Monday, 4 July 2011


The Majestic Scenery of Sidhbari and the Himalayas

Rusheel Nayak
            It was difficult to leave the CORD center today because we made so many friends over the last two weeks.  I felt the trip sped by too quickly, but also felt we accomplished what we set out to do: make an impact with the local villagers.  I got to experience all the different aspects of CORD’s outreach into the villages and how it is slowly making a difference in everyone’s lives.  Also, by interacting at the grassroots level with the local Mahila Mandals, the Yuvti Samuhs, and Balavihar children, we brought perspective into the lives of all the villagers by discussing the importance of self-confidence, hygiene, sanitation, and voicing one’s opinion in front of the government.  Although it is difficult to see the impact we made on others, I can easily assess the effect this trip has had on me.  I realize the importance of CORD’s work in the rural villages of India and my duty of increasing awareness about CORD in America.  Both my trip to CORD Thamaraipakkam  in 2009 and my trip to CORD Sidhbari in 2011 have given me important perspective about the world and the importance of increasing awareness in America about the wonderful work CORD does every day. 
            By the way, the Dalai Lama was on our flight from Daramshala to Delhi!  Pretty awesome!!

Sonali Nayak
My experiences at CORD are priceless because I was able to contribute to India. It was great because I got to see all the different aspects of CORD. My favorite was working with the CBR department and helping disabled kids to get better. Interaction with these kids really gave me a new perspective, and seeing how hard they worked was very inspirational. CORD gave me an incredible opportunity, and it was hard to leave all the friends I had made. I hope to return to Sidhbari in the next few years after I learn Hindi so I can contribute further to the goal of rural development. 
Final Photo before Catching our Flight

Sunday, 3 July 2011


Rusheel Nayak
Group Photo with Dr. Kshama Metre (dressed in the white sari)
            This morning, we were fortunate to have a personal lecture with Dr. Kshama Metre, who took time out of her extremely busy schedule to talk about her experiences in founding CORD as well as her experiences with Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayanandaji.  She spoke with such love and devotion about her Guru (teacher) that it moved me tremendously.  I almost felt like I was watching the stories she was telling us because the emotions and images were so vivid.  
There were no Mahila Mandals to visit because today was the Gram Sabha.  During the Gram Sahba, the local governments and the members of the villages meet in a larger group to discuss the local problems and voice their opinions in front of a more powerful governing body.  This meeting is important, especially for the women, who CORD hopes will speak publicly after gaining confidence through the Mahila Mandals.  Our group split into two smaller entities and went to different villages as to not disturb the proceedings. 
After getting off the bus, I went to the village of Malaan to see the Gram Sabha.  One man was angry about the corruption of the local government, who he felt was not serving the people to the best of their ability.  He was extremely fiery, and it was exciting to see someone care so much for the welfare of not only his family but also his entire village.  However, no laws could be changed today because the minimum quota of people was not reached to have a vote.  The minimum quota was not reached because it is currently the planting season, and most of the people are working in the fields.
At the Sidhbari Ashram, later that day, we had a satsang (lecture) with Swamini Gurupriyanandaji, who shared her experiences with Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayanandaji.  It was wonderful hearing the love and devotion in her voice and it mirrored the emotions we had felt emanate from Dr. Kshama Metre’s during her talk.  It made me understand the true effects of Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayandaji’s work extended far beyond the mission he had founded and into the hearts of his disciples.

Meera Parat
Picture with Swamini Gurupriyananda in Gurudev's Kutia (home)
Today was our last full day at CORD! We went to the field for the very last time, except it was a little different. Today was the Gram Sabha in the villages. In other words, their local Panchayats (local governments) meet today and discuss issues concerning the whole village. We split up into two groups to go. I went to Jadrangal today. We ended up just sitting around and talking with the Pradhan (President) for an hour and a half because not enough people showed up. The rule for these meetings is that at least 1/3 the population of the village has to come to the Gram Sabha, otherwise the meeting is cancelled. For Jadrangal, at least 100 people needed to show up, but only 45 had come by the end. The meeting was cancelled and we came back. In the evening we had a satsang with Swamini Gurupriyananda from the Sandeepany Ashram down the road from CORD. Hearing her stories about Gurudev were inspiring and entertaining at the same time. I will miss the countless new experiences we received every day and the life here at CORD. This was an amazing opportunity and I am thankful that I got to be a part of CORD at its original location, Sidhbari. These two weeks were amazing!

Sonali Nayak

This morning, I was both sad and excited. Sad because it was our final day at CORD, and excited because I would get to ride on the local bus, something I had wanted to do since our arrival. Riding on the bus was really fun because I got to experience the lives of the locals’ for a brief time. The ride was very crowded and somehow, we managed to squeeze four people on a seat that normally holds two. I had to be alert when I got on and off because the drivers are notorious for starting the bus while people are still moving.
 We went to the Gram Sabha in Jadrangal today, but unfortunately, there were not enough people to start the meeting. A third of the village population must come before the meeting can proceed. Regardless, it was a good experience because I could see the impact CORD had made on the lives of the locals. When these meetings were first started, absolutely no one attended, but now, about 50 people came (100 required). This number is growing, showing that awareness is also growing. The villagers are growing more confident and independent!

Saturday, 2 July 2011


Jogipur's Mahila Mandal Listening Intently

Rusheel Nayak
The Mahila Mandal in the village of Jogipur was not as advanced as yesterday’s.  After waiting for some time, the women began to sing Bajaans (devotional songs).  After listening to the songs, we spoke to the women about America.  Like all the prior Mahila Mandal groups, this group was amazed it took one whole day to get from India to America.  We showed them the world map in comparison to a map of the United States to show them where we lived in comparison to Bharat (India).  They all felt honored we had come all this way just to meet and interact with them.  We also discussed topics of hygiene and sanitation with this group.  We talked about the importance of washing hands, especially under the fingernails after returning from the fields.  Also, we discussed the importance of covering food in the house, so that flies do not settle on the food and spread diseases.  The women listened readily and agreed our suggestions were important.  This Mahila Mandal group was formed much more recently, and as a result, it had not yet reaped the benefits yesterday’s Mahila Mandal has seen.  However, over time, this Mahila Mandal is expected to be just as successful as the one we saw yesterday.
After the Mahila Mandal visit, we went to Amarjyoti Babba’s Ashram.  We met the Babba, spent time with him briefly, received his Prasad and blessings, and then returned to the CORD center.

Meera Parat
Today we went to a village called Jogipur. After sitting for a long time in the Mahila Mandal, we got to introduce ourselves. We talked to them about health and hygiene, and they seemed to be aware of most of the facts we mentioned. They told us about their daily routine, and in a nutshell, the women in these families do all the work except for making and handling the money. They do so much that it's unbelievable! In this specific Mahila Mandal, they don't do sewing, weaving, or embroidery in their Self-Help Groups. Instead they make money from selling foods. That was a major difference between these women and all the previous women we met before. After this meeting, we set off to Amarjyoti Babba’s Ashram. There, we walked around the grounds, and ended up him. We were able to get Prasad and then go back to the CORD center.

Sonali Nayak

The women in Jogipur were very interested in our daily lives and America. We told them that our families tried to preserve Indian culture in America and that the kids were learning about India and Hinduism through Chinmaya Mission. We talked about hygiene, but the women reassured us that they regularly washed their hands, brushed their teeth, and covered their food. The women wanted us to sing and dance. To encourage us, some women began to dance for us, but our group was too shy!

Friday, 1 July 2011


Rusheel Nayak
Kapil Muni's Ashram (Renovations have
been made through the years)
This morning, instead of doing the normal Swadhaya, we went to Kapil Muni’s ashram.  Kapil Muni was a sage of tremendous power who founded one of schools of traditional Hindu philosophy.  There are many references to him in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita.   It was interesting to see this site because of all the myths and various interpretations that have arisen about the place over the years.  One such story says a sadhu (sage) with tremendous siddhi (power) lived in the area.  As a result of his siddhis, the local villagers began to refer to the area as Sidhbari (the name of the city where we stayed).

Tung's Mahila Mandal
After breakfast, we visited the village of Tung.  Tung is close to the CORD center, and as a result, the Mahila Mandal in this village has been functioning since 1991, which is only six years after the program started.  This visit reassured me because it proved CORD’s efforts are working!  The women easily discuss their problems with each other and bring up any village issues to the local government without qualms of repercussion.  Furthermore, the women stated that they have gained gender equality with the men of the village.  The women emphasize the importance of education to their children, are educating their children in private schools, and their children are more likely to attend college than those from other villages.  Also, the women are using the SRI technique to grow rice and corn and they have seen greater yields every year.  CORD’s mentality is to create a successful Mahila Mandal system in one village before moving to another village, and this village should be a role model for other villages!

Meera Parat
Today morning we took a little walk to the Kapil Munni Ashram. There, we heard a couple of different stories about how it came about; two stories were local stories that the villagers know, and the other was the Chinmaya Mission version. Later that day we went to the field, to a village called Tung. The Mahila Mandal in this village was established in 1991, so it had been going on for 20 years. We could tell that it was a well-run Mahila Mandal because they used their meetings for the proper purposes; for example, they discussed and solved small issues that the women had, and they used their bank correctly. Also, they were relatively very knowledgeable, and they were sending their kids to the best schools.  We weren't able to meet with the Yuvti Samuh today because they had gone to another village to compete in a sports competition and they would not be able to get back in time. After the Mahila Mandal, we went to visit KshamaJi's older sister and brother-in-law.

Sonali Nayak
Today, we went to the field again. This Mahila Mandal was clearly the most developed and informed group we had seen because they knew the value of education.  The women were educated. The secretary of the Mahila Mandal, Suman, was a college graduate, and she was able to speak to us in broken English. It was very encouraging because I was able to communicate to her without using a translator. Also, all of their kids attended English schools. After the meeting, we met Suman’s kids. Her two little boys were very cute. They also spoke English so we talked to them and tried to teach them about America. Krishna gave the boys an Introduction to Karate lesson which they enjoyed immensely.  

Thursday, 30 June 2011

CENTER DAY #2 and #3

Rusheel Nayak
Gurudev's Samadi
The 29th and 30th were both center days.  I worked in the play therapy (CBR department), and helped with data entry.  Because of the reports being written by all the departments, there is a tremendous need for data entry.  Therefore, all of us helped type up information and important data for CORD. After the workday, we visited the Sidhbari ashram and Pujya Gurudev's Samadi.  It was amazing being at the ashram during aarthi.

Meera Parat
These two days I did a lot of the same work as the last center day. This time, I edited another intern’s work. It was all the information about the Yuvti Samuh’s of different villages. I also translated another Legal case from Hindi to English, and did a little data input about a specific Panchayat. Trying to decipher the messy Hindi writing was definitely the hardest task!

Krishna Narra
For the center days I played with the children in the play therapy and encouraged them to do their exercises. One child, Abhai, loved nothing more than receiving applause. Every time he did something, we had to applaud him. His mom would also be there, and make him push himself in order to help himself stand on his own feet and walk. He also had a very responsible older sister, Ankita, who was nine years old. She took care of him as well as their youngest child, Sredha. I was astonished that someone, her age, was able to do so much without complaining.
Gurudev's Kutia (home)

Sonali Nayak
As a group, we do not have much work on center days because we do not belong to a specific sector within CORD. So, finding work that I could do was difficult, but finally, I was able to help input data on an Excel Spreadsheet. On the 30th, we went out to dinner at Center Point, a hotel in Dharamshala. The food was delicious, and it was a nice change of scenery.

Gowtham Raja
For the center days I usually stayed with Rakesh and Sanjeev in the computer room and assisted them with various tasks. Also, I went to the room where the Mahila Mandal groups were meeting to and helped with data and logistics.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


Rusheel Nayak
The Jwalamukhi Temple
            Today was our first day off, and so we decided to do some sight-seeing.  First, we visited one of the most famous temples in Himachal Pradesh, the Jwalamukhi Temple.  This temple is believed to be built over one of the places where Sati’s body parts fell.  Instead of an idol, there is an ever-burning flame, which is considered by many to be a miracle.  There was over an hour wait to see the temple.  However, it was inspiring to see the bhakti (devotion) of the pilgrims, who repeatedly broke out into devotional chants.
            After this, we went to the Kangra Fort, which was originally built in the 1100s.  This fort, which has been rebuilt repeatedly, was really fun to visit because it was relatively quiet and had tons of history.  We also visited a Buddhist Monastery in Yol, which was built in 1993.

Krishna Narra
Group photo at the Kangra Fort
Today was a very interesting day. Due to it being our day off, I got to see how the lifestyle of the people were outside of our CORD circle. I saw how the people selling goods on the street were constantly trying to lure people into their shops. However I was really intrigued by the long and clustered line we had to go into in order to receive darshan in the Jwalamuki Temple. As a matter of fact, someone had fainted in the line. I offered water to help awaken him. I also saw a little child crying to his mom about his thirst. I helped them out by offering them water as well. But what really intrigued me was that none of the signs were written in English. I found this odd since we were in a tourist attraction and no one cared to have anything written in English. Although the temple was interesting, I still believe that there should be more entrances for people to go through instead of having them clustered in a long, curvy line. However, I did enjoy the Kangra fort and the Buddhist monastery. Both places were really interesting as well as peaceful. I especially enjoyed the vast room of the Kangra fort and how much there was to see.

Sonali Nayak
Today, we explored the surroundings. We went to Jwalamukhi Temple, and seeing the fire come out of the ground was really cool. Though the line was long and tiring, the temple was worth it. Also, we went to Yol, a city near the CORD center. We walked around the town, and then, we enjoyed walking back to the CORD center through the rice paddy fields.

Gowtham Raja
Today we went to Jwalamukhi temple, and waited for nearly an hour to watch a natural fire that came from the ground. As we were leaving, Krishna nearly got his camera taken away as he didn’t realize that taking a picture in a temple was prohibited. Later we went to Kangra fort and stood near the edge and looked down upon what seemed to a not so nice fall. We finished the day by going to Celebration, a local restaurant in Yol and enjoyed the local food.

Monday, 27 June 2011


Center Day Meeting
Rusheel Nayak
           Today was the first of four center days in a row.  During center days, all CORD workers from all over Himachal Pradesh come to the CORD center to discuss problems, get up to date on protocol, and write reports.  Also, all new volunteers are introduced to the CORD workers via the “hot seat.”  Each new volunteer sat in a chair next to Dr. Kshama Didi and talked about themselves.  Also, Dr. Metre asked us all various questions, such as “Why are we at CORD?” and “How are we affiliated with CORD?”
           I helped all day writing a report on the Mahila Mandal.  I had to research the Mahila Mandal and realized the importance of this program for CORD operations.  It was nice to see how the women are becoming more outspoken about village issues.

Meera Parat
 I helped out an intern working in the Legal Cell today. She had to translate 8 Domestic Violence cases form Hindi to English. Since her English wasn’t the best, I got to edit all her cases. I also ended up translating one case from Hindi to English myself. It was really interesting to hear these stories! All the ones I was involved in were about how a wife received thrashing and abuse form her husband and in-laws soon after marriage. She would report her case to the police who would transfer it to CORD. CORD does counseling classes with the husband and wife and usually they live happily in the end, but sometimes the fighting still goes on.

Krishna Narra
Today Kshama Didi, or “Doctor” Didi, as some people call her arrived to meet all the members of CORD Sidhbari personally. Although I was unable to understand Hindi, I felt exhilarated by her presence. I really admire how she has chosen to devote her life to CORD. I remembered how Narenderji mentioned how she puts in 20 hours a day for CORD. Getting to sit next to her, even though it was very brief, felt like a true blessing.

Sonali Nayak
Center days are definitely more relaxed than field days. Today, I was formally introduced to all of CORD. I had to sit in front in the “Hot Seat” with Kshama Didi to talk about my experiences. It was very nerve-wracking because I was at a complete loss at what to say. Also, most of the field workers did not understand my English, so Doctor Didi had to translate my words for them. Though it was fun telling the workers my reasons for wanting to do seva and what I hoped to gain from this trip, I was relieved when I was able to go sit down next to my fellow volunteers.

After work, we all went to the Ashram for aarthi.  The aarthi in Gurudev’s Samadhi was wonderful because the chanting from the vibrations was truly a special experience.  After dinner, we played mafia while a terrible lightning-filled storm raged outside.  We were scared to go back to our apartment during the lightning, but we all made it back in one piece.