Shelter Project in Penang
We live in a world where affluence, luxury, instant gratification and other indicators of the progress of civilization and its increasing wealth are plentiful. Despite continuous reports of economic lacklustre both globally and domestically, we see more luxurious mansions springing up, more expensive cars replacing old ones on the roads, more trinkets of exclusivity, levitating table lamps and gold flaked chocolates and diamond studded clothing. Nevertheless, living in the shadow of affluence, living on the edges of the avenues of progress, veiled by the sensual distractions of developed society, are the poor and less fortunate, with not much more than a satchel of simple hopes.
On 4th of August till 18th August, Sathya Sai Organization had the opportunity to reach out and help one such couple – a husband and a wife – living in a very old and crumbling house. It was estimated that the house would collapse in a matter of weeks. After meeting with the couple and inspecting the house, it was decided that demolition and rebuilding was necessary. Arrangements were made to quickly obtain building material and skilled workers and volunteers. The plan was for volunteers to render help for Saturday and Sunday and have skilled workers perform the specialized works in the following days. Although notice was short, about 50 volunteers turned up on Saturday, where a part of the old house was demolished. To save on cost, instead of buying sand, it was obtained from a nearby river. By Sunday evening, about five truckloads of sand had been collected from the river – all manually, by forming a human chain and passing down buckets and baskets of sand down the line. Another group was tasked with the laying of bricks and yet another with the unexpectedly exhausting job of mixing cement. Some of the participants with long experience in building works were at hand to make frequent checks and ensure the correctness and quality of workmanship.
The immense tiredness and aching of muscles were abated with delicious meals along the way. Despite the large amount of work and effort put in, one day was, as predicted, not enough, and we had to return on Sunday to complete the construction. The day began with the collection of even more sand from the river to create an elevated veranda. Once again we were provided with remarkably delicious food, and there was a ready supply of black coffee. Drenched with sweat, bricks were tirelessly laid, and by afternoon the shape of the new veranda was starting to take shape with three windows and a door being installed. By late afternoon the stack of bricks and bags of cement that looked mountainous the previous day was very noticeably reduced – a welcome harbinger of the end of work.
Backs aching, muscles pleading for respite, the work we unskilled volunteers could do was slowly coming to an end. A few more bricks to stabilize the windows and doors, and a little bit of cement here and there, and finally we called it a day. While it was requested for just a few people to volunteer if possible in the subsequent days for less strenuous supporting jobs, the work now had to be handed over to the skilled workers for installing wiring, lights, etc. This was a new experience for most of the participants. The house and its residents brought memories of stories from the television program Bersamamu that highlighted the plight of the very poor. In this case, it was a husband and wife, both of whom have a difficult medical history and are suffering from high blood pressure. Both of them are perfectly lucid and sane, but are forced to live in a house they know is aging badly and is ready to literally fall apart any day soon, because they are poor and powerless. With no high education, occupation, or position, they are left by the wayside – ignored, neglected; unnoticed by society at large.
Video Highlights of the Program
Is this really how it ought to be? The highly educated, the rich and powerful at one side of the divide, and the less fortunate on the other side of it, unseen, just living out their lives, waiting for their last breaths? Through hard work and diligence education is begotten, pride and honour is brought to the family which most agree is important. With that education, a good job is secured; with dedication, commitment and loyalty, promotions are received; and with time come status and power. One can then feel the burgeoning satisfaction, that one has well employed the God given soul, body, mind, intellect, and talent – that through his genuine dedication and effort he has achieved something in life. Indeed such achievement and progress in life through legitimate effort and commitment is not wrong. However, to live life so fully, with such exuberance and joy brought about by success, while not taking notice of the needy, is somewhat, to say the least, odd. This notion causes ripples in the conscience, and makes one question the current operation of society and civilization as a whole.
The neglect of the needy is not a local phenomenon but is the norm everywhere. They require attention, cannot provide for themselves and thus need the help of others. The fact that they are pushed to the fringes of society may be due to some deep rooted psychological drive, but whether its survival of the fittest or something more Freudian, or otherwise – whatever and however legitimate the logical reasoning, justification and rationalization is, that the poor live in the very shadow of wealth and comfort but are denied it – unquestionably, undeniably, puts the conscience at unease. Man, historically, has not been depicted as an easily altruistic species. We owe it to our evolution from lesser creatures that we join forces with like minds in a collective pursuit. It is in our biological nature that we objectively do away with the weak for the betterment of the many. It is in our psychological nature to pursue gratification while mercilessly guarding the ego. Despite this, there is another aspect to man – a truer reality, a deeper nature, the final truth about him – man is a spiritual being. This truth is captured beautifully in the words of French Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Recognizing this truth, we as human beings cannot cage our mind and limit ourselves to our animalistic biological definition and psychological tendencies. We have to consciously take note, accept, and be aware of our superior minds and immensely higher thinking, reasoning and processing capabilities. It is through this superior mind that we are able to contemplate, to ponder, to delve into, to consider, to meditate and to eventually realize that there is more to us than the mind-body complex, and to thereafter recognize the collective human consciousness and eventually the universal congruence of consciousness. Through this mind, we must employ the God given tool of empathy – to place ourselves in the position of others, and perceive the feelings and emotions of others. Through this mind, we must recognize the interconnectedness of all people – the brotherhood of mankind, and see within ourselves and each other the innate illumination of divinity. Thus, be it by altruism, selflessness, kindness or compassion, the notion of personality can diminish and the desire to separate and define oneself – the underlying psychological drives that have driven people for thousands of years can be eased and abated, and we as individuals and as a society can move forward in the fashion of true progress – driven by spirituality, for the betterment of one and all.