Volume 6 - Issue 09
SEPTEMBER - 2008
THE SWEET FLOW OF BHAGAVAN’S LOVE IN BOGODOHOVO
A little town called Bogodohovo in the East European country of Ukraine recently came under siege, not by an army of a superpower but a legion of angels, who swept the region with the purest form of unadulterated love, compassion and kindness extraordinaire.
“Bogodohovo” sounds similar to the Sanskrit word “Bhagavan”, isn’t it? Interestingly, “Bogo-Du-hovo” in the Ukrainian language too has an intrinsic divine connotation; it means “City belonging to the spirit of God”. And the present story of Sai Seva is all about how divine love and compassion overwhelmed this remote ‘God’s city’ tucked away in a rural corner of Ukraine.
Bogodohovo, which is seven hours from Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, is actually an antithesis of Kiev. Kiev is home to many high-tech industries, higher education institutions, extensive infrastructure and a sophisticated system of public transport, including the Kiev Metro; Bogodohovo, on the other hand, is a sad picture of poverty, poor nutrition, pathetic infrastructure and very basic medical facilities. The 18,000 people of this city are ages behind the affluence and prosperity that Kiev stands for. The situation, in fact, is worse if one visited the outlying villages of this city where innocent and ignorant people suffer from a variety of ailments, major and minor, and have no clue about either the disease or the treatment.
Some had become blind and have been sightless for years; others suffered with serious cardiac complications, a third group consisted of children who were mentally and psychologically challenged at a very young age, and so on. While some of these pitiable conditions were irreversible, most of them could be corrected and cured with proper medical attention and guidance. Moved by the plight of these unfortunate rural folk, a group of Sai Volunteers flew from the USA and the UK to restore health, hope and happiness into their hitherto depressing lives.
Love Knows No Distance
The inspired group, led by Dr. Upadhyay, comprised of a broad skill mix of doctors with various specialities and a bunch of youth volunteers. Let us start this stirring tale from the very beginning – the story of how these doctors and volunteers arrived at Bogodohovo, which is really fascinating.
On June 28, 2008, three groups of doctors from the US and the UK were due to arrive from different places of the globe at Kiev Airport. This meant three different travel arrangements to get to the site of the medical camp which was 7 hours away! Or so it seemed…
What actually happened was that first the US team was delayed as their flight was cancelled. Next, the UK flight to Amsterdam too was running late because of which the group lost their connecting flight to Kiev, and as a result, landed at Kiev much later than scheduled. Lastly, the team arriving from Paris by another airline also landed 5 hours after its scheduled time.
Signs of Divine Help
The last minute hotchpotch in plan would have caused much chaos but for the hidden divine plan of the Lord. The cancellations and delays actually turned out to be to everyone’s benefit as all three teams arrived at the Kiev Airport within 10-30 minutes of each other! This not only facilitated the transport arrangements for the hosts greatly, but also allowed the entire group to travel together as one closely-knit unit right from the start. “It was Swami’s way of reinforcing unity among us right from day one! What a beautiful orchestration of events!” said a doctor from UK, jubilantly.
In fact, the members of this blessed team experienced many such coincidences, nay ‘Saincidences’, even before they started their journey to Bogodohovo. “The numbers in the amount paid as donation by the Sai Organisation to the medical camp added up to 9, the divine number. For us, this was an auspicious sign,” said one of the Sai doctors, a paediatrician from UK. She had another interesting tale too. “I was trying to borrow a portable ultrasound machine so that we could offer screening facility to patients at the medical camp. I had made several attempts to get this machine, but without any luck. It was now the penultimate day of our departure and I was nowhere near getting this machine. I had only 20 minutes with me that day after which I had to attend a clinic.
Absolutely clueless, I finally made a fervent plea to the Lord: 'Swami, if You want us to take the ultrasound machine, please make the arrangements in 20 minutes.' Immediately after this, I walked up to try for the last time to borrow the ultrasound machine. And to my surprise, this time all things were in place and the concerned people willingly lent the USG machine! In just about 20 minutes, I had the machine in my hand from the hospital on loan! And I must add here that during our medical camp in Bogodohovo, we performed more than 300 ultrasounds on this special machine. On the basis of ultrasound tests, when we assured patients that their organs were normal or that they did not have gall stones, it gave them so much relief. They returned feeling happy and healthy.”
The group, comprising of 19 doctors and 5 youth volunteers, felt the presence of the Lord every step of the way as they embarked on their noble endeavour. They were overwhelmed at the warm welcome they received first at Kiev and later at the medical camp site. But nothing could have prepared them for the overdose of love and affection that they were to receive next. More than two hundred volunteers (217 to be precise) had gathered at the site from Russia, Ukraine, Moldavia and Belarus much before their arrival. They had travelled long distances to offer their time and energy, and show solidarity with the noble aims of the camp. In reality, it seemed like it was their camp into which the team from UK and US had joined.
Heavenly Inspired Neurosurgeon
In fact, one of these volunteers was a qualified neurosurgeon. He had actually journeyed more than 1500 miles to participate in the medical camp. However, when he realised that there was little need for his discipline at the camp, he simply accepted it as God’s will and was ready to assist in any other way. Therefore, he spent the next 7 days helping with transportation and lending his hand for doing building renovation work! His humility and sense of dedication inspired everyone in the camp.
Local People are Stunned
Sai Love pervaded the whole atmosphere and the group was overjoyed when the Mayor of Bogodohovo welcomed the group at a special civic ceremony and said, “I cannot believe that medical service is being offered absolutely free of charge.”
In fact, the recurring question from many patients was: “Is it really free?” Being new to Sai and His philosophy, it was difficult for them to accept that an international team of doctors would travel half way across the globe to care for their problems and treat them free of charge! Nothing like this had happened before. And the icing on the cake for them was the way the service was offered. They were overwhelmed with the love and genuine concern of the Sai volunteers.
One old lady who received free reading glasses was delighted. She said, “I always believed in angels but now I can see them!” There were two ophthalmologists and three optometrists who were exceptionally busy treating refraction and glaucoma. Another old lady had tears of joy when she was informed she did not have a cataract. Thinking that she needed an operation, the poor lady had in fact cut down on the food for her family to save enough for the procedure. When she was told not to worry about her eyes for another ten years at least, she was jubilant. “Now I can feed my family properly,” she exclaimed, with tears of gratitude.
There were countless such experiences of supreme joy for over 780 pairs of spectacles were dispensed in total and 750 pairs were donated to the local ophthalmologist for free dispensing in future.
Many Hands Make ‘Sai Light’ Work
The camp days for the doctors were nothing short of hectic. Their morning began with transport arriving at 6:30 a.m. to take them to the dining hall for a good breakfast of porridge and fruit. Then there was a group meeting with the Ukrainian and Russian coordinators who assisted in working out who would go in each team and to which village. The doctors were actually divided into 3 groups every morning with each group going to a different village.
Consultations began once they reached the specified areas. On the first day, more than 700 patients were examined and the numbers kept growing each day for the remaining four days. Over 6000 patients were attended to in the short span of five days!
There were two cardiologists and while they gave valuable advice on maintaining a healthy heart and explained techniques for weight reduction, there was one occupational therapist who demonstrated healthy exercises to patients suffering from diabetes and hypertension. The ENT surgeon, screened the patients and distributed free hearing aids to the needy. The recipients were overjoyed at being able to hear again!
The group also had two paediatricians and a gynaecologist who were immensely useful to the people. Together, they spent quality time advising young mothers and reassuring the ones who were distressed. For instance, one day, a young mother of three with severe gynaecological problems stepped into the clinic. Earlier, she had been told to have surgery, but being a farm worker, she knew she would never be able to pay for the procedure.
However, the camp’s gynaecologist offered her another safer option. This was still an expensive alternative, but the cost of this was borne entirely by the Sai Organisation. The lady was so overwhelmed with the love and care she received that tears started streaming down her cheeks. She said, “I know all of you believe in God. When I prayed to God today I felt confident that angels had come to save me. I knew I would be fine.” Then, she misread the Dr. Sri Bala’s name in the badge and gleefully said, “Thank you, Dr. Baba!” She was, of course, right! The way Swami was working through His instruments and making His presence felt was wonderful. Evidently, He alone was the sole doer.
When this lady’s son had come to the camp the previous day for an eye check-up, he returned home and told his mother that he felt he was in a temple of healing and not in a medical clinic.
The team had doctors with many other specialities too. There were three general physicians, two psychiatrists and an equal number of physiotherapists who were extremely busy diagnosing and counselling the young and the old.
The physiotherapists on the team were invaluable in their advice regarding the little infant pictured above and featured in the video, to ensure a swift recovery. They also advised patients with chronic pain various simple exercises to strengthen their muscles. The occupational therapist was very busy giving out valuable rehabilitation advice to stroke patients and exercises for weight reduction for patients who suffered from diabetes and hypertension. Health promotion and awareness was the key to their problems.
Dr. Pabani, the pain specialist, used many of his own devices and acupuncture to alleviate patients with chronic pain in their backs and joints. His special machine Thermo scan was actually able to pick up the actual site of pain on a computerised programme.
The patients finally were very relieved because they felt finally someone believed their pain! For the first time in years these poor folk were pain free. Obviously, their joy knew no bounds.
On the second day of their camp, the group made a heart-rending visit to an orphanage of 140 disturbed children, who had been traumatised by abuse suffered earlier in their lives. While the psychiatrists offered them valuable advice and boosted their morale, the paediatricians screened them for medical illnesses and imparted important health education.
The little orphans touched the volunteers’ hearts deeply, and so, they went out of their way to do everything possible to add more life and colour to their lives. Saddened by the plight of a disabled child in the orphanage, the volunteers gifted him a wheelchair.
Meeting a Kindred Soul
There was another person too, who moved the volunteers beyond words. He was a local Ukrainian doctor who for the last 25 years had covered four villages on a bicycle to help the patients in his own way, with limited resources at his disposal. Now he was 61, and still cycled for hours to do whatever he could for the rural folk. Beyond the effort he put in physically and professionally, everyday he prayed sincerely for his needy patients. But when he met the Sai group, he felt his prayers were being answered. One of the volunteers spontaneously offered to gift him a motorcycle; the joy of the good old Samaritan knew no bounds. The group also equipped him with a portable instrument to measure blood pressure. For him, it was unexpected blessings from the Almighty; he was thrilled, one could see it in his tear-filled eyes.
In this manner every day was a celebration of His love and grace for every member of the group. They would return to their guest house by 7 p.m. and had their dinner together at 7.30 p.m. After this, they settled down for group meetings in which they shared their experiences of the day and began to plan for the next day. By the time the discussions concluded, it was always 11 p.m.
It was not only valuable medical service that the group carried out in Bogodohovo; in fact, treating the sick was only one part of the story. While the group of international doctors got busy in treating their patients, there was a silent undercurrent of love spreading in other ways too. The rest of the volunteers in the group engaged in a variety of other activities to make the lives of these rural folks better. The Sai workers distributed clothes, footwear and even nutrition packets to several households, pensioners and disabled members of the town. Besides toys and games for the children, the volunteers also lent sporting equipment to the local boarding school and even helped set up a computer class.
The Volunteers’ Impeccable Spirit
In fact, there was much more happening. There was a ‘Cleaning Brigade’ for whom no job was mean or inferior. They cleaned the bathrooms of the schools and the city with their bare hands while their throats were incessantly singing His glories.
One lady, indeed, had an incense stick burning in the toilet, while they worked because “If Swami were to visit us now it should smell nice!” she said sweetly. And the people who did this work were all qualified and dignified, but their humility and dedication was to be seen to be believed. One of them was actually the famous soprano singer Elena Petruchenko.
Besides this, a group of volunteers also had formed a ‘Building Brigade’ who worked tirelessly to repair and replace plumbing in a local school. They painted walls, renovated bathrooms, did the electrical fittings, corrected the sewage system, and repaired and replaced wash basins, taps, pipes, fences, etc.
They even redid an old lady’s door and broken bed. She had tears of joy in her eyes when she saw her house being redone, and said, “I knew that angels existed but I am seeing them now ……our dear Sai angels.” These acts of genuine selfless service not only touched the villagers but also stupefied the village authorities as they had never witnessed anything like this before. And as if these were not enough, the group also made anew the library and gymnasium of schools there.
This group of volunteers also visited an old people’s home. Moved at the dismal facilities existing there, they provided them with a microwave and refrigerator. The senior citizens were so overcome with gratitude that they exclaimed: "No one has ever come to see us - let alone do anything for us with so much love!" In a matter of 4 days, the hairdresser in this group lovingly provided haircuts to 335 people!
Mention must also be made of the most important ‘Kitchen Brigade’ who did stalwart service for the entire week bringing a smile to everyone’s face at every meal. The youngest helper was 16 years while the oldest 60! They cooked fresh and tasty meals for 260 people everyday and they were the first people to get to work every day; their day started as early as 3 a.m.! So passionate they were about their work that they even painted a mural on a wall depicting Divine Mother Earth - ‘Annapoorna’.
While all these voluntary service was going on, there was one family who actually stole everybody’s heart. The father, Ruslan, who is the Sathya Sai Coordinator in the Ukraine Sathya Sai Organisation, gave his all helping the doctors, while his wife worked as the chief cook sleeping hardly a few hours every night. And their two wonderful daughters, Nancy and Macha, served tirelessly as interpreters who offered the camp vital cross-cultural communication. In fact, they have been part of every medical camp held in Russia and neighbouring countries in the last few years.
This family, truly, overtook all with their dedication and selfless service. As without them and the other interpreters the medical camp would never have been a success. They were the group’s ears and voice, giving out essential health information which could save a life or a limb. They endured long hours of translation without taking a break, and at the same time, the arduous job of a three-way conversation did not ever stop or affect their charming smiles.
The youngest interpreter in the group was only 11 years! Even she would stay up until midnight translating often without a meal, as she felt so overjoyed just doing Swami’s work! In short, it was the love, patience and understanding shown by every translator that was pivotal to the successful execution of the camp, and each of them did a splendid job.
There were more volunteers groups. One was the ‘Transport Brigade’ who used their own vehicles, some having travelled more than 1000 miles. They ensured that doctors moved the long distances from one village to another without any difficulty and the camps functioned on time. “But the most heartening aspect about them was their eternal cheerfulness,” said the paediatrician from UK.
Vivek Sharma, a high school student from USA, who was one of the volunteers at the camp, said, "I received firsthand experience to serve another country's people. This is the first trip I had with the Sai organisation to serve. I was really amazed by the commitment of the Sai brothers and sisters when it comes to helping the less fortunate ones. I worked in a variety of places, including in the orphanage where I befriended many of the children living there. What I learned through this experience is to see God in everyone, and help them in whatever way I can because I realised that I was actually helping myself too in the process."
More than the difference that they brought in the lives of people in Bogodohovo, the satisfaction and sense of fulfilment that filled their hearts during the days of the camp was something which every member cherishes in their heart forever. And it is for this reason that every time there is such an opportunity to offer selfless service, they grab it with both their hands.
Bringing Joy to All Through a Variety Show
Apart from the thrill of the service, there were other joys too during this trip. On the final day of the camp, all the 200 plus volunteers and doctors had a variety entertainment show open to all to celebrate the glory of their Lord. Beautiful sounds of music from various faiths merged into one beautiful melody. They sang and danced as an offering to Him and shared His love gladly.
Ms. Elena Petruchenko, the soprano singer who was actually cleaning toilets for six days prior to the concert, charmed the entire audience with her soulful rendering. The pure love for Swami that exuded that evening was something extraordinary. The oldest volunteer in the group, Olga, played the accordion, and she has been a regular member for the last ten such camps.
During her first camp, she had her eyes checked and it was found that she had a cataract which required surgery. But there was no way she could afford the operation, so she asked Dr. Upadhyay for medicine instead.
The doctor told her that surgery was inevitable, but she could have vibhuti in the meantime and pray to Swami. In an amazing act of divine grace, a year later she was back to serve and was completely cataract free!
It is such instances of Divine love and compassion that every individual’s heart was so filled with which made the incredible happen in a remote corner of Ukraine. It was a week that every volunteer, doctor and patient remembers with delight and love.
It was Swami working, loving and serving through them, and as if to confirm this, on the final day of their visit, as the team was leaving at 5.30 a.m., the morning sky in Bogodohovo was covered with a beautiful round rainbow.
For the Sai workers from different parts of the globe, it was an unforgettable symbol of unity, purity and selfless love that had come a full circle during the camp, and an endorsement from the source of supreme bliss their Lord, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, of their efforts to emulate a tiny speck of His infinite Love.
- UK Sai Devotees
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Vol 6 Issue 09 - SEPTEMBER 2008
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