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  Volume 4 - Issue 07 JULY 2006
 
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SAI MOVEMENT IN COLOMBIA

Previous Articles In This Series

 

In the last issue of our series of feature articles on the Sai Movement in Latin America, we carried the story of the Sai Movement in Guatemala. In the month previous to that, in May, we had the Sai story of El Salvador. Both of these are Central American countries. In this issue, we have our first country from South America – the Republic of Colombia.

Before we tell you how Sai entered this Spanish nation which gets its name from the legendary explorer Christopher Columbus, first a little about its geography, economy and people.

Colombia – An Exceptional Geographical Location and Climate

Colombia is the only Andean and South American country with ports and long coasts on both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It borders Venezuela and Brazil in the east, Ecuador and Peru in the south, and Panama in the northwest. Its island possessions include the Malpelo, opposite its Pacific coast, and several small islands, coral reefs, islets and sandbanks (San Andres, Providencia, Serrana, Serranilla, and Roncador) in the Caribbean Sea.

 
   
Colombia in South America

With three ranges of the Andes in its west, east and centre and also the equator running through it, Colombia is a country with an exceptional climate. It has all sorts of climates from cold areas as in the snow-capped peaks up to the hot areas as in the deserts, also having moderate climates as in the valleys and humid forests. The Capital Bogota, the largest and the most populous city, stands in one of these basins.

 
The snow capped mountains in Colombia
...and the Amazon river

The People of Colombia – A Range of Different Races

Ninety-five percent of the entire population of nearly 32 million are Roman Catholic. However, it has freedom of worship and one can find different branches of Christianity as well as other major religions such as Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. The people of mixed European and American Indian race ‘Mestizo’ form the largest group (45-68%), while there are large amounts of European descendents (20-25%), mixed European-African or American Indian-African ‘Mulatos’ (14-20%) and also aboriginal Indians (5-8%). The proportions of these racial groups differ widely from one part of the country to other.

Agriculture and Industry

Colombia 's economy is based mainly on agriculture, the exploitation of mineral resources, and industry. Coffee plays a dominant role in agriculture, Colombia being the world's second largest producer. It is South America's leading producer of gold, nickel, and coal. Most of the country's land, water, and forest resources are not utilized, but the beautiful emeralds of Colombia are of world renown.

The Colombian gold bracelet
The world renowned emerald
And coffee - Colombia's major produce

Colombia’s variety of industries consists mainly in processing agricultural, mineral, and forest products and in supplying domestic demand for a wide range of consumer goods, machinery, vehicles, tools, building materials, chemicals, wood products, and paper. The number of plants had doubled by the mid-1980s, and their average size has grown considerably. The main industries which employs about 20% of the country’s work force are textiles, clothing and footwear, food processing, tobacco, iron and steel, metal products, automobile assembly, chemicals, oil refining and petrochemical products, cement, wood pulp, and paper. So much for a brief introduction to this Northwest South American nation which gained independence from Spain nearly two hundred years ago.

The Genesis Of The Sai Movement

The origin of the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Organization in Colombia dates back approximately to 1986, when some of Swami’s admirers went to visit Him in India. When they returned to Bogotá, the capital city, they started to gather with other people at a vegetarian restaurant to sing bhajans and study Baba’s teachings. By the beginning of 1988 this was the situation in Colombia: a few followers gathering once a week.

In 1989, at the auditorium of the Dann’s Hotel in Bogotá, the first public meeting took place, the speakers being Messrs. Michael Goldstein, Leonardo Gutter and Roberto Pinzon Gonzalez.

Thereafter, the first four centres were established in the country: two in Bogotá (La Magdalena and Pablo VI), one in Cali, the second most populated city and the other one in Bucaramanga, a major commercial centre of Columbia. Later on, they would officially become La Magdalena Centre (1990), La Soledad (1991) El Spring (1992), La Esperanza(1991) and Quiroga (1995). After Roberto’s visit to several places in the country, different groups in Barranquilla, Pereira and Cucuta and later on in Medellin, the second largest metropolitan of Colombia, were also formed.

 

The Sathya Sai Institute of Human Values – A Valuable Initiative

During 2000, in order to consolidate the education area, the Sathya Sai Institute of Human Values was created, with a group of volunteers. It trains public and private school teachers by means of an introductory course of one semester and the second semester consisting of practice sessions with feedback from all the participants of the first course. It may sometimes continue for more semesters. It also provides short weekend workshops on the different human values for schools or institutions which ask for the service.

 

Human Values Class in progress in Colombia...

So far (2006), approximately 250 teachers have received training on how to expand human values. The volunteers visit different schools and have reached out to about 2,500 children. Till 2005 about 6,000 children have been benefited directly or indirectly by the Program. A very big group of volunteers work with abused children and in very poor communities and the transformation that is coming about in these children is really inspiring. For example, at El Portal, a school for the children of dangerous prisoners, a kid was beaten by a classmate but this boy did not react, he just stared at him and told him “Here we are told not to beat each other, so I am not going to hit you back”.

 

The classmate hit him again and boy repeated that he was not going to hit him since it was not correct. When he was going to be beaten again, a teacher appeared and stopped the aggressive child. Isn’t this boy a marvelous example of how character can be constructed?

At the same school, after one workshop given to the parents, one mother stood up with tears in her eyes and said that she wanted to thank everybody for all the things she has learned in the workshops and also that she no longer beats nor shouts at her children. Whenever she completely loses her patience, now she goes out of the room and when she is calmed she enters again and talks to them. Other parents also shared how they no longer hit their children, and how they have learned to control themselves. These parents are changing for the better and the human values program is giving them a new approach to life.

Working with children of a deprived community...
   

At Fearc (another school with volunteers from the Human Values Institute), once two girls were fighting. They were asked to prepare a story on forgiveness and tolerance together but they did not want to work together. After some reflection among all the students, they were given 8 days to prepare it. The day came and they presented their own story. The volunteer teacher insisted that they must have just one story written together, so they went out for 20 minutes and putting together their two stories they made one with a happy ending of forgiveness. It resulted in all the children deliberating on the advantages of forgiveness.

This is the kind of positive impact that the human values program brings about in the minds of the children and the parents.

Community Service – Another Important Facet of Sai Work

Service connects hearts and each of the eleven centres and four groups carry out community service. The 350 active members and 100 other members offer breakfast, food, and clothes to the homeless; they also visit old age homes frequently.

 

Sharing food and feeding the elderly in Colombia

Once, some members of the Executive committee (every area has an executive committee to coordinate and promote the Sai activities) visited one of the centers which is in a deprived area of the city. They were informing the people about and inaugurating the recently created Medicare service. [Medicare was inaugurated in February 2005 and there are several doctors ready to offer service]. The people of the rural area were very grateful with Swami and one lady even said that she would like to clean or do something else in return for the service she was going to receive. When hearts are touched with love, they are opened and devoted to serve, support and help.

Under special circumstances such as painful natural disasters, all the Sai Centres in Colombia help each other and money contributions are sent through Fundasai in an organized manner to reach out to the distressed.

The Other Joy-filled Spiritual Activities

The Sai Organisation also has also held many public meetings apart from study circles, workshops on Human Values and Sai Spiritual Education.

In August 2004, the Sai Organisation organized a public meeting in the capital city of Bogota, the largest and the most populous city of the country with more than 7 million population. The meeting was addressed by Mr. Leonardo Gutter from Argentina and Mr. Billy Escalante from Peru.

The Sathya Sai Public Meeting In Bogota, Colombia
 
Exhibition cum Book Sale of Sai Teachings and His Message at Sathya Sai Meeting in the Capital City of Bogota
 
Sai devotees choir at the Sai meeting
Reading out Swami's letter to the attendees
 
The audience and one of the speakers at the meeting

In the same year, there was another grand public meeting organized in the city of Bucaramanga, the major commercial center of northeastern Colombia which also had a very positive response.

The Sathya Sai Public Meeting In Bucaramanga, Colombia
 
The meeting in progress at the Gabriel Turbay Public Library in Bucaramanga
 

In the September of 2004, the Sai Organization held a public meeting in San Jose. This meeting was addressed by Dr. Jorge Luis Beera. In the same month, there was another meeting organized in the city of Barranquilla. Hundreds had gathered at the Beauty Arts Faculty Auditorium of Atlanta University to listen and learn about Sai and His mission. There was also a book sale and exhibition of Sai Literature.

The Sathya Sai Public Meeting In San Jose, Colombia
 
The Sathya Sai Public Meeting In Barranquilla, Colombia
 
At the Beauty Arts Faculty Emporium, Atlantic University in Barranquilla

In 2005, the first Bal Vikas meeting took place at one of the Sai Centres in Medellin. The second Bal Vikas Public Meeting will be held this year (2006) in Barranquilla , the largest industrial city and port on the Colombian Caribbean region.

 
First Bal Vikas National Encounter at Medellin in 2005
Celebrating Swami's 80th Birthday...

Devotional meetings take place every month at “La Puerta del Cielo” (Heavens’ Door), a temple constructed by a devotee to serve the Organization. Devotees are taught bhajans and now the organization has a new song book and will soon have a website.

One other thing that the Sai organization in Colombia does is to participate in Book Fairs. Many people bought books on Sai and wanted to learn more about Him. They also show films and documentaries on Baba so that visitors can feel and confirm the positive influence that Baba has on everyone.

A Sai Book Fair Organised by the Sai Organisation of Colombia
 
 

This has been an occasion every year when many people learn about Swami for the first time and eagerly become His devotees. The Colombian President, through his personal doctor Elsa Lucia Arango (a Sai devotee) has Swami’s padukas (holy sandals) at his residence. All the arrangements for the fair are done by Sai Volunteers with a lot of devotion and dedication.

Disseminating His Message

Not only this, to communicate the message of Sai effectively, since 2005, every month a bulletin called “Sai’s Expansion” is published in which, apart from Swami’s own messages, there are also experiences of Baba’s followers, information about service activities and other Sai activities.

The Organisation even organized a course on “Sai’s Reporters” in order to be able to gather information on different events and maintain proper documentation of different encounters and seva activities.

In the Prashanthi Nilayam ashram, one cannot miss the Colombians with their yellow scarves behind with ‘col’ (and symbol aum) and ‘bia’ written in the shape of an upturned arc.

Though thousands of miles from Puttaparthi, their dedication to His mission and devotion to His Feet is really an inspiration for all the Sai Community.

We, at Heart2Heart, wish all the Sai brothers and sisters of Colombia all the energy, strength and His grace to carry forward His mission and redeem their lives.


We are grateful to Mr. John Behner and many other Sai brothers and sisters of Colombia for their help and cooperation in the making of this article.

Dear Reader, this is our fourth article in the series of articles on Sai Movement in Latin America. Did this article help you in anyway? Would you like stories of Sai Movement from other countries as well? Please tell us know at [email protected]. Please mention your name and country when you write to us. Thank you for your time.

Heart2Heart Team


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Vol 4 Issue 07 - JULY 2006
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