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SALTY WATERS TURN SACRED AND SWEET

The story of Giripuram in coastal Andhra Pradesh, India

“Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization should strive towards resolving long standing problems in villages. They should provide minimum necessities like education, medical services, and supply of basic amenities like water. The service activities conducted by the organization should aim towards eradicating problems from the root to provide permanent solutions to the village hence contributing to the progress of the nation”.

Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

With the focus on grass-roots level empowerment, for nearly five decades now, the Sri Sathya Sai Service Organization has been doggedly providing sustainable and long-term solutions to the problems of the millions that languish in remote and rural areas of India, neglected by the local administration. 

Today, the service organization started by the Avatar has built itself a sterling reputation for the highest efficiency, dedication, honesty and integrity.  From government agencies to corporate India, decision makers are unable to ignore the saga of endless love that Bhagavan Baba’s life has come to personify, in uplifting the plight of rural population in the remotest of locations.  Social outreach, driven by love for God has become the hallmark of the Sri Sathya Sai Service Organization in India and all around the world.

 

The story of Giripuram village in coastal Andhra Pradesh in South India is yet another chapter in Bhagavan Baba’s book of selfless love that flows from the sea of infinite compassion that is His cosmic heart.  This exciting tale deserves to be told and celebrated, for it is a story of how a group of committed and socially responsible citizens took to heart Baba’s advice to provide sustainable social relief at the grass-roots level to uplift a downtrodden fishing community of unlettered men and women who had never received the benefit of any of the fundamental rights guaranteed to every citizen in the Indian constitution. Their work proved the timeless appeal of the American Anthropologist Margaret Mead’s sentiment “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Fired by the personal example of their role model Sri Sathya Sai Baba, a group of volunteers took it upon themselves to rescue a neglected community by infusing hope and a sense of dignity in their lives and by initiating and providing a sustainable model of development aimed at improving the quality of their lives. 

Giripuram in Andhra Pradesh, India
 

No Water, No School, No Zeal to Live

It was not too long ago that the residents of Giripuram lived a miserable existence and suffered silently.  They had become used to their plight and were resigned to their fate.  They lacked basic amenities including access to clean drinking water for more than a decade.  Their lives were so miserable that they could not cook their rice because the water was too salty; they could not grow their crops because the beach-like sands covered their farmlands; they could not wash their clothes because the brackish waters could not produce enough lather. Lack of continuous electrical power supply meant that the groundwater bore wells could not function adequately either.

Free Flowing Liquor in a Parched Land

Ironically, even as they lacked proper drinking water for decades, there was a free flowing supply of country-made liquor in the impoverished community! Adding to the social evils this heinous profit-driven venture led to, the school children too suffered in their thatched-roof school which barely provided shelter. This school had the dubious distinction of having frequent holidays. The students did not need to leave their seats to stare at the sky.  The roof or its non-existence exposed them to the elements, even while indoors.

It is open air...but not by choice
They do not know classrooms can have walls and blackboard

Meanwhile, along with the health hazards of alcohol, the absence of potable drinking water also took its toll on their health. Leave alone the lack of access to a proper health facility, these socially neglected villagers did not even have a proper pharmacy to buy medication for their health needs. Though they were only a few kilometers from the neighboring town of Machilipatnam, the only time this fishing community felt cared-for was just before the elections, when various political parties came to woo them for their votes.

During this time, every few years, exciting promises were made but none kept.  As always, the residents of the Giripuram village were denied fundamental necessities, including the elixir of life: water, the essential life-line for their survival. 

Forgotten Village Makes Headline News

Such a neglected community, instead of being angry at the system, or soaking in self-pity, was recently catapulted into the limelight for destroying all its toddy or country-made liquor shops.  Today, the mothers of Giripuram are smiling, children are going to school, and men are healthier and more disciplined. Even the former toddy shop-owners are part of this sweeping change.  The liquor retailers of yesterday no longer contribute to the social delinquency – instead they sell healthy provisions in their transformed Kirana or provision stores.

What caused this incredible social, emotional and mental transformation of an entire community in Giripuram? What made these neglected fishermen turn glee? Why are they now a model for others to emulate?

 
 
The simple people of Giripuram

It all started a few years ago…

The Ocean Makes and Breaks Lives

Giripuram is a small village that resides on the banks of Bay of Bengal. The residents of this village combat with the tides of the sea waters to make their living as fishermen. The day begins with the men of the village setting out to fish.

God fulfills the desires of every individual but tests the same for courage, fortitude, endurance, and internal development. Bhagawan Baba says, “Pleasure is an interval between two pains”.

Two and a half years ago, on December 24, 2004, the tsunami struck Giripuram, along with much of South Asia, leaving the village completely devastated.  Many lives and entire families were wiped out. The very tide that had sustained them for so many years, turned against them, engulfing their destinies in its fury.  The same ocean that had nurtured, nourished and nursed them for decades, swept them away in seconds at the fateful moment.  Pleasure and pain came to them from the same source.

When the Tsunami struck...
...it was gruesome in Giripuram

Sai Youth Rise to the Challenge

After the ghastly Tsunami calamity, the survivors were plunged in grief.  The stream of tears in their eyes said it all, as they desperately longed for compassion and comfort.  At such a needy hour, the Sai Youth of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization, Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh proactively came forward – not only to distribute amenities like cooking vessels, clothes, blankets, drinking water and food but also to take up and resolve other significant and long standing problems of the villagers.

At first it was the condition of the Giripuram school children that pained the Sai Youth members. It was then that the Sai Youth decided to initiate service activities in this village community while connecting it to an ongoing (AP, India) state-wide school uplift project called “Sri Sathya Sai Gurukula Seva Yagnam” a campaign aimed at creating decent primary learning facilities for the downtrodden everywhere; a project that hopes to leave no child behind.

Leave No Child Behind

In keeping with the objectives of the noble Gurukula project in mind, and with the divine name on their lips, on 25th October, 2004, the Sai Youth of Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh laid a foundation for a permanent school building in Giripuram. The experiences derived out of this program are simply unforgettable and precious.

Bhoomi puja of the school by the district president and his wife
Work proceeds at an incredible pace

Right from the inception to the inauguration of the school building, the participation of the villagers directly or indirectly towards construction was commendable. Even the school children rose to the occasion and expressed their love for this noteworthy cause. They carried bricks of love on their tiny heads and participated in small chores. The hands that could barely clutch the ends of a slate, moved by the notion and emotion of building their own dream school, now joined with the Sai Youth thus demonstrating to us that it is indeed conviction, not age or maturity that is required to take on a noble task.  

The entire village was involved hands-on in the project and participated with pride and joy.  The Sai Youth and the village children together brought to life the school of their dreams in just three weeks, proving the power of team spirit, purity of intentions and divine grace, the sure-shot formula for unprecedented success!

At the district level, sevadal members from various zones also participated in the construction of the school building. The inauguration of the school building was held on 15th November 2004. Completing the entire project, right from the foundation laying to inauguration, within 21 days was possible only because of Swami’s sankalpa or divine resolve and this is indeed a lasting boon to the village.

Mr. Krishnamohan Rao, editor of Sreevani, inaugurates the School
Perfect finish to serve many generations to come

All-round Development to Uplift the Impoverished Community

In addition to the amazing school project with attendant Bal Vikas and Education in Human Values classes the other service projects taken-up by the Sathya Sai Seva Organizations in and around Giripuram include:

  • Providing medical facilities for villagers.
  • Inculcating health awareness among villagers.
  • Conducting various activities to create enthusiasm and networking amongst villagers through such activities as:
  • Sports competitions
  • Cultural group activities like Sitarama Kalyanam
  • Employment training and opportunities workshops for youth
  • Free education for the poor
  • Community halls (Anganwadi Bhawan).
  • Medical facilities for patients suffering from chronic diseases.
Medical service to those who have no help
Cultural programmes to build community spirit

They conduct regular Narayana Seva
Preparing food for distribution

Combating the Saline Water Problem

While conducting the above activities, the organization members noticed that for many years, the surrounding 12 villages suffered from water scarcity as well. There have been instances when ground waters evaporated completely thus causing villagers to flee from their homes. Such a condition was examined earlier and a water plant that converts salt water into plain water had been set-up in 1988, to solve the problem. However, due to maintenance problems the plant was shut-down within a short period of time.  The problem of brackish waters continued to plague Giripuram and its entire surrounding region.

Sai Organization Inspires Corporate and Government Sectors

Having researched the pathetic condition of these villagers, the Sri Sathya Sai Grama Seva Trust of Andhra Pradesh decided to renovate the water plant. The Indian Oil Corporation, as part of their corporate social responsibility, also chose to lend a helping hand. The significant renovation cost to bring the abandoned desalination plant to functionality, which stood as a barrier in the past, was now overcome.

Inspired by the lead taken by Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organizations, the local leaders of the village community did their part and managed to get a Government Order (G.O.) to sustain the future monthly maintenance of the plant. With Sri Sathya Sai Grama Seva Trust taking up the herculean task of bringing the plant to order, and with government now promising to take up the monthly maintenance cost, the idea of bringing in sweet drinking water to the neglected masses became a reality.

I live a mile away from the water plant. Everyday I carry the water back to my village on my shoulders. Lots of people in my village are anxious to get this water. I have not seen Sai Baba so far but I offer my respects to Him.

- Botla Satyanarayana, Botlavanipalem

Government Endorses Sai Organization with Its Vote Of Confidence

The confidence in the work being done by the Sri Sathya Sai Organizations was such that the government even went to the extent of clearly putting an exclusive clause in the G.O. stating that, “Only if Sri Sathya Sai Grama Seva Trust renovates…” It is said that good work is contagious; this being God’s work, it must be doubly so! As Bhagavan Baba always says, “My Blessings are always there for a good cause.”  To keep up the momentum, the Government as well as R.W.S (Rural Water Scheme) officials completed their works pertaining to the plant much beyond the expectations. The entire work of this plant was successfully completed within a month of the Bhoomi Puja or the ground-breaking ceremony which was held on 14th April 2007.

Bhoomi puja of the plant by the local MLA and village sarpanch
Performing the sacred foundation ceremony

Transporting the extensive piping
Sai Youth president speaks at the bhoomi puja ceremony

On 17th June 2007, Mr. Vemuri Krishna Murthy, District President of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization, Krishna District, lit the lamp to inaugurate the program of “Rakshita Manchi Neeti Padaka” (Protected Drinking Water Project). The Member of Parliament of Malleshwaram, Honourable Booragadda Veda Vyas presided over the function. The inaugural function was also attended by the Water Supply Minister, Mr. Pinnammaneni Venkateshwar Rao who was the special guest. The President of Sri Sathya Sai Grama Seva Trust, Andhra Pradesh, Mr Y. Srinivas, the president of Tallapallem village Gram Panchayat, other ward members, officials, and villagers were amongst those that took part in the inaugural function.

Mr. Booragadda Veda Vyas, MLA, presided over the function
District president, Mr. V Krishna Murthy, presenting a momento

The state Sai youth president addressing the crowd
The Water Supply minister shares his thoughts

Sri Pinnamaneni Venkateshwara Rao said, “I bow to Baba garu, who not only started just this project but also many such water projects throughout the state.” His speech delighted the audience as he reiterated the government order (or GO) and stated that although Sri Sathya Sai Grama Seva Trust implemented the plant renovation, the monthly maintenance cost for it henceforth will be taken care by the government.

The Desalination Plant - a boon to the villagers
The inaugural first draught of water

During his speech, Mr. Booragadda Veda Vyas, said, “It is indeed a matter of pride that the Sri Sathya Sai Grama Seva Trust has taken the initiative of renovating the water plant thereby following the footsteps of Baba who says service to humanity is service to God. Today is a day of celebration.”

The function indeed was a celebration of Sai’s will to transform both the served and those who serve. The development in local infrastructure that 60 years of independence could not bring to the village, the youthful force driven by their love for Sai accomplished literally in weeks!  The school building took precisely 3 weeks to come up from the ground up and the desalination plant took 4 weeks to turn salt water into the sweet and sacred elixir that is effectively quenching the thirst of the local population.

This water now is for them a precious gift from Sai - pure, safe and ever flowing

At the celebration, it was hard to miss the excitement in the air. The sweet melody of the Mangala Vaidyalu, a symphony from traditional instruments, filled everyone with a sense of triumph and relief.  The overflowing crowd in the tent and the rapt attention of the villagers were sure signs that the community was thrilled with this new project successfully spearheaded and accomplished by the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization. It was surely out of happiness that on the spur of the moment a young lad of Giripuram stood up and impromptu composed and rendered a heartwarming song. All were spellbound by the spontaneity, genuine gratitude and appreciation.  The villagers felt proud of their involvement in the project.

The long wait of the villagers had finally come to a happy ending: The pure drinking water of the desalination plant was released. Hundreds of villagers stood in line with their earthen pots to carry home their first fill of clean and sacred drinking water. Their first sip down their parched throats… a drop on their tongue, a tear in everyone’s eye, the auspicious mangalavaidyalu music playing in the background, holy bhajans being sung… one had to be there to truly experience the joy of the moment, a joy that had its source in the selfless love that is Sri Sathya Sai!

It has been several years since our village had safe drinking water. Our wells are all full of salty water. It is only due to Sai Baba that we are now able to drink pure water. I have never tasted such sweet water. It is all Sai Baba’s blessings.  

       
- Swarajyam, Harijanwad

The members of the Indian Oil Corporation, corporate partners of the project, declared that they were happy for having had the privilege of participating in such service activities that prove beneficial to people. In this regard, the service activities conducted by Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization are indeed ideal and exemplary, they pointed out. Thus, the project had left a mark not only in the corporate world, on government records, but also most importantly in the hearts of the villagers.

Our years of suffering for the lack of water is only know to the Almighty. Not able to endure the thirst we even drank hot water. Children even got Jaundice for drinking such water. Because of Sai Natha’s blessings we are today able to drink pure & sweet water.

- Jhansi, Satravapalem

Sai Love Brings Water and School to Community

Giripuram now not only has a concrete school building in place of its pathetic predecessor, but also a proper working drinking water facility. The newly renovated drinking water plant is not only serving Giripuram, but also a bigger neighbourhood of 6 villages, which consists of 10,000 people. The plant has now the capacity to produce 100,000 liters of highest quality drinking water per day and can serve 25,000 villagers shortly. When tested by experts, the drinking water was so pure that even the best of the store bought mineral waters paled in comparison. 

 

It is only Swami’s grace that could bring the best of care and facilities to the most deprived of communities. For the villagers the long await was over. Decades of agony over salty water, lack of health care, lack of proper school was now overcome by the sacred love that Swami channeled through His instruments.

Their longstanding problems were now resolved by the Sathya Sai Organizations in a loving, sustainable way.  More importantly, it involved every member of the local community, inspiring and empowering them along the way.

Today, one cannot express the joy that fills the hearts of the residents of Giripura village. Inspired by the teachings of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and the various activities conducted by the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization, Krishna District, the villagers expressed their love and manifested their transformation by totally eradicating toddy, the local liquor from their lives and their village. 

Joyfully they take pots full...
 

It is said that actions speak louder than words. During this project the Sai Youth learned that results are better than actions; better than results are sustained results; even better than sustained results are sustained solutions to long-standing problems. The participants received lessons for life from the experience, as one youth can confirm:

For the last 50 years I used to drink the well water. Today I have tasted the sweet water from the plant. Wow, I have never tasted anything like. May god bless you for the good work you have done.

- Subba Rao, Satravupalem

"As the comments from the villagers suggest, they are indeed grateful and happy. It is not just them that walk away with these feelings. We the youth of Bhagavan Baba too are immensely thankful to Him for having received the gift of this opportunity to serve Him in this way. We pray to Swami for strength to carry out many more such activities in His Divine mission.  Even though what we accomplished with His grace and guidance is something quite small in face of the magnitude of needs for such intervention in our nation, we cannot discount the experience as insignificant.  Mother Teresa so rightly said, 'We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.'"

Nothing in the world is more gratifying than to make a difference by reaching out to others, only to realize that the person who seems to be the other is none else than ourselves!  That realization is the ultimate high of our journey with Sai!  And it’s simply…indescribable and priceless!

Jai Sai Ram.

- Sai Youth of AP
and the H2H Team

Dear reader, how did you like the article? Did it inspire you in any way? Please share your feelings with us at [email protected]


 
     
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Vol 5 Issue 09 - SEPTEMBER 2007
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