During a recent visit to Amritapuri I was fortunate enough to serve as a volunteer with the Ammachi Labs WE Project. The project aims to give vocational training in various fields to groups of women with the goal of making them self-sufficient; financially, emotionally and socially. The supplementary life enrichment course LEE seeks to educate them about the various social challenges that impact the lives of women both directly and indirectly. LEE also inspires them to find the inner strength to bring about the change that they would like to see.
As I spent my time transcribing, translating, editing and proofreading interviews and testimonials, I was amazed at the transformative effect of this course on the lives of hundreds of women. On the surface WE may appear to be a social reform project like any other. The narratives of the participants however tell a dramatically different story. In a short period of 21 days, most of them went from being apathetic, resigned or dejected, to becoming interested, involved and enthusiastic.
Their achievements are special. The efforts they made to take the course were in many instances superhuman. They juggled family commitments and household work, facing hostility and lack of emotional support from family and community. Nevertheless these women bore their burdens with grace, overcame these odds with perseverance and became successful. For them, the light at the end of the tunnel came from the inspiration provided by the course.
The technical skills the women acquired were accompanied by the indispensible qualities of self-confidence and motivation, which will help them use these skills to better themselves. This betterment will then have a ripple effect on the lives of their families,communities, and the nation at large. All these women, who had struggled in the face of apparently insurmountable challenges, expressed their gratitude to Amma, and WE, for giving them not only the material gift of a marketable skill, but more importantly helping them discover their inner strength and power.I feel inspired to share some of their heart-warming testimonials.
Prasanna from Aleppy is a busy housewife and mother with a small tailoring business. She used to be preoccupied with her own life and her family’s well-being. Watching the various videos and participating in discussions about social issues in the LEE classes turned her world around. She feels her perspective on life has changed completely. She now makes the time in her busy schedule to help the needy. She volunteers her time helping the elderly and has also employed several women in her tailor shop so they can earn a small income. As she spoke about the hardships some of these women face, she broke down and cried. She feels the class opened up a whole new way of life for her. She now thinks not just about herself but also others.
A majority of the participants, who previously lived within the confines of their home, spoke about how they are suddenly motivated to become involved in social issues. Zarina from Aleppy is a classic example. She is a young housewife and mother, who rarely left the house. She never did anything without taking her family’s permission. During the course she watched several videos about the devastating effects of alcoholism on families and communities. It made a huge impact on her. She became so brave as to single handedly intervene in the situation in a family in her neighborhood, where the husband used to bring his friends home regularly every Sunday and drink in front of his wife and four daughters. Not only that, she was successful in making him stop this habit, something that his wife and family had tried to do for years but could not. Zarina says the reason she even thought of speaking to him was because of the class. She decided to take the risk, and is very happy that she was able to help someone and bring a positive change in their lives.
Across the board all the participants reported having gained mental strength and self-confidence. They felt they could achieve anything if they put their mind to it. This was a drasticchange for these women, many of whom were uneducated, and most of whom had never done anything in any capacity outside the home. Several of them had taken other vocational training courses before, but felt WE was a course like no other. Many women also reported feeling content and happy. I also saw that they were eager to learn more. Some women started their own business, convinced their previously unsupportive husbands to support them, and even ventured into local politics. Even those who had not met Amma could tangibly feel Her presence and grace guiding them through this course.
I also saw that the classes and discussion groups gave these women a place to safely unburden themselves and talk about their problems. Many of them, like a participant from Onampally used to be withdrawn and never spoke about her problems. This made her feel isolated, like she had no one to turn to. The WE group turned out to be a support system for women like her. It was hard to find that kind of support in the family or neighborhood, since she never knew whom she could trust or who would ridicule her.
Unbelievable as this may sound, one of the participants Girija, recovered fully from her illness after taking the course. She used to suffer from allergies, fever and breathlessness. Her immunity was very low. She had been taking medication for years but was still sick and never felt like going anywhere or doing anything. Strangely enough when she heard about the course she wanted to take it. Against all odds her husband gave her permission to attend. Even more interesting is the fact that in 21 days she reported being completely cured of her illness. I was amazed to hear her speak about these changes. Her story does not end here though. This reticent housewife then decided to run for the local Panchayat elections. Someone who was afraid to talk publicly was now giving speeches. She said she felt completely fearless. As she spoke about this she was laughing like a carefree girl.Her experience completely defies all logic. It is only through the grace of a Master like Amma that such transformation can take place.
Then there is the story of the ‘Plumber Chechis ’ as we call them. They are probably the first group of women to venture into the male dominated plumbing profession. It is unheard of in traditional Indian society to think of women doing this kind of work. Under Amma’s guidance and direction, these women are now successful plumbers. They work together in groups of two or more. They have been both discouraged as well as encouraged by the men in their families and neighborhoods. Eventually they have become completely integrated into society. Now several men in the neighborhood are encouraging their wives to take the course and become plumbers.
We have all heard the analogy of the Master being a sculptor who takes a block of stone and carves something beautiful out of it, or an alchemist who transforms metal into gold. It was only when I met Amma that I actually saw this being put into practice. Many of these women had desired to lead a different kind of life. They dreamed of finding useful talents in themselves, of benefiting society, but had never ever thought this might be actually possible. Like the wish fulfilling tree, Amma breathed life into these dreams.
It is our highest fortune to have Amma as our guiding light, a Masterleader and humanitarian with a world of difference. She reaches out and blesses even those who might not know Her or know that they are seeking that elusive something, which lends life a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Through Her divine resolve Amma’s transformative and amazing grace has rained on innumerable men and women who have been drawn into the circle of Her Love. Transcending the apparent separation between the material and spiritual, Amma has given their lives a new meaning in more ways than one.
I continue to be involved with the project team. As I serve I notice something unexpected and beautiful taking place. I am no longer merely an onlooker, watching these women’s lives change. I too have been touched. The magical pixie dust of Amma’s transformative power has rubbed off on me too, inspiring me to reach for a life of devotion and service I might have otherwise only dreamed of living.
We may think we are serving but in truth it is Amma who is giving us the opportunity to grow, fulfill our potential and reach for the stars.
Written by Amritapushpa Nayar, US
December 07, 2013