Sewa Above Self – Indian NGO helps Thousands in US

Sewa Above Self – Indian NGO helps Thousands in US

Professor Sree N Sreenath, the president of Sewa International, headquartered in Houston, Texas, has been busy leading the organisation’s non-medical response to COVID-19. He, along with Sewa volunteers, has been busy responding to calls to their hotline.

Sewa international is a non-profit service organization which believes in the Dharmic principles of “Serving Humanity is Serving Divinity” and “Unity in Diversity”.

In February, 2020 Charity Navigator, one of the major American evaluators of charities, and the largest and most-utilized evaluator of American charitable organizations, ranked Sewa International among the Top 10 “Highly Rated Charities Relying on Private Contributions”, with Sewa ranking fifth among the ten such listed charities.

Sewa International’s overall rating is 100.00, scoring an impressive 100.00 on both financial rating as well as accountability and transparency. “I am proud of our dedicated volunteers and indefatigable executive team who do really know what selfless service is all about, and it is they and the gracious and generous donors who have enabled Sewa International to reach these heights and to earn such accolades. “We will continue to work hard and keep doing the good work we have been doing” says Professor Sreenath.

Over the last few days, Sewa helped make arrangements for the funeral of an elderly man when as Dr Sreenath puts it “none of his friends was willing or able to do so.”

Sewa also helped a two day sick Indian restaurant worker, aged 27, who was sharing a two bedroom flat with multiple roommates, by connecting him to a physician.

Sewa volunteers advised a 37-year-old Indian professional with two children and his wife who were exhibiting symptoms on what steps to take after consulting with a physician from the Sewa Physician Bank.

To strengthen its coronavirus prevention and relief efforts, Sewa International has released $10,000 to run its helpline and coronavirus awareness campaign.

“A team of 20 physicians is helping Sewa in providing free advice through Sewa coronavirus helpline. Over 400 volunteers in 20 major cities in the country are working tirelessly to put up a formidable community response at this difficult time,” Swadesh Katoch, Sewa’s Vice President for Disaster Relief, said in a press release.

Sewa has delivered gloves, masks, sanitizers to vulnerable workers, area volunteers, physicians’ families (with elderly, children and adults taking immuno-suppressors. They have delivered groceries to the elderly, provided information on travel and visa status. In addition Sewa has provided human resources to Counties through translators, Food Bank helpers, volunteer drivers, etc. They have also helped to find rides for persons with symptoms to get tested.

The Ministry of External Affairs has also reached out to them for assistance. “There are over 250,000 students from India studying in US universities. More than 300 US Universities have closed including some who have moved instructions to a virtual mode, and even shut their dorms. Sewa has fielded calls from Indian students from such universities who are finding it difficult to cope  emotionally, health wise, and financially,” says Professor Sreenath, himself an academic at a major research university in the state of Ohio. “We even had a couple of concerned parents call us from India,” he said.

“The Indian Consulate in SFO has referred us to a dozen students with OCI with family in India who have had to vacate college dorm rooms and we are constantly helping Indian students in US universities who are stranded, and have set up discounted motel rooms, and provided accommodation in extra spaces in temples,” adds Dr Sreenath.

In this interview with CSP, Dr Sreenath talks about the Sewa:

What is the Indian ethos of sewa that is called upon in this sad medical crisis?

'Sewa' is "Service above self." Sewa is not 'help.' 'Help' gets a transactional connotation. For Sewa practitioners when humanity is in distress and in a crisis, it gives us time to practice what we believe.

The diaspora has always been applauded for its achievements in IT. Now we see new heroes emerging in medicine both Western and Ayurveda, in social workers, community workers and even Yoga practioners. What are your thoughts on this?

The practice of Ashtanga Yoga (though in the US Hatha yoga/asanas have gained more prominence, vegetarianism (being rediscovered by the West as good for the environment, prevention of diseases - pathogenic [jumping species] or, for moral reasons - ahimsa), the celebration of diversity and oneness rather than tolerance, respect for nature and other beings, worshipping every animal/plant life  (Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, Vasudaiva Kutumbakam, Ekam Sat viprah bahuda vadanti), herbal practices for medicine that grandma used to use, focus on wellness than managing a disease (Ayurvedic medicine), practices and philosophy of dealing with life problems and grief, celebrating life with our colourful festivals, life stages (Dharma/Artha/Kama/Moksha), our curiosity to pursue the understanding of science/math (Yuktibhasha - a text on Calculus was written in Malayalam 125 years before Newton) /chemistry/astronomy (Panchangam) ... one could go on. Our practices are weaved into our lifestyle, circadian rhythm, seasonal changes, etc.

Science is at the forefront of dealing with COVID-19. You have been inducted into the Cleveland Hall of Fame for your contributions in the field of Engineering. In India, science is a living practice... how do you see this of being of value today?

Indian culture requires us to respect our elders as oceans of wisdom. The practice of hygiene drilled into us from childhood by our elders - starting with the greeting of Namaste, not bringing in footwear into the interiors of the house, requiring us to shower and wash the clothes that we wore to a hospital or for getting a haircut, etc., is based upon 'social distancing' (a previously despicable word that has been redefined to be a 'lifesaver' with the devastation caused by COVID-19). We are now forced to bring all these practices back, due to COVID-19.