Welcomed Dr Harsh Vardhan to Asha

Following on from my meeting with Dr Harsh Vardhan, Hon’ble Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences, Government of India last week, today we had the joy of being able to welcome him once again at Asha.

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First, he visited the Asha Polyclinic and Diagnostic centre where my team and I showed him our state of the art services that are available to slum residents at nominal fees. The Hon’ble Minister reminisced on his visits to Asha in early ‘90’s and was pleased to note how the work has expanded over the years.Picture3Later, Dr Harsh Vardhan went to Kanak Durga slum colony to meet with the women, children and college students who are associated with our work. The community was thrilled beyond words as the Hon’ble Minster showed great interest in the stories of their accomplishments and impediments they faced.

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Dr Harsh Vardhan was meeting with the college students from Asha for the first time and spoke warm words of encouragement to them. “With your hard work, you have managed to convert situations of extreme challenges into a life of hope and bright future. I cannot congratulate you enough for this,” said the Minister addressing them.

It was a wonderful afternoon filled with much joy and great conversations, and I would like to thank the Hon’ble Minster for taking out the time to visit us.

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Meeting with Indian Minister for Science and Technology

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I had the honour and pleasure of meeting with Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Hon’ble Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences, Government of India. He has been an Asha supporter almost since it was founded. As the Health Minister of Delhi in the ’90’s, he was instrumental in involving Asha in a number of collaborative programmes with the government.

He pioneered the Pulse Polio Programme in India, launching it first in Delhi and then helping its expansion throughout the country. Amongst his numerous achievements, he was instrumental in the formation of the Delhi Prohibition of Smoking and Non-Smokers Health Protection Act of 1997.

Dr Harsh Vardhan was happy to note of Asha’s great strides in slum development work, particularly the Higher Education Programme. I also presented him with ‘A Journey of Hope’ a photographic essay on the work of Asha by a British photographer. We hope to receive him at Asha later this month.

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A lovely interaction with the Premier of Ontario, Hon. Kathleen Wynne

My team and I were delighted to welcome Hon. Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario, Canada to Jeevan Nagar slum colony on Friday, January 29, 2016.

Amongst much warmth and joy, we had a lovely interaction as the Hon. Premier showed great interest in the work of Asha. Despite her extremely packed schedule, she spent over an hour and a half with the community and answered all the questions they had to ask.

The Hon. Premier also had warm words of encouragement for everyone and remarked that even the first world countries like Canada can learn so much from the success of Asha communities. She also gifted books on the culture and history of Canada to the children. What a wonderful gesture!

Thank you so much, Premier Kathleen Wynne, for visiting us.

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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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On Trust

I am filled with joy at the start of the New Year, as I witness the lives of children who have been raised in insufferable poverty, now blossoming and flourishing in amazing ways, and demonstrating astonishing success.

As I reflect on how my team and I have arrived at relationships with them that are based on so much love and trust, I have been thinking about the word ‘Trust’. The Cambridge English Dictionary says ‘to trust’ means ‘ to believe that someone is good and honest, safe and reliable, and will never harm you.’

Trust has been fostered beautifully as the children have understood that there is enough room for them to deposit all their worries and their hurts. They know that love and loyalty are given freely and consistently, under all conditions, and without reservation, the only desire being to strive for their well being.

Affirmation is one of the most important ways of fostering trust in others. This requires recognising their gifts and appreciating them in a safe and loving environment. There is no room for judgemental or guilt inducing, condemning, critical words that lead to feelings of rejection. When I validate a child, I am saying, I hear you. I see you. I think of you. I acknowledge your accomplishments. I appreciate your efforts. Generous validation fosters tremendous trust and security, and has a profound effect on the lives of children, bringing about a vibrant expression of latent potential within them.

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Offering leadership on the vision and values of Asha by example, and communicating them effectively all through the ranks, is a wonderful way of building trust.

As a result of the fostering of trust, the children are so open and enthusiastic. They are discovering who they are, and growing up to be responsible and caring. They are learning what it feels like to be understood by another person, and therefore learning respect and empathy for others.

Scientists have labelled the hormone Oxytocin as the Trust Hormone. Higher levels of Oxytocin are released in response to kindness, warmth, connection, communication, hugs, eye contact, laughter; and the more Oxytocin, the deeper the levels of trust.

Let us all embrace and foster trust in all our relationships, and remember that the way we experience life’s events can change forever.

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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 practice of gratitude has so many wonderful benefits

  1. It makes us much happier. A Benedictine monk, David Steindl-Rast has said: it is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful. When we become good at being grateful, we see and experience more of the good in life, no matter what our circumstances.
  1. It keeps us much healthier. Practising gratitude is associated with better sleep, less depression, and less stress. It reduces headaches, sore muscles, stomach pain, nausea, coughing, and sore throats. Those who practise gratitude report less illness, and generally feel healthier.
  1. It reduces negative emotions. Feelings like anger, bitterness, and resentment are incompatible with gratitude. The more gratitude we cultivate, the less negativity we feel.
  1. We cope better. Learning to see the good in our lives even when hard times come is a powerful coping strategy.
  1. It increases our self worth. Practising gratitude helps us get out of the ‘poor me’ mindset, and into the habit of looking for the good. It helps to reduce negative comparisons with other people, and pay more attention to what we have versus what we don’t.
  1. It increases life’s meaning. When we can see all the beautiful pieces of our lives, it’s a lot easier to see the greater whole. Cultivating a sense of gratitude helps life feel more meaningful. The more gratitude we express, the more life’s meaning will increase.
  1. It helps us enjoy our work more. People who practice gratitude can find the good in anything. This helps work feel more meaningful and enjoyable. It can help us find our life’s purpose.
  1. It improves our relationships. When we recognise and express gratitude to and for others, it helps us to feel more connected to them, and experience better relationships. We then feel less lonely and depressed, and more pleasant to be around.
  1. It improves our parenting skills. When we are able to cope better, feel better, and find more joy and meaning in life, we will be better parents. We will recognise the good in our children, express it to them, and that will improve their self worth, health, and happiness.

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Practices for cultivating gratitude

The practices for cultivating gratitude make gratitude a habit, and we can then begin to change the emotional tone of our lives, creating more space for joy and connection with others. There are a number of exercises that help us cultivate gratitude.

1. Count your blessings: Some days it feels like everything is going wrong. But often, even on bad days, good things happen too. We are just less likely to notice them. This is where the ‘3 good things’ practice comes in. This practice involves spending 5 to 10 minutes at the end of each day writing in detail about three things that went well that day, large or small, and also describing why you think they happened. This simple practice is effective because it not only helps you remember and appreciate good things that happened in the past, but it can also help you to notice and savour positive events as they happen in the moment, and remember them more vividly later on. You begin to see a broad ecosystem of goodness around you.

Another exercise is to keep a gratitude journal which involves writing down up to 5 things for which you are grateful once a week, and reflecting on what these things mean to you. The gratitude journal is especially effective when you focus on specific people you’re grateful to have, or have had, in your life.

2. Mental Subtraction: In the words of Joni Mitchell,’You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone’. The Mental Subtraction of Positive Events practice involves considering the many ways in which important, positive events in your life, such as a job opportunity, or educational achievement, could have never taken place, and then reflecting on what your life would have been without them. Mental subtraction can counteract the tendency to take positive events for granted and see them as inevitable. It helps you recognise how fortunate you are that things transpired as they did.

3. Savour: Have you ever noticed that the first bite of cake is usually the best? We have a tendency to adapt to pleasurable things, and appreciate them less and less over time. We can interrupt this process by temporarily giving up pleasurable activities, and then coming back to them later, this time with greater anticipation and excitement. The goal of this practice is not only to experience more pleasure, but to recognise how we take lots of pleasures for granted, and to try and savour them more. We often assume that more is better and that the greatest enjoyment comes from abundance and indulgence, but research suggests that some degree of scarcity and restraint is more conducive to happiness.

4. Say ‘thank you’: Gratitude is especially powerful when it is expressed to others. Small gestures of appreciation, such as thank you notes can make a difference, but there are some things that deserve more than a fleeting thanks.

Writing a thoughtful, detailed gratitude letter is a great way to increase your own feelings of gratitude and happiness, while also making the other person feel appreciated and valued. It will also deepen your relationship with them. The benefits are the greatest when the letter is read to the person rather than mailed to them.

Finally, it is important to remember that these activities need to be practised regularly in order for our happiness levels to go up permanently, and for us to enjoy the wonderful benefits of gratitude all through our lives.

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A wonderful meeting with Mr LK Advani

As always, it was wonderful to meet Mr LK Advani, the tallest leader of the ruling party BJP, along with my remarkable high school toppers and team members. Mr Advani was delighted to meet with the students and congratulated them for their exceptional achievements. His continued support over the past many years is as humbling as it is inspiring.

Whilst Asha’s high school toppers shared their journey so far, Mr Advani encouraged them with instances from his own life. He told the students about his early years, his hardships, and spoke freely about some of his challenges. He had wonderful words of encouragement for each student, and wished them well for the future. He offered them his best hospitality as well. “You have made yourselves proud, your families proud, Asha proud, and our entire nation proud. You are a wonderful example for our country,” he said admiring the students’ achievements.

The students we thrilled at such a great opportunity!

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Heroism as a universal attribute of human nature

My new thoughts at this time are leading me in the direction of trying to understand what true heroism is. We often think of heroes as those who might have performed a one time act of bravery. I would like to distinguish this from lifelong heroism, that can become a way of life.

What wonderful examples of true heroism are our students! In the midst of the filth, the squalor, and the noise of the slum, with no one in the family to mentor them, they have confronted their challenges head on. They have fought bravely for success, unflinching in their determination, and with belief in their abilities. They have displayed the kind of courage that almost defies imagination in the face of such daunting circumstances. Many have encountered failure on the way, but have not given up. And imagine doing that with so much tenacity, so much fortitude, with such a bright spirit!

It is no wonder that they are reaching such great heights, from rummaging in garbage to white collar jobs in some of the world’s best known institutions. And what’s more, as Asha Ambassadors, these students are determined to share their wisdom with hundreds of younger students in their communities. They have opened up their tiny slum homes to coach, to mentor, to guide and to help in every possible manner.

I see them all the time, casting off the few personal comforts they have, for the welfare of others. I see them showing compassion and kindness, specially to the younger students who are in distress. Once they take up responsibilities, they dedicate themselves wholeheartedly and with utmost sincerity. In spite of living in such deep poverty, often not having enough to buy a bus fare, they are people of integrity and strong moral principles.

On my birthday, I pay tribute to these, our true heroes. I also pay tribute to my team that is filled with true heroes- visionaries, strong leaders, people of courage and bravery, sacrifice and determination.

I’d like to end by saying that the decision to act heroically is a choice. Heroism is a universal attribute of human nature. It is not a feature of a few heroic elect, but is something that is in the range of possibilities for every person.

Perhaps we can all be inspired to answer the call of heroism?

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