Friday, July 1, 2011

Initiatives of Change’ (IofC) has no borders, boundaries nor barriers.

Ravindra Rao (Photo: Egils Dancis)The initiator Frank Buchman reached every part of the world in his lifetime, brought together significant world leaders, healed conflicts that had divided several nations. Deep transformations came to countless people with far reaching changes lighting up lives with the hope of a new world order. Confident that it was Divine Power that used him, this ordinary and yet incredible man, said towards the end of his life, 'I have been wonderfully led [by God]'. Today Initiatives of Change is a force on every continent and people influenced by it are engaged in building a just and caring society through their chosen fields –ranging from education to management; farming to administration.

Convinced of India’s greatness and her future role in the world, Buchman brought a group of 200 people from across the world to introduce IofC (then, ‘MRA’) to the country in 1956. However, a march across India in 1963 led by Rajmohan Gandhi could be counted as the launching of IofC in the country. Thousands, mostly youth, responded to his call for a ‘clean, strong and untied India’ starting with oneself. They were trained in youth camps where they not only straightened out their own lives but learnt the art and skill of conveying the message through whatever media at hand to inspire others. While many from the villages too were reached, it has remained active mostly in the cities. In the last almost half a century a sizeable number of people imbued with the spirit of IofC have spread into all spheres –teaching, business, industry and every other profession. They are proud of India’s emerging economic power; but are keener to empower the weakest in the land, as was Gandhiji’s dream.

One such gave expression to what many had felt and decided that time had come to make a deliberate thrust into Rural India which is still the heart of this land. So ‘Grampari’ (Grameen and Pariyavaran Kendra, the IofC Rural and Environment Centre) was born three years ago in the old farm buildings lying unused on the lands of the IofC Centre, Asia Plateau.

There was little experience of working in villages. But the passion to give the villages their rightful place in the creation of a New India and the belief in their strength and wisdom, largely not acknowledged, was strong. The learning for the Grampari team started.

Swami Vivekananda said, “Don't preach philosophy to a hungry stomach. Give it food.” The ideas of IofC had to ride on the back of ‘seva’ (service) to empower them to meet their own dire physical needs. While their simple and straight forward honesty was touching it was obvious that they too had their share of selfishness, corruption and divisions which crippled development and rendered many government schemes ineffective.

The following pages record the team’s tentative first steps and the lessons being learnt. The experience is hugely encouraging and fulfilling, though not without pain.

Ravindra Rao