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Meeting with the Australian High Commissioner

I had the immense pleasure of meeting with HE Ms Harinder Sidhu, the recently appointed Australian High Commissioner to India this week. Ms Sidhu was delighted to hear that Usha, a young girl from the slums, is now, with Asha’s help, a journalist, and will be accompanying me to Australia. She was excited to hear more about the trip, and expressed her very best wishes. She is so passionate about critical issues relating to the urban poor and we are looking forward to working together with great anticipation. Thank you, Your Excellency for your warm welcome!

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Mother’s day experiences

What a wonderful celebration we had on Saturday! I’m not sure how many of you know this, but there are a number of Asha kids that I have been mentoring directly for over a year, although I’ve known most of them for a long time. I keep adding new ones as I spot amazing talent and vast potential. We meet at my home quite regularly, and we have grown to love and cherish each other so much over the years. They read out letters, poems, and cards with beautiful emotions expressed through laughter, tears, and hugs. They made contributions and bought me a beautiful cake and a lovely dupatta (Indian stole). I feel so fortunate to have these relationships in my life; they have enriched me in unimaginable ways.

Here is a selection of beautiful photos and heart-warming letters that I hope will inspire every reader.


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New year greetings to Mr Advani

Met with senior most leader and patriarch of the BJP today, to bring greetings for 2016 and seek his continued support for the work of Asha. He was very happy to hear that 1500 Asha students have gained admission to Delhi University so far in spite of such huge challenges.

He encouraged me to continue the mission till each one was gainfully employed, and promised all support. He has been a strong supporter of Asha for the past 15 years, and has continued to follow the journey throughout his association.


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UN International Day of Non Violence

The UN International Day of Non Violence is on October 2nd, to coincide with Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. Gandhi was born on October 2nd, 1869, and this year, we will be commemorating his 146th birth anniversary. Non Violence is one of Asha’s key values, and I have been thinking a lot about it these days. During my 27 years at Asha, I have witnessed violence in many shapes and forms, from physical violence, to the violent effects of power structures oppressing and harassing the poor, systems, large and small, that incorporate prejudice and exploitation. I began to put to the test the philosophy of non violence from Asha’s very early beginnings, as I dealt with the oppressive and unjust systems on a daily basis.

The Asha communities have received great enlightenment and joy through the practice of non violence that has become a moral imperative, a way of life. It is a weapon available to all of us, and is a wonderful technique for resolving conflicts and achieving desired ends. The goal of non violence is not to defeat the opponents, but to win them over. This then does not alienate our opponents, and in fact, leaves open the possibility of conversion.

In my experience, we invite violence from opponents if they are humiliated or provoked. We are here to fight the antagonism, not the antagonist. Therefore personal sincerity in our interactions that foster trust, can break the cycle of violence and counter violence.

There can be the great temptation to self-righteousness and an unwillingness to see the other’s point of view. Efforts to try and understand the opponents’ motivations, and the lens with which they view the world can affirm their worth as well as their capacity for growth. This can also challenge them to examine their values and beliefs. This way, the oppressed and the oppressor are both liberated. A strong sense of the inherent dignity and worth of each individual brings us closer to an understanding of our shared humanity.

Non violence rejects passivity and submission, and is not an attempt to ignore or avoid conflict or oppression. In fact, it requires a great deal of courage and strength.

Gandhian non violence, termed ‘Satyagraha’, aims to attain the truth through love and right action. It demands the elimination of violence from the self, as well as from the social, political, and economic environment. The end result hoped for is a peaceful and just society.

In closing, for those who might be pessimistic about the ability of non violence to resolve conflicts, I ask, Have you tried? I have, hundreds in the Asha communities have, and it works beautifully. Would you like to consider celebrating October 2nd as Non Violence Day?

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The Benefits of an Emotional Culture at Work

I thought I would write today about the wonderful benefits of an emotional culture at work. I think the more we foster feelings of affection, compassion, caring, and tenderness among our co-workers, the stronger our bonds are, and the higher our feelings of satisfaction. I call this ‘Companionate Love.’

Let us all collaborate with each other side by side, expressing caring and affection towards one another, and safeguarding each others’ feelings. Let us show tenderness and compassion towards each other when things don’t go well, and support each other in work and non work matters.

Let us feel free to express ourselves, to share our struggles, perhaps use the power of touch to communicate feelings of warmth and love.  Let us use every opportunity to celebrate each others’ lives, be it birthdays, anniversaries, or anything else.

A strong culture of Companionate Love will keep us in a healthy frame of mind, looking forward to work, and enjoying beautiful bonds with our co-workers.

We often discuss intellectual concepts such as fostering innovation, creativity, or transparency in a work environment. Those are important, but equally important is to encourage a positive emotional culture, and we will find ourselves experiences unimaginable support, strength, freedom, and a sense of safety and security in our daily lives.

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The Power of Touch

As we approach the wonderful season of Christmas, I have been reflecting with great joy on the ‘Power of Touch’. In Matthew 8, we read, ‘When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said,” Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing”, he said.” Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy….’ It was a leper Jesus touched – a man nobody touched. Think of this. For years this man had not felt the kiss of a child, or the embrace of a friend. Jesus touched him. There was healing in his touch. There was comfort in his touch. There was reassurance in his touch. There was life in his touch. Jesus touched people physically and emotionally. And people touched him in the same way.

Did you know of the remarkable scientific benefits of touch? Did you know that the skin is the largest organ of our body, and enables touch to become a powerful method of communication? Scientists have discovered specific neurons in the skin that process information about touch.

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Touch conveys a whole range of emotions. The immune response is triggered in the skin through touch, which is why we live longer. When we touch someone, we activate certain parts of our brain that provide feelings of reward, of compassion. Touch builds up cooperative relationships. It also signals safety and trust. Touch soothes. It calms cardiovascular stress through reduction in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Touch spreads a tremendous amount of goodwill, and is highly contagious.

The hormone oxytocin is released in response to touch, and this in turn produces care giving behaviour and generosity. It also promotes monogamy. We read emotion better, and discard cynical views of human nature. We respond with stronger compassion.

Touch is an unbelievable mechanism of social well being. Regular physical contact with premature babies helps them get a huge boost in weight gain. Lots of touch results in better sleep, reduced irritability, and increased sociability among infants. Touching patients with Alzheimer’s leads to a precipitous drop in their symptoms, and to a remarkable reduction in depression.

Let us go a step further. Did you know that hugging is healthy for the body and for the soul? How often do we hug our children, our family members, our friends? Hugging boosts self esteem and brings about a sense of security in a way no word can. A warm hug can touch our soul. Hugging strengthens our bonds with our children. We can never hug our children too much. They feel a sense of acceptance, their self esteem is boosted, they become more confident, and it brings them great happiness. To connect is more important than to correct. I read a wonderful quote by Virginia Satir, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Truer words were never spoken.

There are times, whether during intense grief or anger, or in ecstatic moments of joy or love, when only the language of touch can fully express what we feel. Let us reach out this Christmas to our family and friends with the gift of this wonderful language given to us by God. May we cherish the joys of this language forever.

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A meeting with the Canadian First Lady

On Tuesday, I had the honour and privilege of welcoming one of the most inspiring people I have come across in public life, Her Excellency Mrs Sharon Johnston, First Lady of Canada to an Asha slum colony.

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Amongst much warmth and joy we had an amazing interaction with college students and women from Asha communities. She listened with rapt attention as each one of them went on to describe how they have overcome the significant obstacles of poverty to succeed in life.

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In step with the Asha values of gratitude and compassion, she stressed on the importance of giving back to the community while addressing the students. “Whenever you take one step up in life, always remember to take someone with you,” she said.

Here’s a link to her video interview after the visit:

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