Heart2Heart team, with the help of John Behner
This article first appeared in Heart2Heart, May 2006.
The ‘Free’ People of El Salvador
The principal religion is Catholic, but the constitution allows for freedom of worship. Freedom is one trait that well describes the Salvadoran people.
A Very Brief History of El Salvador …
How Sai Entered El Salvador
So how did Swami find His way to this little country halfway around the world from India?
It all began in 1978. A group of ladies who had a yoga center invited Indra Devi, the famous yoga teacher, to visit El Salvador. It was she who first spoke about Sai Baba and gave out a few books on Swami. Within a few months, in May 1979, Elenita de Servent and Lidia de Trigueros were in India with a group from Mexico to visit Sai Baba. In December of the same year, Juan Pablo Bolens and John Behner along with their families also visited Swami, and soon the yoga center in El Salvador blossomed into a Sai Center. By January of 1980, the Center was holding bhajans, a study circle, and doing service in the community.
Within two years of this, six Sai Centers were active in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, with about 130 members. Mind you, this was during the years when there was a lot of violence, and the city buses did not run after 6:00 p.m. in the city. In fact, at one time, there were fifteen study circle groups in the city.
Since then, El Salvador's Sai community has been blessed by visits from many experienced and long-standing devotees like Dr. Sandweiss, Dr. Voleti, the musical group Lightstorm, the Bozzanis, and Dr. John Hislop in 1982. In 1985, the first coordinating committee of the Sathya Sai Organization was set up when Dr. Goldstein and Mr. Leonardo Gutter visited the country and put the Sai Mission in El Salvador on a new trajectory.
Sai-Inspired Service Grows …
Despite the country's turmoil, the Sai Centers continued to grow. After the earthquake of 1986, members helped rebuild the damaged homes of devotees. In 1989, a Sai Foundation was established providing the framework for putting donations to good use. After peace finally arrived in the 1990s, the Organization began doing outstanding service work, such as participating in relief efforts after the earthquake of 2001 when they helped rebuild a Catholic church.
Following in Sathya Sai's footsteps, twelve projects supplying water to more than 350 families have been undertaken.
Two medical clinics and a monthly medical camp are now offering free consultations and medicine. A home has been established, which provides free living space for twenty wheelchair-bound men and workshops where they can learn a trade.
There is no requirement that the residents attend the Sai Center on the top floor, but some of them have started participating in bhajans and reading books about Swami.
Miracles Began Happening …
One patient, paralyzed from the waist down for nine years after falling out of a tree, had two long pins inserted on either side of his spinal column. The Sai doctors studied his X-rays and felt that the pins could be removed. One performed the necessary operation, and the patient then became completely paralyzed. Two weeks later he was awakened by Swami, who asked him how he was. When he said, "Swami, I am completely paralyzed," Baba said, “Now you are well, get up and walk.” It was 2:00 a.m., but he did as he was told and was amazed to discover he could now walk!
He went to the phone and called a devotee to share the good news, even though it was the middle of the night. Thereafter, he got a job selling newspapers and was reunited with his wife and daughters who had separated from him because of his physical problems.
Serving the Homeless and the Sick
Devotees also prepare food for the homeless, who out of gratitude bring flowers for the lady sevaks on Mother's Day.
Hospital visits are also organized. The Sai youth group presents puppet shows at the children's hospital once a month, and refreshments are served to patients at the cobalt cancer treatment center since many of them travel long distances for their treatment without having eaten anything. And in the burn ward, doctors are using vibuthi in some cases
Sai’s Grace in a National Prison
A weekly study circle is attended by inmates at one of the national prisons. One of the prisoners suffered from severe diabetes and was unable to walk. He could not eat any of the snacks containing sugar that were served after the study circle. Swami came in his dream and said, "Now you can take the refreshments after the study circle." He did so and afterward found he could walk! All the other inmates were amazed at his stunning recovery.
Teaching Human Values…
Another facet of the Organization is the Sathya Sai Institute of Human Values. The Institute is currently offering the ninth diploma course of seventy-two hours duration and trains public and private school teachers in the Sathya Sai Human Values curriculum. (One teacher commented that this program is certainly effective since even her marriage is improving!) The Institute has developed programs in three pilot schools, with the Human Values agenda being incorporated into the curriculum of the Ministry of Education.
…And the Impact
One third grade student found a purse in the street during the week that they were studying the value of honesty. She took the purse to her teacher, who called the owner. The lady came to the school and was amazed to find all her money and documents in tact. She could not believe that in this day and age someone could be so honest.
Cultural Outreach Programs
The Institute has held two music festivals with songs highlighting Human Values in which twenty-five schools have participated. Several public meetings have been conducted with up to 1000 people in attendance. One lady emerged from a public gathering in tears and told volunteers that she just knew there was more to life than parties. She had left her house by the backdoor to escape a party that was going on in her home to attend the get-together. Two or three retreats a year are also well attended.
Voice of the Avatar on Radio
Currently, there are two regular radio programs on the airwaves. One, called the Voice of the Avatar, has been running twice a week for twenty years, broadcasting Spanish translations of Swami's discourses. The other, radio station for children, focuses on Human Values. The announcers are Bal Vikas and former Bal Vikas students.
Moving Transformation in Children…
Speaking of Bal Vikas, one family had their three children of 8, 10, and 12 years in the classes. When the father lost his job, they had to sell their TV set to put food on the table. A few months after finding work, he had saved enough for a down payment for a new television. However, when he told his children, they said, “Father we don't want another TV because it will interfere with our studies.” Now these three children are all professionals: a doctor, an engineer, and an architect.