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The Sai Movement in Venezuela
, Zone 2 Region 22

Heart2Heart Team, with help from John Behner and Arturo Salazar

This article first appeared in Heart2Heart, May 2006.

The “Little Venice” of South America

When Christopher Columbus sighted its coast way back in 1498, he was so enthralled by its landscape that he called it as Tierra de Gracia (or the Land of Grace), which has today become Venezuela’s nickname. The name “Venezuela”, which means “Little Venice” in Spanish, was actually given by European explorers who on their arrival observed local Indian houses on stilts along the shores of Lake Maracaibo, which reminded them of the city of Venice. Lake Maracaibo, incidentally, is the largest natural lake in South America, with an area of more than 13000 sq. km. Before we go more into Venezuela’s splendid natural beauty and later into Venezuela’s Sai story, let us first get familiar with the early history of this Spanish speaking nation situated at the top of the South American continent, which shares its borders with Brazil, Columbia, and Guyana.

The first settlers in Venezuela were Indian tribes related to the Mayas from the North and Incas from the south. These peoples were governed by chiefs and were people who were childlike in their ways, friendly, brave in the face of difficulty, and basically a society that lived by farming, fishing, and killing game.

Venezuela in South America


Colonisation by the Spanish

In 1492, three ships landed on the Carribbean island of Guanani. These were “La Pinta”, “La Nina”, and “La Santa Maria”. These ships brought Europeans, principally Spaniards, commanded by Cristobal Colon. They had been commissioned by the Catholic Royalty of Spain, Fernando and Isabelo. The Spanish, with their superior weapons, were able to subdue the natives and killed the chiefs. The Indians became domestic slaves. Also negros were brought from Africa to work the land but as bonded slaves, and with time, both the Indians and the Africans were absorbed into a mixture known as mestizos, which can still be observed today.

After colonization took place, because of the injustices committed by the Spanish, a group of patriots or rebels sprang up in protest. They were led by Simon Bolivar, an idealist who was educated in Europe and was able to inspire his followers. He was from a wealthy family and utilized his wealth and connections in Europe to get arms. They fought many battles, and finally theytriumphed at the battle of Carabobo on the 24 June 1821. This battle was coordinated by Bolivar with other battles in Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru.

Venezuelans - A happy nation

The Spanish were overextended, so that not only Venezuela,\ but also the countries of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia were freed from Spanish yoke. One of the new government’s first acts was to free all slaves. The government also allowed freedom of worship, which allowed the Catholic religion to continue, with the priests supporting the new government.

Tierra De Gracia - The Land of Grace

Venezuela is a country with much natural beauty typified by the mountain El Avila, which has a huge cross built on its top and serves as a park and green zone for the city of Caracas, the largest city and the capital of Venezuela. Los Roques is a splendid coral reef in the Caribbean Sea, where divers can find diverse fish species. The beeches of Mochima and Morrocoy would tempt any swimmer. In Canaima, Venezuela hosts the Angel Falls – the highest free-leaping waterfall in the world at 3212 feet, with an uninterrupted drop of 2646 feet. There is a famous cave called Guacharo, in Monagas state.

Angels falls - highest in the world
Bolivar peak - always beautiful

The city of Coro was named by UNESCO as a world cultural and historic site because of the colonial architecture preserved there; also the beautiful Bolivar Mountain is always covered with snow, being a peak in the Andean chain, which starts in Venezuela but runs all the way to the tip of Chile in the South. This is where we have the longest ski lift in the world.

In the south of Venezuela, there is the world famous Amazon jungle and a natural cave called Jaspe. It is one of those regions of the world with large areas of flora and fauna, where animals are able to live in their natural surroundings without being disturbed by man. The country is also blessed with large rivers such as the Orinoco, Cuyuni ,and Caroni which has facilitated hydro-electricity for its numerous industries and homes.

Fascinating sand dunes near the city of Coro
Splendid Amazon - River, forest, et al.

The Land of Riches Too!

Venezuela is naturally very rich with mines of gold, silver, diamonds, copper, zinc, lead, and other metals. The country has a large steel and aluminium industry which uses the alloys from the mines. In the town of El Callao, the mother of one devotee tells of how, when she was a child, she and other children would find small pieces of gold after it rained in the mud that would run in the streets, and they would exchange these pieces of gold for candies from the shop keepers. In 1939, petroleum was discovered, and this brought a great deal of wealth to the countr,y accounting for roughly one-third of GDP, around 80% of export earnings, and over half of government operating revenues. Agriculture produces very good cocoa for chocolates, coffee, corn, rice, peanuts, potatoes, yucca, and diverse tropical fruits.

Appearance of Virgin Mary

About 200 years ago, the Virgin Mary appeared to an Indian named Coromoto, and since then the Virgin of Coromoto has become the patron saint of Venezuela. More recently, about 20 years ago, the Virgin Mary again appeared at a farm called Betania, and this place has become a tourist place for the faithful.

Pope John Paul II visited Venezuela twice and declared the beatification of Mother Maria of San Jose during one of his visits. With a predominant Christian population, processions with Jesus on the Cross and Mother Mary winding their way down the streets in many towns and cities are a common sight during Easter in this country.

Virgin Mary of Coromoto

Venezuelans – Always Smiling And Spontaneous

The Venezuela of today has a population of over 26 million people blessed with many renowned universities and hospitals. There is a symphony orchestra, and also a youth symphony orchestra, which has gained much fame even in Europe. Its director, Gustavo Dudamel, has received the international award, “the ring of Beethoven”. Venezuelans are characterized for their good humor, big smiles, superstitiousness, and spontaneity. Populated with peace loving people, Venezuela has never been in a war with its neighbours.


The Sai Saga in Venezuela

So how did Swami come to be known in this beautiful nation? Arlette Meyer and Mrs. Elizabeth Palmer and her family visited Sathya Sai Baba in 1972. Mrs. Palmer learned of Sai Baba from Indra Devi and visited Him in 1968 and 1970, when she had the fortunate experience of riding in the car with Swami. She also knew what to take, such as foodstuffs, sleeping mats, kitchen utensils, etc., since living conditions those days were still quite primitive for foreign travellers. Because of her prior visits, Mrs. Palmer was given a flat in the ashram in which everyone somehow managed to fit in. There was no western toilet, but such inconveniences were part of the game of adapting to a culture far different from the West.

Arlette had only read one issue of Sanathana Sarathi and still did not know much about Sai Baba, but when she saw Him giving darshan from the balcony after the evening arathi in the temple, she felt a wave of energy pass through her and began to cry.

The following day, December 24, 1972, Swami gave His famous discourse in which He declared that He was the one of whom Jesus said, “The one who sent me will come again.” The very next evening, a foreigner came to the flat and asked if the translator was there. Arlette said she was a translator by profession.

The person said, “Good, then you can translate Swami’s books.” He suggested Sai Baba, Man of Miracles. The idea began to take form, but she thought she should ask Swami’s permission first.

During an interview, Swami asked her, “What is your name?” When she answered, “Arlette,” Swami joked, “Arlette, not omelet,” which made everyone laugh. She asked Baba if she could translate the book into Spanish, and He said, “Yes, do it, it is your duty.”

Ten months later, Arlette was back in Prasanthi Nilayam with Man of Miracles translated into Spanish, but without knowing how to publish it. As fate, or Swami’s will, would have it, she ran into Gail and Luis Muniz from Mexico, who were there to ask permission to translate and publish some of Baba’s books into Spanish.

She handed Luis a photocopy of her translation and told him, “Here’s the first one.” In 1974, during an interview, Swami blessed the first published Spanish translation about Him and told Arlette to continue translating the Sathya Sai Speaks series. On this same trip, Swami also instructed her to open a Sai Center and offered her a big package of vibhuti and prasad.

Gail Muniz from Mexico (left) and Arlette Meyer from
Venezuela with Swami

‘Quality Not Quantity’

After consulting with Dr. Hislop, a very senior member of Sai Organisation, Arlette opened the first Sai Center in Venezuela in Caracas on August 22, 1974. The seven members met in her apartment and sang bhajans to cassettes recorded by Janet Bock and studied the Sathya Sai Speaks. In a later interview, Swami asked how the Sai Center was doing and was informed that very few people were coming. He replied, “We don’t want quantity, but quality.” When He asked who was singing in the Center, He was told, “You, Swami.” He then encouraged the group to sing the bhajans on their own instead of using the tapes, and that is when the group began learning bhajans in earnest.

Few people attended the little Sai Center, but when the first shipments of Sai Baba, Man of Miracles arrived from Mexico and were distributed, little by little, the number started growing. Arlette continued the translation work ,and soon the Spanish collection of Sai Literature grew: Sathya Sai Speaks Volume I (1977), Gita Vahini (1978), Summer Roses on the Blue Mountains (1976), Conversations with Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba (1980), Sathya Sai Speaks Volume II (1980) and in the subsequent years other Sathya Sai Speaks till SSS Vol. VII on 1990, etc. Since the address and telephone number of the Sai Center were noted in the books, gradually more attendees showed up. Initially, all this was done on a typewriter, since until 1985 Arlette did not have a computer.


Arlette attended the Second World Conference of Sai Organizations as the delegate for Venezuela in 1975. At that time, the front of the Mandir (Temple) had been completely redecorated, additional rooms had been added, the Poorna Chandra auditorium was being decorated, and the 50 foot Sarva Dharma Stupa was under construction, which Baba inaugurated on November 23. For that occasion, Swami flew in a helicopter, which landed in front of the Mandir.

She had been put up in the flat of a lady from Zimbabwe , in the South-I building, directly in front of the Poorna Chandra, so Arlette was able to film the arrival of Swami and His darshan at the Stupa and Poorna Chandra. The crowd was so huge that He could hardly move because many people were camping out there. Later, during the inauguration of the World Conference, she had the honour and joy of garlanding Swami in the name of Venezuela.

Arletter Meyer garlanding Swami during
the 50th Birthday Celebrations

The Organisation Begins to Blossom

Back home, on the last Saturday of each month, a public meeting was held for viewing the movie that Arlette had filmed on her first trip. Also, during Thursday meetings, there were short readings of Swami’s messages; a bhajan manual with 271 bhajans in Sanskrit and a few in Spanish were prepared to facilitate the bhajan learning process.

All this had its own impact, and new people started coming until the numbers became so great that people could not get into the apartment. Of course, people started coming to the centres not just out of curiosity or because they like bhajans but because Swami, in His own mysterious way, was personally touching their lives. Just take the case of this lady devotee, for instance.

Sai Comes To The Rescue of The Forlorn

One single mother with two small children came to the Sai Center at Sabana Grande because she was at the end of her rope. She had cancer and was dying, she had these two small children, and she did not have any place to live. Her home was a cardboard shack. She started attending bhajans and the study circle. The devotees loaned her a book to read. She had her head wrapped in a towel because all her hair had fallen out from cobalt treatments. One da,y someone told her that the government had offered to give free apartments to the poor. She went to the building, which had 24 apartments, and there was a crowd of thousands waiting to get an apartment. She had gone there with her two children and was holding the book that had Sai Baba’s picture on the cover.

The government officials told the people waiting outside that there were too many people and no more could come inside. There was a big push, and she was shoved inside with the kids.

One of the government people saw her with Swami’s book and asked her if she believed in miracles and that she would receive an apartment! It is a nice two bedroom flat, and the devotees furnished it with a refrigerator, beds, and other necessities. She thanks Swami for everything because now her cancer is gone too!

Whenever the prayer is sincere, there is response from the Divine. The Lord knows what is best for His devotee and waits for the right time to do the right thing for the devotee.


By Grace and with His love, the Lord attracts those who need Him. So by 1983, attendance was up 80 people on Thursdays. Shortly thereafter, space was rented in Edificio Acapulco, First Floor, Apartment 1, in Sabana Grande boulevard in Caracas. In August 1985, the Sai Centre moved there, where it is still functioning.

Activities at the Sabana Grande Center included study circles and bhajan practice sessions on particular days of week and one and half hour of bhajans and meditation on Sundays. Public meetings were held on the last Saturday of the month. Also on Sundays, devotees did selfless service on Sunday mornings in an area near town and once a month they visited the senior citizen’s home. During the late 1980’,s the number of centres proliferated, and it became necessary to appoint a Coordinating Committee for the country.


‘Education In Human Values’ Enters and Expands

In 1983, Arlette went to the international Symposium in Rome on “Unity Is Divinity – Purity Is Enlightenment” organized in October by Dr. Antonio Craxi, President of the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Organization of Italy. She learned there that a Workshop for the Training Teachers of Education in Human Values was to be held in Los Angeles, U.S.A. shortly. The Center decided to send Ms. Pili García for this workshop. Ms. Pili returned with a copy of the Teacher’s Handbook for Education in Human Values, and thus Education In Human Values in Venezuela started taking shape.

Arlette translated the material prepared by U.S. devotees, and a program of 30 classes was prepared to work with EHV in schools (Lesson Plans for Education in Human Values International Edition). Five more classes were added, one for each human value, using Venezuelan songs and stories in order to adapt them to the country’s culture.

Education In Human Values

Bal Vikas classes were also initiated. For this, the program that had been prepared by Rebeca and Monique Muñiz from Mexico was used, as well as the Human Values Education series published by the Sri Sathya Sai Bal Vikas Education Trust. At one point, there were up to 56 children attending at different levels.

“In September 1987, we organized the First Workshop of EHV for School Teachers. Prof. Angel Bracho, Supervisor, Direction of Primary Education of the Ministry of Education, and more than 50 persons took part,” say the enthusiastic Sai devotees.

First EHV Workshop in Caracus, Venezuela held on Sept. 18th - 20th, 1987

After this Workshop, another was held in Maracay, organized by Gustavo González and María de Los Angeles Ramoni in November of that year at the Instituto Pedagogico Universitario El Libertador, UPEL, with the assistance of 38 teachers. Later, various workshops were held in different cities like Margarita, Barquisimeto, and San Cristobal, including in Caracas, the capital.

EHV Workshop in Maracay at the UPEL University (Teachers College) in November 1987

In the year 1992 a national meeting of devotees was organized in Caracas, which was held at El Laurel Center by the National Team of Education. Bro. Daniel Coifman of Argentina, coordinator of Education of the Latin American Council was the special guest at this meeting. There, some devotees made an exposition on the Origin and the Unity of Religions; the other members of the team worked in the workshops on each of the Human Values. Another workshop was held in Maturin in the East with administrators and directors of the Ministry of Education.

In 2005, the minister of foreign affairs of Venezuela and his wife visited Swami and were blessed with a private audience with Swami. Mr. Oskar Dorta, the president of the Sathya Sai Foundation of Venezuela was also present in that precious interview with Swami. It would be interesting to note that the minister of education and his wife are also devotees of Swami and visit Prasanthi Nilayam frequently.


The Education In Human values programmes, by His grace, is taking giant strides in this South American nation.

Communicating His Work

In addition, the Sai Organisation in Venezuela has organized Public Meetings to inform the public about Swami and His work in several cities such as Caracas, Maracay, Maracaibo, Barquismeto, Cumana, Ciudad, Bolivar, Puerto Ordaz, Merida, and Margarita Island, which have been attended by more than 3,000 people.

Public Meeting in Opera Theatre at Maracay in 1998
Dr. Goldstein sharing his experiences...
A section of the crowd
Dr. Betty Richard, first woman Central Coordinator of
South American Sai Organisation
Office bearers of Sai Organisation in a discussion
Ms. Maria de Los Angeles Ramoni who headed the pilot programme on Human Values with the Ministry of Education
Sai literature in Spanish and other languages for the
public meeting attendees.

Sai School In Venezuela – Training Young Minds

So that was how some of the groundwork was laid. Now let's fast forward to 2006. Presently there is a Sai School in Abejales, in the state of Tachira, which is run by a Sai Foundation and was started by Ukrania Ramirez and her husband Pedro. The school has 4 grades at this time and 144 students. It is a shining example for the Ministry of Education. “A high school is planned and some more buildings will be constructed to make way for the expansion. There is so much love here, which flows both ways from teachers to the children and vice versa. Even the gardener has been transformed. His behaviour was not satisfactory, but he was given a second chance to practice human values in his life. Now, his wife works in the kitchen where wonderful vegetarian meals are prepared, his two sons are students at the school, and his life has become changed for the better,” say the Sai devotees with satisfaction writ large on their faces.

The Sai School of Venezuela – The “U.E School of Human Values” in Abejales, in the state of Tachira

The school students learn to pray and meditate


A regular class in progress

They have special music lessons
Having lunch in their dining room
All the children join in a play
Having fun outdoors
The shining and smiling blossoms of Sai Educare

Speaking of practising human values and love, one girl in 2nd grade went home to find her mother killing a chicken for dinner. She told her mother that she was not going to eat the chicken and that this was violence to the poor animals. Her mother and the whole family have now become vegetarians.

The Institute of Human Values – An Example For Emulation

There is an Institute of Human Values dedicated to the training of teachers. And now the minister of education (and his wife), who is in charge of the national curricula, have become Swami’s devotees. They have given the Sai Institute of Human Values the job of training teachers in pilot schools whose students will have their behavior compared to other public schools that are not in the program.

There is a strong team of teacher trainers in various parts of the country carrying out the training. And the Institute also continues to train the college students who are preparing for a teaching career. Mr. Victor Kanu, the founder of Sathya Sai School of Zambia, visited Venezuela recently, and the “Miracle School of Zambia” has become an example for the Venezuelan Education Ministry. The Minister and his wife will visit Zambia in October 2006.

Service Activities Gain Momentum

Service activities started first in Caracas after the centre moved to Sabana Grande. In the early 1990’s it was decided to start a service where all the devotees from different centres could participate together. It was decided to visit a large public hospital with 5 floors. Different groups of devotees would go to different floors and pray with the patients and some groups sang songs, others passed out refreshments and helped cheer up all patients.

This service eventually lead to medical camps which were carried out by Sai doctors (including non-devotees who believe in service to society) in different sections of the city and also in the interior. Then some of the doctors who are eye specialists decided to start offering free cataract operations.

Medical Camp In Caracus, Venezuela
Registration in progress
Children being examined at the Camp

Patients were selected from the poorest areas, people who could never afford such an operation. One eye clinic of prestige decided to help and allow the Sai doctors to operate on Sundays when the clinic was closed. There have been over 120 cataract operations now, with lens implants given completely without cost to the patients. And these people are so grateful because finally they can see again, and be useful.

Cataract Operations in Caracus
A patient showing his gradatude
Waiting to have the Cataract Operation performed
Volunteers share their love...
A patient in smiles after her Operation

To see a video of the Sai Medical Camp and free cataract operations done
at Caracus, Venezuela,
Click Here [3.54 MB].

[Wait a minute or two for the video to play on your computer]

The Organisation undertakes various other service activities all round the year in the true spirit of Love All Serve All. The devotees visit Children’s homes, serve the homeless and orphaned with food, do special medical camps for geriatric people, donate blood to hospitals, and regularly do Narayana seva – serving food to the needy.

Multifarious Service Activities In Venezuela
Distributing special kits to expectant mothers
Donating Blood to Hospitals
Taking care of the geriatric population...
Getting the eye check up done of an oldwoman
Visiting children's home
Playing with the Children at their home
Serving food to the homeless and helpless
Visiting orphanages and giving joy

On numerous occasions, Swami has demonstrated His omnipresence in different ways and enthused them to continue the noble work with unceasing zeal. Take the following episode, for instance -


'I Want Her to Serve Me’

Once service activities were being held in a rural area, and food was prepared for more than 100 people. One of the lady devotees had a dream about Swami the night prior to the service, in which He said He would come for dinner the next day. The following day, when she was cooking, an old man with a grey beard showed up at the backdoor to the kitchen at about 4:00 p.m. and asked for food.

One of the volunteers relayed this to the devotee who was cooking and she said to ask the old man to come back in an hour because the food was not yet ready. An hour later he returned and the lady who was cooking sent him a plate of food with the volunteer. However, the old man said “No, I want her to serve me”, indicating the devotee who had the dream and was cooking. She was very busy but stopped to take the plate to the old man who said “Thank you” and turned and walked into the tall grass behind the backdoor.When the devotee turned to go back to work, she suddenly recalled her dream, and cried out, “It’s Swami. He came as Shirdi Baba!” She opened the door and ran into the tall grass calling for Swami, but He had already disappeared.

Sai Miracles are a worldwide phenomenon and Venezuela is no exception. How Swami rescued a devotee from an imminent danger narrated below is very revealing.

Shirdi Baba

Saving Grace

One devotee was trying to sell her house for two years. She finally complained to Swami asking why He didn’t send her a buyer. That same afternoon, when she was driving home from the University where she worked, about two blocks from her home while she was waiting for a traffic light, a man in the next car rolled down his window and asked her if she knew of any houses for sale in the neighborhood. She said “Just follow me”.

You guessed it, he bought her house. She and her husband then moved to an apartment which was close to the beach but outside of town. After living there for a couple of years, this same devotee thought “How selfish of me, staying here without any problems while my husband has to drive up to the city everyday in all the traffic”. She told her husband that night that they should move back to the city for his work. He agreed so she got busy packing and after two weeks contracted a big truck to take all their things up to the city. When the truck was just finished loading, it started to rain. It was a rain that lasted 5 days and caused an enormous landslide which destroyed thousands of lives and homes. Their building was covered up to the 5 th floor by the mud slide. But Swami had saved their lives.

Sai Guards, Guides, and Gives Solace

Every Sai devotee in Venezuela, just like in any other country, has his or her own story to narrate. The way God reaches to different people is so mysterious and magnificent. This is what an office bearer of Venezuelan Sai Organisation narrated to Heart2Heart recently -

“In 1997 I became conscious of Swami’s existence. But, at that time, I still used to go to bars and have some beers with my friends. On one occasion, a friend of mine and I went to a bar in my hometown. He told me,'You must be careful with the car'. I answered, 'Don’t worry. A friend of mine is going to take care of it (referring to Swami)'. We had drunk some beers when suddenly I remembered the car. I decided to go and see if everything was alright. When I opened the door of the bar, a security guard with an afro haircut, looking at me with deep eyes, was standing in front of me.

I said, 'Good evening'. He didn’t answer. He was like a statue. The problem seemed to be that he was very alike Swami and this was acting as a wake-up call to my conscience. I came in and I told my friend very nervously, 'The party is over'. We went, and I told him what had happened. When we got to the street, the security guard had disappeared. I tried to look for him but I couldn’t find him. By the way, have you ever seen a security guard with an afro?

On another occasion I had a very serious inflammation in my throat. I could hardly eat or drink anything. I called my doctor and she told me to have nine injections. They were antibiotics. Nothing happened and the pain was only growing. I went to the altar and prayed to Swami to heal me.


I talked to Him for a long time, asking for His assistance. That same night I dreamt of Swami. I was at darshan and He was walking as usual. Suddenly, He came close to me and told me, “Take an anti-allergic”. He told me this in my ear as if it were a secret. I woke up immediately, but I waited till morning to call the doctor. I asked her, “Don’t you think it’s a good idea to try an anti-allergic?” I didn’t mention the dream. She agreed and so they gave me the new injection at 7:30 am . At 11:00 am , I could swallow and the pain had almost gone. I am so grateful to Swami.”

It is really fascinating how people from countries located thousands of miles away from Puttaparthi feel His presence and love. The lord resides in Puttaparthi, only physically but His cosmic form is there everywhere and the way He operates is awe-inspiring.