GCD Community Engagement
Coming from India, and visiting various cities in the country, has allowed me to understand and appreciate different cultures and religions. With my father’s family being predominatly South Indian, and largely Orthodox Hindu, it is no surprise that he kept practicing the customs and traditions of Hinduism. One way this was done, as often as possible, we visit a nearby Hindu temple close to where we leave. Recently, my mother informed me about a charity that the temple’s organizers have, that is known by the name “Narayan Seva”. Narayan Seva can be roughly translated from Sanskrit, as “service to the Lord” and as the name suggests, is charitable work for the less fortunate.
The Narayan Seva that is conducted in the Sathiya Sai Baba Temple, is a group of volunteers that meet every month for 3-4 hours, and prepare packaged food for the homeless, and deliver the prepared food that very day. I began volunteering in the beginning of October, 2012. The first time I did it, we were making ‘obentos’ that consisted of rice along with some salad and vegetable tempura. Being a religious place, they did not serve meet nor poultry. The volunteers were a few elderly Indians and quite a number of Japanese Hindus. After being greeted very warmly, I was instructed to wash some of the vegetables, such as the lettuce for the salad. That was an easy task but the next one wasn’t quite as simple. Then for the next hour, I helped cut eggplants and pumpkin for the tempura. I, who had never cut vegetables in my life found this hard. It wasn’t the actual cutting that was the challenge but it was using the strength to slice the vegetables neatly, and to cut them horizontally so that they were no more than one centimeter wide. Thankfully, the other volunteers were very understanding and patient and after half an hour of cutting crooked eggplants, I finally managed to get it right. Besides learning a basic cooking skill that day, I realized something else. It amazed me how cheery, patient and hardworking the Japanese volunteers were. Growing up in Japan, these characteristics of the Japanese people were not surprising, though I never did notice it as much as I did that day. For them it was not just some charity, but something they did out of the goodness of their hearts. Though it may make some skeptical, standing while cutting vegetables for 2 hours straight, did no favor for your back! For them, it did not matter how time consuming this charity was, and I admired each of them for being so welcoming of newcomers and devoted to getting every detail right for the obentos to be as tasty and presentable as possible. For the next hour, I sat filling hundreds of plastic obentos with rice. I had to be gentle to fill them up as completely as possible but not push down with my spatula or the rice would not have the same freshness nor taste once packed. After seeing all the hard work being put in my the other volunteers to make the obentos as appetizing as possible, I could not do this task robotically and I filled the rice as carefully as I could without consuming too much time. Eventually, once 200 obentos had been filled with rice, I helped add some salad to the side. While two other volunteers and I had been filling the rice, the tempura had been cooked and ready. Next, the tempura was placed on the rice and then we all got to work packaging it with chopsticks and plastic bags. The work and effort that went into it couldn’t be seen on our faces since everyone looked so proud and happy. This look remains everytime we were finished by 12 or so. The second time I went, we were making Japanese style vegetable curry. I had the job of washing and separating mushrooms, which I can’t stand the smell nor touch of. But by reminding myself that it was for someone who probably hadn’t had a decent meal in a few days, was surprisingly good motivation. It felt good to be able to give back to a community that has given me so much in the first place. I not only had to learn and develop a lot of kitchen skills, but I had to stay committed and this was especially challenging when it was time to wake up at 7AM on a Sunday morning. Nevertheless, it all payed off once we saw the sight of about 150-200 obentos being packaged for people who would truly appreciate it. It was an extremely community-involving experience. I’m glad to continue this every month, and included are some photos that I took of my second time there.