Heart2Heart team, with the help of John Behner
This article first appeared in Heart2Heart, May 2006.
With three ranges of the Andes in its west, east, and centre and also the equator running through it, Colombia is a country with an exceptional climate. It has all sorts of climates from cold areas as in the snow-capped peaks up to the hot areas as in the deserts, also having moderate climates as in the valleys and humid forests. The Capital, Bogota, the largest and the most populous city, stands in one of these basins.
The People of Colombia – A Range of Different Races
Ninety-five percent of the entire population of nearly 32 million are Roman Catholic. However, it has freedom of worshi,p and one can find different branches of Christianity as well as other major religions such as Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. The people of mixed European and American Indian race ‘Mestizo’ form the largest group (45-68%), while there are large amounts of European descendents (20-25%), mixed European-African or American Indian-African ‘Mulatos’ (14-20%), and also aboriginal Indians (5-8%). The proportions of these racial groups differ widely from one part of the country to other.
Agriculture and Industry
Colombia 's economy is based mainly on agriculture, the exploitation of mineral resources, and industry. Coffee plays a dominant role in agriculture, Colombia being the world's second largest producer. It is South America's leading producer of gold, nickel, and coal. Most of the country's land, water, and forest resources are not utilized, but the beautiful emeralds of Colombia are of world renown.
Colombia’s variety of industries consists mainly in processing agricultural, mineral, and forest products and in supplying domestic demand for a wide range of consumer goods, machinery, vehicles, tools, building materials, chemicals, wood products, and paper. The number of plants had doubled by the mid-1980s, and their average size has grown considerably. The main industries, which employ about 20% of the country’s work force, are textiles, clothing and footwear, food processing, tobacco, iron and steel, metal products, automobile assembly, chemicals, oil refining and petrochemical products, cement, wood pulp, and paper. So much for a brief introduction to this Northwest South American nation, which gained independence from Spain nearly two hundred years ago.
The Sathya Sai Institute of Human Values – A Valuable Initiative
During 2000, in order to consolidate the education area, the Sathya Sai Institute of Human Values was created, with a group of volunteers. It trains public and private school teachers by means of an introductory course of one semester and the second semester consisting of practice sessions with feedback from all the participants of the first course. It may sometimes continue for more semesters. It also provides short weekend workshops on the different human values for schools or institutions which ask for the service.
So far (2006), approximately 250 teachers have received training on how to expand human values. The volunteers visit different schools and have reached out to about 2,500 children. Till 2005, about 6,000 children have been benefited directly or indirectly by the Program. A very big group of volunteers work with abused children and in very poor communities and the transformation that is coming about in these children is really inspiring. For example, at El Portal, a school for the children of dangerous prisoners, a kid was beaten by a classmate but this boy did not react, he just stared at him and told him “Here we are told not to beat each other, so I am not going to hit you back”.
At Fearc (another school with volunteers from the Human Values Institute), once two girls were fighting. They were asked to prepare a story on forgiveness and tolerance together, but they did not want to work together. After some reflection among all the students, they were given 8 days to prepare it. The day came and they presented their own story. The volunteer teacher insisted that they must have just one story written together, so they went out for 20 minutes and putting together their two stories they made one with a happy ending of forgiveness. It resulted in all the children deliberating on the advantages of forgiveness.
This is the kind of positive impact that the human values program brings about in the minds of the children and the parents.
Community Service – Another Important Facet of Sai Work
Service connects hearts and each of the eleven centres and four groups carry out community service. The 350 active members and 100 other members offer breakfast, food, and clothes to the homeless; they also visit old age homes frequently.
Once, some members of the Executive committee (every area has an executive committee to coordinate and promote the Sai activities) visited one of the centers in a deprived area of the city. They were informing the people about and inaugurating the recently created Medicare service. [Medicare was inaugurated in February 2005, and there are several doctors ready to offer service]. The people of the rural area were very grateful with Swami, and one lady even said that she would like to clean or do something else in return for the service she was going to receive. When hearts are touched with love, they are opened and devoted to serve, support, and help.
Under special circumstances such as painful natural disasters, all the Sai Centres in Colombia help each other, and money contributions are sent through Fundasai in an organized manner to reach out to the distressed.
The Other Joy-filled Spiritual Activities
The Sai Organisation has held many public meetings apart from study circles, workshops on Human Values, and Sai Spiritual Education.
In August 2004, the Sai Organisation organized a public meeting in the capital city of Bogota, the largest and the most populous city of the country with more than 7 million people. The meeting was addressed by Mr. Leonardo Gutter from Argentina and Mr. Billy Escalante from Peru.
In the same year, there was another grand public meeting organized in the city of Bucaramanga, the major commercial center of northeastern Colombia, which also had a very positive response.
In September 2004, the Sai Organization held a public meeting in San Jose. This meeting was addressed by Dr. Jorge Luis Beera. In the same month, another meeting was organized in the city of Barranquilla. Hundreds gathered at the Beauty Arts Faculty Auditorium of Atlanta University to listen and learn about Sai and His mission. There was also a book sale and exhibition of Sai Literature.
In 2005, the first Bal Vikas meeting took place at one of the Sai Centres in Medellin. The second Bal Vikas Public Meeting will be held this year (2006) in Barranquilla , the largest industrial city and port on the Colombian Caribbean region.
Devotional meetings take place every month at “La Puerta del Cielo” (Heavens’ Door), a temple constructed by a devotee to serve the Organization. Devotees are taught bhajans and now the organization has a new song book and will soon have a website.
One other thing that the Sai organization in Colombia does is to participate in Book Fairs. Many people bought books on Sai and wanted to learn more about Him. They also show films and documentaries on Baba so that visitors can feel and confirm the positive influence that Baba has on everyone.
This has been an occasion every year when many people learn about Swami for the first time and eagerly become His devotees. The Colombian President, through his personal doctor Elsa Lucia Arango (a Sai devotee), has Swami’s padukas (holy sandals) at his residence. All the arrangements for the fair are done by Sai Volunteers with a lot of devotion and dedication.
Disseminating His Message
Not only this, to communicate the message of Sai effectively, since 2005, every month a bulletin called “Sai’s Expansion” is published in which, apart from Swami’s own messages, there are also experiences of Baba’s followers, information about service activities, and other Sai activities.