We had the chance to interview the film makers behind the incredible YouTube channel Green Renaissance. We get a glimpse of 2 beautiful and inspired souls as we talk about what got them started and the relevance of producing positive film and telling stories about the beauty of humanity. Exploring our Shared Humanity – Part 01
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Our resident book reviewer, Cab Van Elk, takes us on a deeply thoughtful and contemplative journey through the small but mighty collection of talks given by Jiddu Krishnamurti in the book “Life Ahead”.
We often wonder if humanity is going in the right direction and ask what we need to do to make a shift in the collective consciousness happen? In this interview, Mohanji, a world-renowned humanitarian and spiritual teacher answers burning questions.
TAT: You’ve traveled a lot this year like you’re on a world tour, is there anything you would single out?
MOHANJI: Every year, I have visited many countries, and the purpose takes me there, the purpose, the call from the people. There are some reasons to go to places, otherwise, I do not travel. So, I do not have any particular preference, or any particular like or dislike about any location. It’s about whether I’m needed there, what I’m needed therefore, that brings me there. I travel according to the necessity, the purpose.
TAT: Are there any differences in levels of consciousness in different countries?
MOHANJI: In every place, there are differences in operating levels in people. Imagine there are a billion people in the world, probably there are more, they are all operating in their frequencies. And each location, each place, each type of people, each community society, each country, they all have their frequencies. So there is a frequency difference. There are different operating levels, operating levels of consciousness, and consciousness comes through each person differently.
So, consciousness is one, but when it operates through each person, it’s a different thing. Likewise, every being has a different operating consciousness level. It’s an insect about an animal, animals of various types. They all operate from different consciousness levels like people are also operating from different consciousness levels. So this must be maybe the places are conducive for certain levels of consciousness to extents exist, because places are frequencies. It is possible, but I would like to think that in every place, every level of consciousness is possible. In some places, which is very dense, or more gravitational by nature. It’s more effort, effortful, or it takes more effort to have higher consciousness, that’s all probably the northern part or sparsely populated or the northern part of the world or a sparsely populated,
and that could also mean that their operating levels are different. But how do we know what is the higher operating level practice of Ahimsa, non-violence, means the there is tremendous compassion, kindness, selflessness, and non-violence in their lifestyle. That’s a higher level of operation. But if it is insensitivity, murder for the sake of food, torture in laboratories of beings who are helpless, that’s not higher consciousness at all. So, sadly, some victimization and all these things are coming from lower consciousness, lower operating level of consciousness, but the higher operating level of consciousness or higher consciousness in operation. That’s only compassion, kindness, selflessness, and non-violence. So we have to consider all these aspects to understand where each one stands.
TAT: During your travels through the United States, you met many many people and launched an initiative to connect scientists and politicians. Is there a genuine interest in collaboration for the betterment of the planet?
MOHANJI: A lot of people who connect it to me are operating from a slightly higher level of consciousness, and they have a genuine interest to make The Earth a better place.
But it all depends on their priorities. It all depends on the pressure of the land, and many other reasons. My effort is to bring together good scientists, who will not torture, murder, or kill beings, and good politicians, who want to do something good for the country together. And there are such people, who come together, and they can make the world a better place. Whatever we see in the world today, is formed out of the intention and imagination of somebody or many people. So if we can create a group of people who will bring forth this kind of a change, positive change in the world, that would be a good thing. So that’s the effort which I was putting forth. And I will continue to put forth.
TAT: The mainstream media seems to prefer a negative narrative, but there are positive things that are happening in the world, people uniting to protect soils, oceans, rivers, and forests, and we’re witnessing many new initiatives over the world. Are we seeing a shift in the collective consciousness?
MOHANJI: It’s not easy to see a grand shift in the collective consciousness, while we are looking at it. It’s almost like when we grow up in life, or when we are growing from a child to an adult, we wouldn’t know that we are growing up until we look at the dress we were wearing earlier.
So, collective consciousness shift is a gradual process. The last 100 years of human existence have brought forth what we are today, or even more years of human existence have culminated in what we are today, like that, what we are today will be reflected probably in the next few generations. So, it’s an evolution, collective consciousness is always an evolution. And at this point, I do not see a lot of shifts in awareness of consciousness. There are not many. Mostly they happen on an individualistic, not collective level. Gadgets have eclipsed truth.
As we know, eye contact does not exist now as it used to be, because gadgets have eclipsed them. So, there are so many things out there now, the metaverse bringing artificial world artificial realities, etc. They are not conducive to the rise of collective consciousness. Probably there are more effects in life, but not necessarily consciousness shift.
Consciousness shift simply means you are one with the universe, you are operating from that level where you don’t see any differences, or nothing outside affects you. So, for that to happen, we have to wait and see how today will become tomorrow.
So, at this point, what I see is that there are interests in people to connect to higher consciousness, and they are exploring, trying to explore the possibilities of their own, which great masters have delivered long, long time ago, in the in Vedas and Upanishads.
Various scriptures have told about the possibilities of human life, and human existence, including the connection to Consciousness. So, people are now beginning to explore, and more people are interested.
But for a collective consciousness to happen, there should be a massive shift in lifestyle. If that shift in lifestyle is not happening, as we speak, or over time, then it could be more of a disaster, because the more people who live in an unconscious state will not cause any goodness in the world.
So for goodness, righteousness, love, and kindness to happen, we need to have a much more drastic shift in awareness, which has to start with schools, with societies with religions with language by boundaries.
That kindness and compassion it has to be prioritized. Selflessness should be given priority in terms of rewards and recognition, rather than giving more and more accent and coverage for violence.
Violence should be considered as a complete lack of awareness or degeneracy, and treated in that way, so then only we can see a shift, or we can hope to see a shift.
TAT: Many astronauts who had the opportunity to see Earth from space remarked that it looks like heaven. Is there a way to awaken love and responsibility in people towards our home planet?
MOHANJI: What looks like heaven, and what feels like heaven is a different things. From the outside Earth looks beautiful because of its greenery, its flora, and fauna.
But that does not mean heaven. From a visual perspective, it is good for the eyes to see. But, Heaven is a space inside. You should feel heavenly, blissful, compassionate, and kind. Inside, there should be a feeling of total peace.
There is no competition, no comparison, no imitation. You are being you, authentic, fully inside, and fully happy. That’s a state of heaven from the outside.
But that visual effect should happen inside. That beauty should be inside us. So that we can be beautiful inside. When we are beautiful inside. All that we see is beauty.
TAT: Many people no longer identify with the countries they’re born or they live in the status as citizens of the world. According to you, what does it mean to be a citizen of the world?
MOHANJI: When all the barriers, caste, creed, country, culture, color, religion, language, dissolve, all that remains is humanity. That’s a human of the world, a human citizen of the world.
So, all the birds, all the beings, have no boundaries. They have territories and stuff just for the sake of food or security. Apart from that, you can see migratory birds flying to different places. The entire earth belongs to everybody. Citizens of the world should be truly selfless, and truly compassionate. There should be no discrimination. There should be a total tolerance for everything. But at the same time, living a righteous life, righteousness and goodness are essential to be called to be a global citizen.
TAT: You’re the author of the beautiful Reimagine song. It is about a different a better world. Is that world possible?
It is possible if you believe in it.
I was fortunate to live with Mohanji when I was a part of His personal team, even though for only a few weeks. Being so close to Him is a very rare opportunity. It is very difficult to get it. It is very difficult to keep up with it too, because living with Him is like living with a tornado, so fast and dynamic. Time with Him wipes away our inertia.
In His daily life, Mohanji looks like an ordinary man. He doesn’t speak much, except when giving important guidance. Sometimes, in casual moments when He is free, which is so rare for Him because He travels 365 days a year, we sit around Him and He tells us stories. We always learn something, but not everything we gained from Him didn’t come from words. It’s His lifestyle that shaped us.
For example, He has His style for everything, be it connected to travel or His other ways of functioning. He is always simple and practical. He also isn’t too particular about food or comfort. He doesn’t care what He will eat or whether He will get enough sleep. One of His characteristics is being accurate. He doesn’t like to be late anywhere or keep anyone waiting.
Another thing is compassion with no expectation with it. Whoever came to Him, He accepted. In my early days with Mohanji, I generally had a very low opinion about people. My mind was clouded with stored limitations. I had my picture of what people are like, what types of people exist, and this was based on prejudice and/or past experience. If a person behaved in a certain way, I’d immediately categorize them in the bucket that I created with my mind. All people have many dimensions. People are not only one dimension. Just because we know our mother is our mother, or our sibling is our sibling to us, we should be aware that that’s not their only dimension, all have multiple dimensions. My time with Mohanji shed my prejudice and helped me understand this. Limitations were getting broken and the quality of my experiences became better.
With Mohanji, I gained understanding, acceptance and clarity about myself and people. In theory we may say we know this, but with Mohanji everything that prevents freedom gets destroyed immediately. I started handling life as it comes; I stopped having prejudice IN ADVANCE, fear IN ADVANCE. If it happens, fine, I deal with it, but I stopped bringing yesterday and tomorrow to this moment. This made me fresh to handle every day with stability.
Another thing that happens in Mohanji’s presence is this: All of us are a mixture of three so-called “gunas” – tamas, rajas and sattva. Tamas is the slowest part of us – inertia, laziness, tendency to gossip, complain, blame, judge, hate etc.
Rajas is action with expectation – we do something and we expect it to be good or to be appreciated. If it isn’t, we are depressed. We put effort into a relationship and we glue expectations to it, and if it doesn’t happen the way we expected, we are affected.
The third “guna” is sattva – action without expectation. This doesn’t mean we are escaping from something. We are totally active in the world, but all our actions are 100% selfless and we have no expectations.
All of us are a mixture of all three. They are not bad. There is also a state called Turiya, a state beyond the 3 gunas. Those who settled in Turiya never go back to states related to the previously mentioned gunas. They are never affected, completely stable.
With Mohanji, we are only in sattva, all the time, 24/7. It’s not possible to be in tamas, to delay, postpone, gossip, there is zero opportunity for that. There is also no space for Rajas, because all expectations are blown away.
What does that give you? Strength, stability and no dependency on the world outside, while still living in it fully. This is not escapism. You become immune to disappointments because there are no expectations. No expectations doesn’t mean you don’t care, it means stability and flexibility. Automatically, there will be less pain and suffering.
Living with Mohanji made me stronger in every way. I used to be disorganized and my life was slow, confused, with no purpose and motivation. That changed. With Him, you cannot predict anything, nothing is certain, we won’t know where we will be tomorrow. There is no guarantee for anything, even for spiritual progress. He has never promised spiritual growth to anybody. But He always provides chances like a tree which will not grow fruit, but you have to pluck it, chew it, eat it and digest it. Every second, His presence transforms.
He doesn’t even have to do anything. His presence burns our residues if we do not block that from happening with our prejudices, doubts, resistance to letting go, inhibitions, and fears. Even though we serve Mohanji as a team, there is no guarantee that we will physically be with Him. Sometimes unexpected things happen and shake our expectations. Sometimes egos are hurt. With a master, we should be alert, aware, and make sure no opportunity is lost to be close to Him.
One funny fact is that many people think masters like Mohanji will tell everything we need to know. Not really, they often don’t say. It’s our lion-roaring determination that can get us closer to understanding somebody like Mohanji. I never wasted a chance to be in Mohanji’s presence whenever I could, even when it was very difficult, I had determination because I know a birth like His is rare.
As a Mai-Tri practitioner, a method of energy cleansing that channels Mohanji’s energy, I gained further insights into how Mohanji releases people from lifetimes of burden, while He’s not even physically near them. He works through Mai-Tri practitioners in sessions that cleanse deeply rooted patterns and other stagnating factors from people.
One lady who came to me for Mai-Tri had a difficult life, blockages that brought her painful experiences. In her previous lives she was a slave and was treated very badly by her owners of that time, and in this life, she was treated similarly. Through Mai-Tri, people and situations in her life started changing and her mental state changed from a victim to a very stable person. She had more self-love, self-confidence and she started respecting her womanhood, towards which she used to have a lot of resistance.
For another lady, through Mai-Tri, Mohanji released her from anxiety, fears and blockages and gave her a new purpose, diluting the stagnating patterns. She had a lot of resistance towards life, which changed after the sequence of Mai-Tri sessions. She gained back her confidence and stability. One time, she said she hadn’t smiled in months, even if something was funny; she was like a plant moving from point A to point B every day. With Mai-Tri, she experienced great unburdening and gained lightness.
I am humbled to have had the opportunity to meet many people through the five years of my Mai-Tri practice, and be the instrument of their lives changing so drastically. I am also happy to actively support the platforms that Mohanji founded such as Early Birds Club, which proved to help many in times of crisis. I can confidently say that my life is fulfilled and my purpose is clear because of Mohanji. He is the light of our lives and that’s where my home is.
Happy 10th anniversary of your great work for the world, Mohanji. Thank you for walking with us!
The Awakening Times (TAT): You have been with Mohanji almost from the beginning, since 2010. Can you explain to us what has been your motive for discipline and perseverance?
Biljana Vozarevic (BV): My motive for discipline and perseverance has been the key purpose why I am here, and this is liberation. Liberation while living – this is to reach a state where you are having everything while you need nothing. You can have everything but you use as much as you need and respect things. You have liberated living. On the other hand, liberation while leaving the body – leave completely fulfilled, have no more loose ends for the next life. It means you don’t need to take another birth in order to feel life and experience life. You are completely fulfilled and you have had enough in this life, you reached the highest consciousness, you reach no mind state, state of no thoughts which is permanent and you operate from the high level of awareness and in that mode you don’t accumulate more desires.
That is why I can persevere because without it this goal cannot be achieved. I like to persevere because I know what I’m here for. It’s the most important thing that I know what my priority is. Then everything else comes to its place. Life supports it, the tradition supports it, and Mohanji is always there.
On another note, I may have trained or practised this discipline at some other time. It is not something which is new for me. I already had good working habits and I am able to be hardworking and consistent with other things since childhood. Also, I’m able to concentrate on one purpose for a long time. I keep it as light in front of me, as the focus, I perceive what my destination is all the time, it requires concentration as well. I have that, somehow, I cannot say that I reached that level of concentration only in this lifetime. One sign that it has been with me even before I met Mohanji,
is that I like long-term goals and working towards them. One example is university, because to finish university you need perseverance to pass all the exams. Especially as I was studying while I already had a child. Filip was born and when he six months old, I started preparing for the entrance exam. When he was one year old, I enrolled for the university. I was taking care of him, though my mum was helping me a lot. I was using nights to study. It was physically and emotionally very demanding, but I persevered.
Another example of discipline, consistency and perseverance was preparing for and running marathons. Because you go through all kinds of phases and challenges, even pain, and in the end, satisfaction is bigger. The more effort I would put in it, the more satisfaction there is. That is how I see the that ability to persevere had already been in me before.
I also adapted my lifestyle towards my goal, family and other responsibilities. At the same time I keep this focus of liberation and dedication to stay connected and connect deeper. I am able to do that because I love Mohanji tremendously. At the same time I do my regular job, and volunteer on Mohanji platforms, which is a way of expressing myself, fully. I am exhausting a lot of my karma through Mohanji’s platforms. I have acquired quite a lot of skills, and opened myself a lot to other people, much more than I used to. I used to keep a lot of things to myself. Now my heart opened a lot. So, I adapted my lifestyle and didn’t allow anybody or anything to stop me from that, whatever the outcome would be.
So, the purpose is to realise what I actually am, not what I seem to be. Not my positions, possessions, relations, or anything material, nor any role that I play in the society. The purpose is to realise myself beyond all these and become that fully.
TAT: You organized the first retreat with Mohanji in the Balkans, what did it look like, can you tell us the details?
BV: The mission started with group meditations and talks. We had a strong idea to take forward the mission from just group gatherings in our meditations, to something bigger. This was the first retreat with Mohanji ever, called Mohanji Lifestyle Retreat. We spent two and a half days in His presence. It was 16-18th November, 2012. Full-day programme of various activities meant for cleansing and spiritual growth.
During one of his talks, Mohanji said how a woman who can see regardless of the distance, and can see Mohanji clearly wherever he is, called him saying she saw a big grey cloud from a group of people coming into him, and that she was horrified at the sight, warning him he will die if he takes so much poison from people onto himself. Mohanji replied to her: “That’s why I am here”. He took all the negativities that started melting from our inner system and all the activities that stimulated cleansing. Not for a second was it a fluffy holiday weekend. The experience was much deeper as we were within the energy field of a master. People are usually not conscious of it. There is a feeling of relaxation. Apart from that, there was a feeling of a mild headache in everybody. We noticed how Mohanji’s health deteriorated. He took huge quantities of the blockages, negativities or “poison” from people onto himself, and left them with only a mild headache. His one body was bearing that heroically. Through headache as a tangible symptom, we understood that cleansing was happening, that it was intense and real. We were bathing in his energy field. It was a true energy spa. He improved us all. I’m deeply grateful for this blessing. No words can describe it. My love increased. My awareness increased, too. Mohanji said that people would be aware of the changes more after two or three months. It would manifest in our everyday life.
Another interesting moment was when Milan Bojic, a journalist, interviewed Mohanji. He was keen on asking questions. He loved the chance he got to write a text about Mohanji. The experience boosted his inner growth, too. When Milan interviewed Mohanji face-to face, he recorded the interview. But when he reached his room, the dictaphone just buzzed and nothing could be recovered. Mohanji’s energy was so strong, that the gadget failed! Milan got deep answers that satisfied him, grateful for what he learned. Then he wrote a draft of their interview while it was still fresh. I shared my experience in detail here.
Regarding the organising part, it was an improvisation. I organised it in a very low-profile way, it was like a half-private gathering of friends, although we didn’t know each other well, from various parts of the world – Serbia, Macedonia, Great Britain, Ukraine. It was a one-man show made spontaneously. I just checked the number of places to sleep, males with males and females with females, without checking who is suitable to sleep in which bed with whom. In one room there were two or three men in a double-bed of a guest house.
TAT: You have participated in all important projects related to the Mohanji Foundation, is there any you would like to single out?
BV: Yes, I have participated in many projects because I have been part of the core team since 2011. I have been proven trustworthy and this mission is the biggest part of my life. That is what I decided and I stick to it. What could I single out? I love it when I see what is missing and I feel I am able to add that, to learn the skills and involve people to go together towards it. I started the YouTube channel in English and one for Balkan. The English one has now been replaced by the new one. It was my endeavour, journey into the unknown as I was a passionate enthusiast, not a professional. I learnt everything from scratch. I recorded, edited and uploaded most videos there.
Also, I designed a lot of posters, edited Mohanji’s pictures, some of which are on the website. They have reached walls in people’s homes. This is all a huge proof to me how Mohanji’s grace works. We didn’t have professional photographers at first – enthusiastic amateurs were there. You may be one of the best professionals, but if you don’t have grace, your work will fall flat. On the other hand, you may not be a professional, like I am not, but with Mohanji’s grace these pictures came out superb. This is awesome.
Another, even more important example is the watermark of global Mohanji Foundation. This is the picture that I took during the retreat with Mohanji, in Andrevlje, in 2015. A few of us were offered a task to give suggestions for the watermark. Then I played in Photoshop with that picture and sent it along. Mohanji picked one regardless of who had made it. He just saw a few options and picked mine. It was so fulfilling, that I will always remember it! This is another example of grace; I had been going through some challenging experiences before that, some tests. After that, this was like elixir and nectar of bliss. Whichever product with the watermark I look at, my heart expands. There have been plenty of bigger projects, but this task will always have a special place in my memory.
I have also been an Acharya board member for four years now. Mohanji empowered a group of people who dedicated their life to adding value to the society and create a positive transformation through Mohanji platforms. This was a huge stepping stone in my life. Because it somehow shows what my life commitment is. Another platform is Himalayan Academy – I am a global member of Himalayan School of Traditional Dance, contributing to it and spreading the tradition through dance in Europe, predominantly in Balkans.
TAT: How to explain the joy of volunteering to others?
BV: Volunteering on Mohanji platforms is something special, what you do from the heart without expecting anything in return. It amplifies your sattwic nature. As we have tamasic, rajasic, sattwic part of our constitution, volunteering is leading us to that highest, most refined quality of human being. It is most noble and helps us cleanse ourselves in our striving for the highest consciousness. It is purifying. It allows us to do karma yoga. Here we have a chance to work, even 20 hours a day if we want, or one hour a week. It depends on our capacity, commitment, and availability. Tradition will always offer opportunities. It is up to us to recognise them. Catch them, snatch them, be available and allow the things to happen through us. The joy of this is that you do things, spend time and energy on something you love, or something that, in the long run, you know will be useful for the next generations as well.
In the short run, we have immediate results for certain projects, like we check out our to-do lists, etc. We also exhaust our karma through various situations with our teams, working with people, learning skills, etc. In the long run, we are doing something useful for the world. We are bringing brightness in people’s lives. That sense of purpose is utterly fulfilling.
Mohanji has set an intention, with all his power of an avadhoota, who walks like an ordinary human being, like a family man, he set an intention and interwove it into his platforms. He said everyone who is working on this platform will have enhanced fulfilment. He said it and he stands by his words. His words are like a command to the universe. Everyone who works on these platforms will be energised and will have enhanced fulfilment.
Apart from this, meeting new people, communicating with various personalities across the word, where we feel close to each other, like relatives. it s amazing.
Having a community like that is extraordinary. This is what I think of as the joy of volunteering. Do something which is fulfilling and also useful for the society both for this generation and generations to come.
I have a lot more connections with people than I would only have had at my work. Through connection with Mohanji we immediately establish a rapport. On top of that, it is beautiful that we stand together; we’re here to nurture each other, to support each other, like in a family. When someone is going through an uneasy situation, we bring them closer, we are helping him, nurturing him, bringing him back to good feeling, good energy. We inspire each other and we also learn from each other. So, this community, the Mohanji family, is an invaluable asset in the world. This brings me joy as well.
Last but not least, volunteering helps me stay connected deeply to Mohanji. I feel I am getting connected closer and closer to him every day.
TAT: Have you progressed while volunteering for MF in terms of new skills, abilities, etc.?
BV: Yes, tremendously. By profession, I have a university degree in the English language and literature, and I am a yoga instructor. I have learnt plenty of skills – as an event manager, coordinator of various activities, video editor, designer, and what not. I cannot even list all of these. I wrote and published a book of poems, “Conscious Walking” in Serbian, working in various software applications, blogging, conducting meditations and other Mohanji’s techniques and Acharya programs, strategising, creating podcasts, creating audio courses from Mohanji’s teachings, creating content for blogs. Now, dancing skills as a Bharatanatyam dancer, and as an HSTD global member, delivering this art form to the world. I really didn’t pick much. Whatever I thought I could learn and do, I would do. I didn’t spare nights working when something was urgent. I feel extremely fulfilled when things get done timeously, promptly, efficiently.
TAT: When you look back and see the results of Mohanji’s clarity and vision in just ten years, can you imagine what is coming in the future?
BV: In the future I can see a lifestyle which Mohanji now promotes. Because he works through a lot of people, I can see there will be a lot more people who will recognise the value of someone who recovers true values in society, someone who is working for people, for all beings on Earth and perhaps beyond the Earth, someone who is here to give himself fully out of love for humanity and who works tirelessly, 24/7, for that, a true leader who connects with every person, regardless of age, profession, culture, nationality, or what part of the world they are. This is extremely rare: how with his presence, he lights the inner fire in people and brings them back to themselves. I can see that a lot more people will realise that the stature that Mohanji has is possible. There will be more bright people aware of their true potential and reminded of what life is about. I can see that numerous people will regain themselves, know themselves, and be themselves. Mohanji Centres of Benevolence will speak loud and clear what Mohanji’s mission is about. Sage Agastya called Mohanji “Friend of the universe”. He is here to uplift humanity. He will be known through our stories of experiences with him, how we transformed and became brightness through our connection to him, to his consciousness. We will tell stories how he opened the doors of freedom and brought the light of awareness in us. I am tremendously grateful for that and I love him so much.
The Awakening Times (TAT): What initiated your involvement in ACT4Ukraine?
Santosh Govindaraju (SG): After watching the news for a few weeks, I decided that I could no longer just watch what was happening, and I had to go out and do something about it. I remembered from studying World War 2, how some people just sat aside, not doing anything about what they saw, and I didn’t want to be one of those people. If this was purely a military fight, where armies are fighting armies, I wouldn’t have gone, but with the civilian impact, it really yanked my heart to do something about it, go help and serve and be part of the solution. I’ve always maintained a strong sense of stewardship in all of my work and activities, and that urge is really drives me.
TAT: Speaking of World War 2, do you think the Ukrainian situation has the same potential gravity on the international stage as WW2?
SG: Only to the extent that ordinary civilians, innocent civilians, are being affected, being attacked and affected. With the Geneva Convention, there are certain policies that we, as a global society, have set regarding what is acceptable, and when civilians are being targeted and attacked, that for me is the parallel to World War 2.
TAT: How have the ACT4Ukraine activities grown since you started being involved?
SG: Initially, ACT UK arrived with the delivery of food supplies, which are much needed in Ukraine. They discovered, while they were in Romania, that Ukrainians are no longer fleeing Ukraine into Romania, but staying in Ukraine, and when I arrived, I realised why. I’ve been a student of war and strategy for decades, since I was a young child. It made a lot of sense to me in that their bank accounts, their purchasing power, their currency, their cell phones, are all Ukrainian and their language won’t get them very far in foreign countries; they’ll be very dependent. The feeling of dependency is something that people who are accustomed to being free, are not used to. I understood why they’d rather remain in a safer part of Ukraine; the area in southwest Ukraine. It’s far from Russia, far from Belarus. Unlike Levine, which has a lot of humanitarian activity, but gets attacked because of its proximity to Belarus, this is a low value target area, no major cities, and many displaced Ukrainians are residing in this area because it’s safer. There it doesn’t even feel like there’s a war, other than that there are 1000s of internally displaced Ukrainians living in the area. We found that many of these internally displaced Ukrainians are being housed at facilities that were not intended for residential occupancy.
Our work is broken down into 3 areas. 1 is adapting these facilities to become more hospitable to residential occupancy, which includes building showers, purchasing washer and dryer systems so that they can do laundry, we buy more commercial cooking equipment so that the staff and volunteers can cook more efficiently for their 100s of guests. Now the residents feel much more decent. Think about your own life: if you can’t take a shower every morning, how productive are you? How good do you feel about yourself? Having addressed that, has allowed us to become much more engaged in the arts, yoga, meditation, and all the other mental health activities. Mental health is still a huge issue. We’re working with women and children who are away from their husbands, most of whom are fighting in the war. There are deep scars and worry and stress in these families, for their families and loved ones that are in conflict areas. Our efforts where to first address the physical issues of the buildings, and supply them with food and pharmaceuticals, which has allowed us to elevate the residents that we serve. The displaced residents are engaging wholeheartedly in the arts activities, the yoga and meditation, and they’re seeing and feeling the changes. Our presence alone is an uplifting element for them; they are just so grateful. The spirit of gratitude that people from other countries would actually come and help, come to a country of war and help these folks, gives them so much comfort, knowing that the world cares about them.
TAT: So, there is a sequence of requirements that need to be addressed… Beyond your basic survival: food, shelter, clothing, the next step is simple dignity, and only then you can begin to address the more emotional and psychological requirements. Would you say that the biggest need at the moment in Ukraine right now, is that basic dignity?
SG: Yes. If you think about even laundry: we purchased laundry machines, washer and dryers, because these people came with a small bag and the clothes on their back. They often wear the same set of clothes. When they left, it was winter and now it’s summer, so we’re bringing summer clothing to them
TAT: You mentioned that you are student of war and strategy. What else are you into? Are you full time into public service?
SG: The way I was raised, I was educated in all aspects: academics, the arts, I’m a dancer, I’m a performer in the theatre. Understanding war and warfare are part of some of the ancient traditional Indian studies. You have to be a master of all these different areas. Not only did you need to be an academic and study history, you had mathematics and sciences and so on. You had to be a master in the performing arts, so I’m a performer and a theatrical person, but I also had to study politics, economics, warfare, all these different things. I didn’t have a choice, I just had to learn. My profession is more creative. I’m a creative person that happens to be really good at mathematics. My personal businesses are in real estate development. I develop commercial properties like hotels and resorts, office buildings, retail centres, communities where people live. It requires a balance of being creative in the vision and the design, as well as understanding economics to make it financially work. I also produce Hollywood feature films. I bring the business to show business: it’s not “show art”, it’s “show business”, but in all these things, I carry a spirit of caring for our community, of concern for how to govern, of stewardship. Everything I do, I make sure I leave it better than how I found it. Making sure that the properties I developed are better today than how we found them yesterday. I’ve been blessed to be able to focus on what I want to do, so only right now I’m 100%, focused on ACT4Ukraine. At other times, I might be focused on another project, then I might say, “Now, I’m gonna go work on this film,” and so I choose those things that I enjoy working on. Whatever I do, I give it a single pointed focus. I want to succeed and be the best at whatever I’m doing. I don’t want to just go for a couple days and come back from Ukraine, it wouldn’t really accomplish much.
TAT: Would you say would you say the broadness of your education makes you more valuable to society?
SG: I’ve found myself the most effective in areas that are multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary, where the different disciplines intersect. Even in real estate… it’s creative design, it’s engineering, multiple aspects. Then there’s economics and finance involved. I like to use the different parts of my brain. But it also allows me to evaluate every situation from different verticals of thought processes. I look at every situation with multiple layers, and I can figure out what the optimal execution is. It helped that my intuition is really strong, when I’m in the field, I can quickly figure out, like in Ukraine, what’s necessary.I had no plan when I arrived, I can’t make a plan until I see what the conditions are. It’s hard to perceive those conditions from a desktop.
TAT: How much of your time are you spending in Ukraine now?
SG: I arrived in Ukraine on April 7 and I planned on being there until the middle of June. I only came back for one week, for my wife’s birthday and Mother’s Day; I still have to be a good husband. This trip for 6 days, is for my oldest son’s high school graduation; I still have to be a good father. Other than those mandatory requirements of good husband, good father, I am in Ukraine.
TAT: What have you got planned for Ukraine? What’s in the pipeline?
SG: Last week we uncovered that there are 4 facilities that are housing women, 2 of them are women suffering from mental health, who have been evacuated from the worst parts of Ukraine in the Luhansk. area. Similarly, there are 2 other facilities that house women who are victims of domestic violence. One of the psychiatric hospital facilities for women with psychiatric issues, with over 200 Women only has 1 shower, so we’re building 5 five more showers and that facility right now. Our team is already working on that plan. We’re buying new commercial ovens for them. We’re buying industrial size washing machines as well.
Part of the job is we find these facilities with great staff, and the staff and the volunteers in Ukraine are phenomenal, and we’re only sweetening and improving their ability to serve by giving them better tools. To have a longer term sustainable process, if I can give tools to the existing volunteers, to make their lives easier than they are, they can last longer, otherwise they’ll burn out. The next step is training in yoga and meditation, for them so that we won’t be dependent on a constant stream of volunteers.
TAT: Making yourself obsolete as soon as possible…
SG: That’s how my products usually work. That’s why I can work on a project and disappear, because at some point, they don’t need me anymore. I like to be not needed.
TAT: If you’re talking about yoga, and meditation and that kind of stuff, where do you draw from to teach that? Are you working with Mohanji Foundation for that, or the Himalayan School of Yoga?
SG: Yes. Several of their acaharyas have come out and taught classes. Devi Mohan was just here this past weekend in Ukraine, conducting some classes; they’re the ones that are going to be teaching the teachers there. We just translated the Power of Purity, meditation into Ukrainian: on my first day there, we were passing out food and one woman was just so emotionally touched, and started speaking to us, I said, “Wait a minute, you speak English?” The next day, I messaged her, I said, “You know, will you help us in executing our plans,” and she has found amazing new, positive purpose during this difficult time in helping us help other Ukrainians. She translated Power of Purity into Ukrainian for us
TAT: Tell us about Casa Karuna.
SG: We needed a facility that was more affordable for volunteers to stay at and we were receiving 30 tonnes of food from ACT UK, and we needed a place to store that as well. This facility was actually ideally designed for us. The ground floor is a storage hall, where we have stored the food, then upstairs, there are two flats with three bedrooms each. We currently have 2 beds in each room, so we could staff up to 12 volunteers at any given time, quite comfortably.
TAT: Are you looking to get as much of those of that stuff from Ukraine itself as possible?
SG: This facility is in Romania, but you bring up a good point. Maybe we can find displaced Ukrainians who want to serve and work with us and we can give them this place to stay, they can find comfort and decent housing, as well as purpose by serving our mission…
TAT: Tell me a bit about some of the best and worst things that you’ve seen while you’re over there.
SG: The best is the constant gratitude that we get from Ukrainians. They just keep sending us messages of gratitude to us, even the children, who are missing their fathers. They’re seeing a lot of trauma. They just come up and want to hug. When you’re there serving, you can feel how your presence has a calming influence on the people there, that’s what touches me the most. The worst… There are people who profit from devastation, which goes against every ounce of my moral fabric. Luckily, we have a good sixth sense about that, and good people around us to warn and guide us. We saw it with pandemic too, people profiting off of the masks and all the personal protection for the first responders, like people are importing these things, selling these things, the government contracts, and making fortunes…
TAT: From what you’ve seen, do you reckon it’s going to be a prolonged conflict, or can we look forward to speedy, peaceful resolution?
SG: One of the earliest books on methods and practices and strategies of war was written around 300 BC by Indian philosopher Chanakya, it’s called the Arthashastra, and everything Putin is doing actually follows a lot of those strategies to the tee. Except for one thing, which is that all those strategies were taught in a way that only works when you have the Dharma (righteousness), when you’re doing it for the right reasons. When I analyse the landscape, what I see today is that there is no win for Putin, because he’ll never occupy Ukraine. It’s impossible. When you see the value that people place on their freedom… 45 million Ukrainians will never allow themselves be subject to a dictator, and you can’t occupy a country 45 million, with 100,000 soldiers. Also, Ukraine feeds the world: Africa, the Middle East, everywhere. So, I don’t see the other powers allowing Russia to successfully control the Black Sea. If he forges ahead in that path, he’ll see additional conflict. If Putin doesn’t have success, it’s the end of him; they’ll remove him from within Russia, for having gone through this. The biggest challenge is: how can the world create a graceful exit for Putin? That’s the hard part, because there is no win, there’s only destruction, there’s no win. And at what point does this become just a war of endurance? And you’re inflicting wounds on yourself in the process, at great financial cost to both sides. So, I think that the biggest challenge for the world is: what does that graceful exit look like? Does it require Ukraine to give up some small piece, as, but if you ask the Ukrainians, they’re not giving up anything, none of that stuff. I mean, sometimes it could be a piece of paper, right? “Here’s a sticker.” Like little kids, you give him a little sticker… But it doesn’t have to be that, it could be something else. If it’s not Ukrainian land, I don’t know what else. I think that’s where the creative thinking needs to come in. But, because I have such a hard time seeing what that other thing could be, I think that it’s going to be a grave situation for Putin.
On one hand, this could end in less than 30 days, but it requires egos to be put to rest. I’ve been in these situations before, in civil litigation, I can’t understand irrationality. I used to play a lot of chess and I can see 10 steps ahead, and I tell people, “This is what’s going to happen,” and they said, “You can’t tell me that.” I’m pointing out that every path that you take leads to this point, based on the other pertinent factors, and so every path of aggression that Putin takes, has zero in, aggression will not yield him a single win
TAT: If the world leaders and policy makers read this article, what would your advice to them be?
SG: The only solution I can think of is dark: that you support internal removal of Putin.
TAT: Espionage, cloak and gagger….?
SG: That kind of thing, and it’s prescribed in the Arthashastra, in 300 BC as well. What Putin is using is 2000 year old strategy, when you’ve studied it, you can see it for what it is. In this situation, that is the only way, and that’s part of what sanctions do; it makes life so hard that at some point, the endurance of individuals in Russia runs out, you know, it’s a war of attrition. The only advantage that Ukrainians have is that they’re fighting for freedom, which has Dharma on behind it, the fuel of positive Dharma behind it: the ability of people to live according to their free will and choice. That is a much more powerful reason to die and fight than the other side. I think most Russians have no idea why they’re there.
TAT: What advice would you give to someone who’s concerned about Ukraine and wants to lend aid and doesn’t know where to start?
SG: There are several aid organisations that are delivering aid through Poland, in Warsaw, you can look them up online. In America, there’s a centre in Chicago, that you can ship aid to, for Ukraine, and they’ll take care of the shipping costs over to Poland, to be delivered into Ukraine. We’re just one of several grassroots efforts. I like to distinguish us as a grassroots effort. I’ve met others who are doing similar things. One is called Hands on Global, hey consist mainly of nurses who go around providing primary care and sourcing pharmaceuticals, for the internally displaced Ukrainians. Most people thought to house Ukrainian refugees in their country, in their homes, but that is really not what Ukrainians want to do. It’s a very desperate situation for them. Although I do hear that some are taking advantage of open visa opportunities that they were previously unable to. Some people are migrating to Germany, they had intended to move to Germany before, but never had the chance to get a visa. They can use this as a as a stepping stone for that goal, but most Ukrainians do not want to leave their country. Helping Ukrainians in Ukraine is most important thing. We found, for example, at our first primary school, that the school facility is housing displaced Ukrainians, doing an amazing job, as are many others like it. Maybe reaching out and finding those places, the schools, that are serving as centres and say, “Hey, what do you need? Let us help you.” I spend maybe 10,000 US dollars per facility, and we get showers, we get laundry equipment, we get commercial kitchen equipment, all these tools. 10,000 dollars gives me all those fixes, so it doesn’t take a whole lot.
TAT: Long term prognosis: doom or optimism?
SG: Optimism. I am the eternal optimist, but also when I see the spirit of Ukrainians, they are going to come back. This has united the country.
TAT: Final thoughts?
SG: If you have the opportunity to come to some of the safe areas of Ukraine, even after the war, you can, Come on out, the presence alone makes a difference in these people’s lives, show them that the rest of the world actually cares.
The Awakening Times (TAT): Tell us about how you personally got involved with ACT Foundation and how the work in Ukraine has evolved.
Vijay Ramanaidoo (VR): This started in 2011, when Mohanji came to the UK. When he came over, there was no organisation or anything like that at all, the only thing that was happening, I think, was Ammucare. Mohanji was working full time. He spoke to me about setting up something in Dubai, and that the costs of keeping it going were so high that they decided to close it, and were looking at somewhere else to set up our foundation. He said that to me while in my house and I thought it’s not for me, because this is just far too much work, setting up a registered charity in the UK. But, by a strange series of coincidences, somebody wanted to donate a whole load of books and clothes and things like that. I said, “We don’t have an organisation here, just give it to Red Cross.” I spoke to Mohanji about and asked whether we should try and set something up here. Of course, he said, “Yes,” and so we set it up; I registered ACT Foundation in April 2012, and we got formally registered by the Charity Commission on 20 September 2012, but activities had started from that April. That’s how I got involved with ACT Foundation: I registered the charity, got a team of trustees together and then served as chair. Then we started doing our little bits of work, initially serving the homeless, we’ve collaborated with a number of different organisations, with Mother Teresa home, trying to support them, going there, cooking food, serving the homeless. Then we made a tie up with Skanda Vale, which was to have far reaching consequences going forward, because they have a lot of excess food that comes to them as a result of donations from pilgrims. They have a food aid program, but they don’t have a mechanism for sharing that out to the needy, they work with different charities do that and we became a food aid partner with Skanda Vale. We go there regularly, take a van, fill up with one and a half tonnes of food; rice, grains, pasta, lentils, that sort of stuff, then we give to needy people. We give partly to the Mother Teresa home, for them to cook for the homeless, partly to needy families. We also worked with a couple of other charities Refugee Relief, Hope and Aid Direct, in order to give them the food for them to take to poor areas across the world. In that way, we’ve sent food to Ghana, Moldova, Kosovo, Croatia, lots of different countries. Then we got more and more involved in ACT Foundation in terms of humanitarian relief projects, where there were floods or earthquakes and that sort of thing. Slowly, the work started growing and the team started growing. It was in about 2016 or 2017, Mohanji said that he wanted me to set up Mohanji Foundation. What he suggested was to let another of our team handle ACT Foundation, and I set up Mohanji Foundation and serve as chair, but I still served as a trustee of ACT Foundation and an advisor, so I’m on both boards.
Also in 2016, we decided to go with one of the charities that we give food to, to Kosovo and see what they were doing. We went because we thought that we really needed to see who this food was going to. Jay and I flew out and we assisted the convoy of aid that went over to Kosovo, a few lorries, we helped to unload, put them in a warehouse and everything, and then go to different parts of the country and serve the food to the needy there. That had a massive impact on both of us, seeing the mechanism of the delivery, and how it was supporting needy people. We’ve also done some work with refugees. When the the Ukraine war started, the first thing we thought about was what we can
. Chris (Chrostopher Greenwood, Executive Assistant to Mohanji) was here at the time and we set up a small ACT4Ukraine group, we got Devi involved, myself, Jay and a few others, to brainstorm about what we could possibly do to support Ukraine. One of the first things that I said was that we’ve done enough of just giving a bit of money and a bit of food to people, we need to take that next step, we need to set up a hub there from which our volunteers can go and help and serve and we channel our resources through that hub. In addition to that, one of the charities that we went to Kosovo with, were sending a convoy of lorries over to Moldova.
We thought that since we’ve got an ACT Foundation van, let’s drive together with them, pack our van full of food, and go over to Moldova. From there, we’ll go across into Romania at the border town, and then see what we can do in terms of serving the refugees there. We drove all the way from London, up to Colchester, across on the ferry 7 hours through Highridge, and landed in Holland. Then we drove across Holland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, and then we got into Moldova, it took us 3 days to make that journey. We were also with the trucks, which can only go 50 miles an hour. We had some breakdowns and things like that. Going across that, through that terrain, was a journey in itself. We went to different places within Moldova, where refugees are residing. Because Moldova is just on the border of Ukraine, a lot of Ukrainians are coming across into Moldova, staying in some of the border towns, staying with some relatives and friends. Some of the towns have opened up their community centres and their schools and are housing the refugees there. We went a few places where these hubs for the refugees were, and gave them beds, medical equipment, food, toiletries. We work with the mayors in the different villages so that we can be sure that the work that the food is going to the right people and there’s also a team on the ground in Moldova that reside there, working with them, we distributed the aid. That convoy was seven lorries and three vans, a massive amount of aid.
Then we went across the border, between Moldova and Romania, crossed into Romania, drove to this place called Dora Hi, where we have this contact, Benny, who runs a social housing scheme, where socially disadvantaged orphans and children are being housed, some of whom are adults now. He’s working with a charity in the UK, he organised our stay. We went to the border town, called Surrett, the idea was that we would set up a hub somewhere there, but when we went there, we saw tonnes of aid agencies all lining up to see this road. It’s almost like as if they’re fighting; a refugee comes along, and lots of people are coming together, try to help them. Lots of different organisations there, lots of Americans, cheque, Cyprus, etc., were all lined and there’s actually not much need over here.
So, we though, “Let’s work with people that are in Romania, that are in the schools and try and help them.” Benny was housing some refugees and we went there and spoke to some of them. They were very withdrawn and didn’t want to communicate very much, which is understandable. Some of our team started becoming more familiar, coming on daily basis and, doing some Mai-Tri and some of them change very, very positively to that when you come then they start welcome us in particular child who’s the Maitri practitioner. Their whole demeanour, and attitude and approach changed completely, we witnessed the power of Mai-Tri. Then we thought that there’s no point in hanging around in Romania and creating a duplicate hub here. One of the guys could speak Romanian fluently and just across the border between Romania into Ukraine, there’s an area that speaks Romanian. I spoke to Mohanji, I said, “I don’t think there’s much point in staying here because the refugees are well served. But we think there’s a big need and Ukraine itself. We need your blessings and grace to crossover, is it okay?” He said, “Go, you have my, just make sure you’ve documented everything properly.” As we drove across, it was eerie, because all the roads are empty. It’s a big motorway, beautiful country, and you don’t see any cars, it was a bit spooky and worrying. Because if anything happens, there’s no around and you can’t speak the language or anything. We drove to a school, and were met by a welcoming party of a medical director of a nearby medical facility, the director of the school, the mayor of this town, called boilie, the school teachers, and a couple of other volunteers. They laid on a really lovely meal for us. Then they showed us all around the school and what they were doing, they explained that many refugees are coming across Mariupol, Kharkiv, Kiev, etc, were coming to the border towns, because they feel safe in their own country, rather than being refugees elsewhere, and the men stayed behind, and they could be in contact with the men folk etc. They feel comfortable in their own country. Some are staying with relatives, some are being housed by people just taking them in, and some are sleeping in the school in the gym, and the assembly hall. We went there and we saw all the beds laid out, we saw how people are living. It’s almost like a transit place; people stay there for maybe a week or two and then move on. Some people, with nowhere else to go, just stay there. We gave nearly a tonne of food to these people and they were very grateful. They took us to the medical facility where we were shown around the facilities. We gave them some medication, antibiotics and syringes… They even showed me the lab, because my work is in hospital of laboratories, a very warm welcome. They showed us what they need and what they were doing. We thought that this is something that we can support.
I made it my mission to start searching for hub properties which we could rent, because currently we are all paying hotel rooms, and it gets expensive. We’re paying from our own pocket and we try to support some people that can’t afford it. We looked at different properties and couldn’t find anything suitable, but eventually we managed. The downstairs is just open plan, it can store a lot of goods and the upstairs has got 2, 3 bedroom flats. It wasn’t quite ready in terms of the refurbishment, but we’ve got that all sorted and on 9th May, we signed the contract, so that’s our ACT Foundation hub at the moment. Concurrently Jay worked extremely hard in the UK to take the next step of getting our own lorrie. Initially was going to be a 10 tonne lorry, but then the guy said that we could get a 30 tonne lorry, for 3500 pounds, but then you’ve got to fill it up. We got about 8 tonnes of food from Skanda Vale, we got a big donation from America when they saw the work that we were doing. Mohanji always says that you really need to make sure you have the visibility. So, we were making these videos as we were going along, communicating that through the website, WhatsApp, etc., and people were seeing the work that we’re doing and they were donating towards it.
In the end, we got so much food we could fill up the whole lorry and still had about 8 tonnes left, and now we’re going to send another lorry. Some of our team flew over and received the lorry, unloaded it into our hub property. At the same time, we’ve organised to buy a van, there was a bit of a hiccup there, because van broke down, but we’ve got this van and the idea was that the van will take 1 tonne at a time and go to different places within Ukraine. The team has have reached out to other schools and special needs places that need help and the next stage was to get funding. Santosh has been very good at getting funding from the US and making the lives of the refugees better.
TAT: The hub is called Casa Karuna right?
VR: We don’t want to call it Casa Karuna anymore, because we need to have greater visibility, something more universal and less Indian sounding, so we will call the ACT Foundation hub.
TAT: Where do things stand now? What’s next?
VR: We’ve hired the place for 3 months initially and we’ll extend that month by month based on the need. We’ve been looking after the physical, which is the food, but then there’s also the psychological, emotional, and mental well being. We’ve been doing Mai-Tri, meditations, yoga, and some fun activities; healing through arts and music to support the next step of their well being. So, this is the strategy: give some humanitarian aid, then support mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and try to install some infrastructure. Eventually we want get to a place where we have a registered bodies in Romania and Ukraine, so that that the work can happen with a team of people that is connected to Mohanji, that are locals. For that we need acharyas to go over there, to support and grow the local team and it can be self sustaining and keep growing, without us having to come from external areas.
TAT: From what you’ve seen there, do you think that it’ll go on for a long time, or do you think we can look forward to a speedy resolution?
VR: I reckon the Russians have got a bit of a bloody nose from trying to take care of places elsewhere, they’ve realised they’ve stretched themselves too far, and have withdrawn from many of the areas and just concentrated on the eastern area. So, I feel what’s going to happen is that they’re going to take that whole of that Donbass area, all the way with Mariupol, all the way down towards Crimea, so basically, Russia extends all the way into that southern area of Ukraine down into Crimea and control the Black Sea area. That’s kind of the industrial heartland of Ukraine, so they’ll capture all of those areas, and, and retain them, then defend that, and if the Ukraine tried to get back, I think they’ll probably strike in other areas of Ukraine to try to teach them a lesson. I think that’s what’s going to happen. I feel that what will happen is that Russia will just hold on to those areas. I think that there was a lot of tension in some of those areas anyway, because many of them are pro-Russia, so there is a kind of proxy war going on anyway. I think it will permanently become part of Russia, because Russia is not going to give it up. It depends on what Ukraine decides to do, whether or not they strike a deal. Sanctions are also putting a stranglehold on Russia, so I think it’s in Russia’s interest to try and end this thing as soon as possible. Because I think that they really absolutely want to hold on to that whole of that Donbass area and that whole eastern side, all the way down the Crimea. I don’t think they’ll go as far as Odessa because then that will make Ukraine landlocked completely and they will never give up.
TAT: Can you share a few best and worst moments from your time over there; some of the things that shocked you the most deeply and some of the things which gave you the greatest cause for optimism?
VR: What gave me most joy was interacting with refugees. When we met them, you can see the positive love coming from them, when they see people coming from different parts of the world to help them, for they’re kind of blown them away. They’ll point to their hearts, because they can’t speak the language, that warmth and that love was so emotional for me. It’s touching that they feel like that, and that was a consistent theme: they’re saying that they don’t believe we’ve come all the way just help them. The other thing that was the utter despair of people; they had a house, they had jobs, they had income, family, school, everything. In a snapshot, everything has gone; the family is split, because the husbands and sons had to stay back. They’ve had to move and be dependent on other people. They have no income anymore, they’ve got no shelter. They rely on the goodwill of other people to help and support them. There’s profound shock in the change of their circumstances, and we could see how that’s impacted them emotionally and psychologically. We did some interviews with people, and even though we couldn’t speak the language properly, they just had to speak, they wanted somebody to whom they could speak all this out, even though we weren’t fully understanding exactly what they were saying. Seeing the emotional impact, especially on older people, was the saddest for me. If you’re a bit younger, you’ve still got a future ahead, you can make something of your future, but as older people, there’s not much you can do, you’re like a victim, helpless. Obviously I’ve enjoyed working with the volunteers. Of course, you get personal challenges when a group of people are together constantly; you get the personal frictions and things like that, but these are minor things, the purpose is the main thing.
TAT: Whenencountering these kinds of personal frictions, along with any number of other obstacles, what would your advice be on the best way to overcome those?
encounter these kinds of personal frictions, what would your advice be as the best way to overcome those?
VR: Concentrate on the purpose: What it is that we’re doing there? Also, some simple orientation and preparation of the volunteers, laying out clearly what is required, what they’ll be doing, some guidelines and ground rules to be set at the outset, proper line management… All those things will help. Doing some spiritual activities, because I feel that volunteers themselves need some support. Help to release some potential pressure, local activities to support the volunteer well being. Maybe debriefing sessions, satsangs, and meditation. Ultimately an emphasis on the larger mission, the rest is technical stuff.
TAT: You had mentioned collaboration with a lot of other organisations and charities. There is no urge on ACT Foundation’s behalf to reinvent the wheel, you’re happy to collaborate, but have you had any experiences where people are trying to exploit the situation?
VR: What we’ve tried to do, especially when we were a young organisation, is try to work with other people to leverage the work that we’re doing, and to gain experience in how to do things. That has definitely helped us grow, get the ideas and be able to do a lot more. But I think we’re at a stage now where we’re a mature enough organisation to actually do things off our own back. We’ve got to be careful with who we can collaborate with and how we collaborate with them; have defined standards, boundaries, and guidelines, because when you work with other people, they will try to grow their own charity, their own aims and objectives. I think as long as you realise that, it’s a win for both Yes, then it’s worthwhile. Work towards your own independence as an organisation and be cognizant of the fact that there might be a different agenda involved with other organisations, and try and work in such a way that everybody grows and the service still happens.
TAT: Any advice for someone who wants to get involved. For Joe Schmo, who is sitting in a different, who wants to contribute something?
VR: If people want to contribute in terms of monetary donation, we have we have a link to the Mohanji International Foundation and the funds will be funneled to ACT Foundation, that’s one way. What’s also happened is that Ukrainians are coming to the other countries in order, to escape, so there may be Ukrainians in your area, and you could work with people there, you don’t necessarily need to go all the way to Ukraine. The third way in which you can help, is if you have the time and you wish to come and spend some time at the hub and support the work that we’re doing to establish a permanent presence in Romania and Ukraine, then there is a mechanism for doing that. there’s info attack foundation, that people can email, that inquiry will be picked up by Anita who is the policy coordinator who will do an interview, then we can see whether we can accommodate and at which time we can accommodate you.
TAT: In other words, there is always an avenue through you can contribute and one shouldn’t entertain any reason why it’s not possible?
VR: If it’s a calling for you and if you feel you want to do something to help, then there are definitely avenues for you to help.
TAT: Parting thoughts?
VR: It’s been an incredible experience and I believe that this ACT4Ukraine initiative has brought us to a different level in terms of our foundation activities, the creation of this hub, sending out lorries, going into Ukraine, and supporting with infrastructure work has definitely brought us to a different level, this is definitely a step change. I feel very honoured and privileged to have played a small part in this work, and my gratitude to Mohanji for setting up the platform, for empowering us to be able to do this, because never in a million years did I think that we’d be doing so many different things at this level and scale. So, GRATITUDE. Never underestimate the impact of the work you’re doing, no matter how insignificant it seems, and never allow yourself to entertain constrained thinking, the vision needs to be huge!