Serving God By Serving Man - Healing in Nigeria and Benin
Deena Dukhiyon Se Prem Karo Mera Sai Prasanna Hoga…’ This is the opening line of a bhajan that ranks high among Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s favorites because it urges everyone to practice what is near and dear to the Lord–serving those in greatest need! “Love the forlorn and suffering people, and my Lord Sai will be happy,” it says.
Taking this ‘mantra’ as the driving force, an SSSIO (Sri Sathya Sai International Organization) team of five medical professionals–two gastroenterologists, a pediatrician, two internal medicine physicians, and three volunteers traveled to Nigeria from Botswana, Kenya, New Zealand, the UAE, and the USA. Their goal was to provide the highest quality medical care with love and compassion to the needy through two medical camps in Nigeria and Benin. They were joined by enthusiastic volunteers and a few dedicated healthcare professionals from Lagos.
The (Y)earned Privilege of Service
The team’s resolve had already been tested by just the challenges encountered in traveling to Lagos. Dr. Dinesh Lal, head of the team, had suffered health issues before the trip, yet he traveled with his wife, with full faith and determination in Sai as the organizer, doer and protector of the camp. Despite many other travel-related challenges, Dr. Dinesh Lal, Dr. Hari Conjeevaram, Dr. Sunil Kadiyala, Dr. Ramadevi Sankaran, Dr. Bangaruraju Kolanuvada, Mr. P.V. Sambasiva Rao, Ms. Dharana Lal, and Ms. Urvi Widhani joined the healthcare mission, with the conviction that “everything is in Swami’s hands and not a blade of grass moves without His will”! None of them had the slightest idea that by God’s grace, such a small team would see and help more than 2,500 patients over the next week!
Ideal Sai Healthcare in Lagos
Ajah is a town in Eti-Osa in Lagos State, Nigeria. It encompasses Addo, Langbasa, Badore, Ajiwe, and VGC. The medical camp was held at Sathya Sai Nursery and Primary School at Ajah during June 9-10, 2023.
The camp was not formally advertised in the media. Still, patients arrived in droves, reflecting the urgency of their healthcare needs. Free medicine and reading glasses were dispensed to patients; Seeing them rejoice at the gift of sight was heartwarming!
A host of medical conditions were treated. A detailed but not exhaustive list of these conditions includes metabolic syndrome and complications
(including diabetes mellitus), hypertension, parasitic infections including malaria, Bilharzia, fungal skin infections, scabies and cellulitis, folliculitis, upper respiratory infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, anemia, musculoskeletal syndromes, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and GI conditions including GERD, dyspepsia, constipation, hemorrhoids, and malnutrition. In addition, children were treated for upper respiratory infections, ear wax, skin conditions including allergies, pruritus, insect bites, fungal and bacterial infections, umbilical hernia, constipation, rectal prolapse, rickets, cerebral palsy, neuromuscular disorder, and seizures.
It was heart-rending to see a 10-year-old with a cataract since birth, a 3-year-old with an inguinal hernia, and a 13-year-old with severe anemia. Such cases were referred for further consultation, and local SSSIO members and doctors were asked to follow up diligently on their progress. The team served 251 and 775 patients on June 9 and 10, respectively.
On June 11, the SSSIO international medical team proceeded by road, and reached Abomey, Benin, in about 8 hours, traveling 250 kilometers. While Benin has experienced economic growth over the past few years, it ranks among the world’s poorest countries. Abomey is the capital of the Zou Department of Benin, and it covers an area of 142 square kilometers with a population of around 90,000, in 2012.
The Royal Palaces of Abomey, a collection of tiny traditional houses inhabited by the Kings of Dahomey from 1600 to 1900, was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. Consistent with the local protocol, the medical team paid respects to the King of Abomey, who welcomed the members wholeheartedly and thanked the SSSIO for its efforts in rendering medical aid to the people of Abomey. He also requested healthcare professionals to see the 32 queens for medical checkups at their spiritual Center.
Sai is Already There
The team then visited the local Sai Centre after 9 pm and witnessed a miracle! The premises were packed despite the late hour and overflowing with local African devotees gathered with love and enthusiasm to welcome them. Mr. Jacques Fego (National Council President, SSSIO, Benin) was Swami’s chosen messenger of love and inspiration. In the words of Dr. Hari Conjeevaram, “There are more than one thousand Sai devotees in the Abomey region, and Mr. Fego is the inspiration behind every aspect of service in the community. Witnessing his passion and commitment to serving his community was awe-inspiring, especially the school children and their families.”
Dr. Dinesh Lal added, “Hardly any of them have been outside Benin, but they embody the very essence of Swami’s teachings. The sacrifices they make and the energy they possess for seva and worship cannot be adequately described in words….”
Even though it was late at night, the Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) children chanted the Vedas, recited prayers, initiated Havan (ritualistic religious offerings), and finally concluded with Arati.
Dr. Ramadevi Sankaran shared personal reflections, “Overall, the camp went very well by our Divine Mother’s grace and guidance at every step. There is always room for improvement. It is a beautiful learning experience as a team. I am grateful that this camp happened since many children needed help and love. Personally, it was very fulfilling for my transformation and a beautiful learning experience, thanks to all of you and my patients. The most beautiful thing I observed was that people are very content with limited resources, living as a community, caring, and sharing. I love their attitude of gratitude. Thank you so much for the opportunity to serve all the divine beings and feel the oneness.”
Medical Camp at Abomey
Right from 5 am, patients began lining up in queues for consultations. They came in droves and spoke about their strident healthcare needs. It was not just about medicine. The loving interactions, listening to their pains, and sharing a smile brought more than cures–it was healing for both the doctor and the patient! The SSSIO medical team lovingly served 1,478 patients during June 12–16, but thousands of hearts were touched in hundreds of other ways! Dr. Conjeevaram was deeply moved, saying, “I found the people we served in Nigeria and Benin shy and humble and determined to care for themselves and their young. They reflected so much love and were thankful for the loving services they received.”The service rendered by dedicated doctors cannot be described in words. They were l miracle workers for hundreds of patients who expressed their deepest gratitude to them for their loving service. The consultations were held in nature, under the shade of trees. Despite it being the monsoon season, not a single drop of rain impeded the medical camps as Swami kept the skies clear. On completion, as the final group pictures were taken, the heavens opened up to celebrate the love and service with a downpour! It was an incredible experience confirming Swami’s love and protection at every level. Local devotees also served food to the patients while chanting and singing bhajans.
A Long-Term Commitment
The Benin community is poor and cannot afford ongoing drugs for chronic conditions. Drugs are prohibitively expensive compared to other countries. Many patients were seen for severe hypertension. The SSSIO has initiated efforts to support this community with free antihypertensive medications via ongoing Clinics supported by the local Sai center.
On June 16, a “Happiness Within Reach–EASE (Exercise, Attitude, Sleep, Eat)” workshop was conducted in one of the High Schools in Abomey to teach
holistic health–59 students and four teachers attended.
The medical team also met the local Health Director and discussed common prevalent diseases and their prevention. The team suggested providing mosquito nets to the public to prevent malaria rather than spending money on antimalaria medication. The suggestions were well received. The medical team also visited the local general hospital and discussed possible future collaborations with the administration and local doctors, including educational training.
Empowering the local Sai devotees and supporting Zone 9 through local and international resources and expertise was a long-term goal of the SSSIO International Medical Team.
Serving Those That Serve
The great Hindu saint, Kulasekhara Alwar, prayed that he gets the opportunity to be the servant of the Lord’s servants because that is a great privilege and opportunity. That spirit was glowing and evident in the service of a dedicated team of volunteers who catered to all the requirements of the medical team from the moment it landed in Nigeria to the time they boarded the flight back home.
In Nigeria, Mr. Ramesh Hathiramani and his team, and in Benin, Mr. Fego and his team formed the backbone for this magnificent service effort. Their love and support were evident in the details during the week-long project. Similarly, the team was supported by Mr. Gaurav Singh (National Council President, SSSIO, Nigeria) and SSSIO Lagos members with steadfast commitment from the very beginning. Mr. P.V. Sambasiva Rao, the SSSIO Zone 9 Chair, was there even before the camp began to ensure everything was in order. At the same time, Dr. Narendranath Reddy, Chairman of the SSSIO, worked silently behind the scenes in his characteristic style to inspire and coordinate the international effort.
Mr. Fego said, “My impressions for this 2023 medical camp in Abomey in Benin are very positive because I experienced this only in Prasanthi Nilayam in India. I never thought this could be a reality in Africa–in my country. The need for medical services is very great in Africa. It was Swami who answered my prayer! The joy of the local people is unbounded because it is a unique service never experienced by us. We expect three times as many people at the next medical camp because many have experienced the benefit and joy of these medical camps.”
Sister Urvi added, “I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to be part of the administration and as an active participant in the medical camp. Although we encountered numerous challenges, we were fortunate to see them resolved by divine grace. Throughout the planning and execution of the camp, I consistently felt a sense of guidance and support from Swami, leading us forward as we persevered through each obstacle. The joy and gratitude that shone in the eyes of the patients upon receiving a free medical consultation, a pair of eyeglasses, medicine, or a meal were incredibly fulfilling, and words cannot fully capture the depth of my satisfaction in witnessing their happiness. I am eternally grateful to dearest Swami for allowing me to practice His teachings through active participation in service projects.”
The team experienced Swami’s motherly love through His dedicated and devoted instruments. Indeed, it reminded everyone of the adage, ‘Love the forlorn and suffering people, and my Sai will be happy’ as every team member found their hearts bubbling with joy and gratitude to Sai.
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