able to help others.
And so tomorrow we will borrow another $2000 to purchase food for the north, and likewise serve it to them cooked.
More days of great need will follow.
Our global and sectorial AMURT staff are doing what they can to drum up support. We shall likewise do all we can to serve as many as we can according to the funds sent.
Later when the threats of starvation and disease are less pressing, we shall think about house rebuilding and other long-term works.