Monday, October 04, 2010

from the experience of feeding the poor @ porshee foundation

1.
During this past lunar month of Ramadan, we aspired to accelerate our program to provide food to the homeless, people living in extreme poverty and those who can not afford wholesome food for many weeks and months. 'Food security' is becoming an increasingly alarming issue across the globe which has seen riots in streets of Africa, Asia and other places, protesting high food price going beyond the reach of marginalized and extremely poor people. High food price, specially in third world countries, where to the wealthy it may not be that much of a big deal, but for those with extremely limited income, its like disaster situation every single day. They dont have to wait for any natural disaster to hit when outside help may or may not arrive - but the task to source meal, to feed their hungry children is tremendous struggle every day in and day out. As part of our activities under the umbrella of Porshee Foundation, the donation that we received, we decided to use part of it to feed the hungry, specially the malnourished homeless people who go on skipping meals simply because they can't afford it.

One of the goal of Porshee Foundation is to care for those who are in the neighborhood, in our immediate presence. The word "Porshee" simply means, "Neighbor". We live in an era when we connect to our friends thousand miles across the world in an instant, we listen and watch headline news from every other part of the globe, yet we live oblivious (ghafil, negligent) to the suffering of fellow human beings so near to us. My idea was simple; around the locality where I live, I decided to locate the near most homeless / poorest people, those who live on the street simply because they can't afford a rent or those who are mentally unstable (in poor countries, there is no good mechanism such as social benefit, no social security etc.). For feeding I chose to go out in the night to provide them packet meal. I preferred the night partly because that's the only time I get after working hours at my regular job, and also that's when these people settle down to their designated places and also because it attracts less attention to go inside the night.

Taking where I live as reference center, I imagine a circle covering few miles which I would consider as my first priority to identify children, elderly and others in the street who should be fed / helped first. I would also source a place /shop where I buy cooked meal at a better (discounted) price so that more people could be fed with a certain amount of money. Last Ramadan I even went into an university dinning where subsidy priced food is provided and asked permission to buy food so that more boxes could be distributed with the allocated money. My preference was to buy meal which is wholesome and which comes with good food value and then hire a rickshaw (an unpowered vehicle, ideal for idyllic journey) to go on strolling the area and identify beneficiaries. My preference generally is to find those who don't beg, who don't ask but who can  intuitively be identified as needy. While the rickshaw drives along the roads inside my imaginary circle, such people are not that hard to spot if one keep their eyes and mind open. Sometime I would ask if they have eaten or not to make sure I dont give to those who don't need that night. And to my surprise most of the time I get honest answers.

Every single night in which Allah gave me the opportunity to go out to buy food with your donations, and I am thankful for it - in each of those night after feeding, I would come back home with heavier heart. One would think that after been able to feed some people one should come back with happiness and satisfaction that at least twenty or thirty people in my neighborhood are not going to sleep hungry tonight. But the truth of the matter is, when one become witness to suffering of other, an awareness within goes on growing increasingly about the scale of human suffering around us. The scale of how much more this world requires and demand us to relieve sufferings of so many, so many - is beyond any news media will ever report to us faithfully as they go on busy themselves to report on Wall Street, bail out programs and stories of rich politicians and ten million other trivialities.

What each individual like us can do are like such a small drop, or even smaller than that in an ocean of suffering, most of which are created out of human greed, deliberately irresponsible life-style that glorify waste, hoarding and utter selfishness. One can not help but feel sorry for this staggering scale of loss of human dignity.

This experience of feeling exceedingly sad after engagement in work of such nature - is nothing isolated or singular. Very recently another friend of mine from India who is engaged in such work in a far greater capacity shared as well how her heart never stops bleeding seeing the hunger of young kids, older people - their loneliness, struggling widows and the cry of the orphans. I didn't know how to console her as I share the same kind of feeling; yet while exchanging with my friend, what came to me was that, it's also a privilege really, to be part of the Heart of God, to share the pain and sorrow of the Heart of God - which bleeds and cries for the suffering of humanity, the very humanity manifested with such grand possibilities, such grace, dignity and lofty purpose. 

2.
While thinking of the smallness of what we can do, as compared to the scale of human suffering in present world, Mother Teresa, may God sanctify her soul, her words of encouragement and inspirations comes to our mind.


What we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. I do not agree with the big way of doing things.

We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love. Little things are indeed little, but to be faithful in little things is a great thing.

If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one. Jesus said love one another. He didn't say love the whole world.

You and I, we are the Church, no? We have to share with our people. Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing. Jesus made it very clear: "whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me. Give a glass of water, you give it to me. Receive a little child, you receive me."
I pray that you will understand the words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Ask yourself “How has he loved me? Do I really love others in the same way?” Unless this love is among us, we can kill ourselves with work and it will only be work, not love. Work without love is slavery.
- Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

3.
Among the last ten nights of Ramadan, one night I went to a major muslim cemetery (Azimpur Kabarasthan), and in front of its gate - there are always beggars who await for help, food etc. - so it occurred to me that perhaps tonight they are the recipient. I purchased my first batch of packet foods and distributed them among a group of poor people who were sitting at the entrance gate and many of them were elderly. Soon the packets were finished, yet many were left unprovided, so I went for more. When I came back with more packets, this time there were so many that instead of waiting for me to give, then rushed all together to get hold of the packets. This caused total chaos. My rickshaw driver tried his best to prevent them from snatching, but with no luck. In a split second, there were like 100 pair of hands surrounding me trying to grab just 15 packet of food. 

It was a mistake on my part to move away from my way of distributing among those who dont ask for, among those poor and homeless who are not typical beggars. But that night I on purpose went to the cemetery to distribute among the beggars and it was unwise to stop there where so many people were already expecting.

Eventually they snatched every box from me in a riot fashion, without waiting for me to give. At first I tried my level best to discipline them, even had to shout at them, asking them to wait in line, but all failed. They snatched the boxes anyway, and in the process one paper box had its content scattered all over the street. But thats not why this experienced remains with me. At first I was mad at them, angry at their behavior, then I gave up, sitting there quietly not saying anything while they literally looted whatever was there. Then I couldn't remain angry, I knew they didn't know better and acute poverty and hunger can push people to their extremes. They were simply victims of poverty, hunger, indignity.

But as they snatched the boxes and one box spilled its content of rice in the street, some food also got scattered upon my shirt. In that moment of total chaos, I didn't care, I didn't even notice. But in that madness, while I was sitting there absolutely still, speechless at unexpected event, a hand from that many people was extended to me. And I saw a mother with a child at her lap who also came in the hope that perhaps she would get a box as well, but this time her hand wasn't extended to get food, as I had all looted from me by that time. But with her hand she started to pick up rice grains and food droplets that fell on my shirt. As I lived in that moment, and I know how futile it is to even try to describe it - but to say the least it was one of those moment of grace. 

At one side there was such madness, riot, snatching of food, shouting, chaos - and here she is feeling sorry for me perhaps, she did something I didn't expect at all. She didn't have to do it at all. She was among those who failed to get any boxes, because of other aggressive beggars who were well ahead in looting.

When my rickshaw driver started paddling back towards my home, despite all that happened, that act of compassion on the part of that mother remained in my mind. In that gesture, she showed such great compassion that it left me profoundly affected. Indeed as Mother Theresa said, "We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love." And she indeed, at that moment, did a small thing yet with great love.

4.
small thing with great love

There is a remarkable story that Mother Teresa told from her life: Some months ago (as you know, we also work at night) we went around Calcutta and picked up five or six people who were abandoned in the streets. They were in serious condition. That is why we took them to the Home for the Dying and for the Abandoned.

Among the people we picked up, there was a little old lady who, due to her extreme condition, was near the point of death. I told the Sisters, "Take care of the rest. I will take care of her myself." I was getting ready to put her in a bed when she took my hand and a beautiful simile appeared on her face.

She only said, "Thank you," and died. I assure you, she gave me much more than I had given her. She offered me her grateful love. I looked at her face for a few moments, asking myself, In her situation, what I would have done? And I answered with honesty, Surely I would have done all I could to draw attention to myself. I would have shouted, "I am hungry! I'm dying of thirst! I'm dying!"

She, on the other hand, was so grateful, so unselfish. She was so generous!

- from In My Own Words: The Words of Mother Teresa


5.
Those who are motivated by the cause of removing human suffering, also discover another curious discovery and that is to realize the grandness of the Great Provider (ar-Razzaq). God is constantly providing in His marvelous arrangement, from the microscopic life-form to animals, fishes and birds of every kind, shape and form - their daily provision. There are millions and billions of life on planet other than human being, in air, on ground and in water - for all of which in their natural habitat, it is God who provides on daily basis. They receive their daily provision by the Real Provider. It is human being who upon destroying their value system, sense of real community, destroying the eco-system, imposing greed based transactional system that have again and again abused many of the fellow human beings. And thus we end up in societies, which even after supposedly being one of the richest countries on planet, still don't care for its most vulnerable - and the gap between the poor and the rich keep on inflating. The scale of poverty keep on rising. To give a concrete example, the poverty rate in America increased from 13.2% in 2008 to 14.3% last year. That means that 1 in 7 Americans, some 44 million lived in poverty in 2009 and the situation is not getting any better any soon.

6.
The reason of sharing the Porshee model / example of feeding the poor and homeless in one's neighborhood, is with the intention perhaps that you could also, sometime, when you walk or drive past your neighborhood, will watch out for those less fortunate ones. And perhaps you may also decide to buy a meal or two to present as a gift to those homeless, beggars, little children in the street or an old lady beside the garbage bin. 

As we continue with our feeding program, I wish and pray that perhaps you could also go out at evening, at night, finding one or two person and hand them over some food from your home. One doesn't need to be Bill Gates like millionaire for act of small kindness.

These apparently simple acts of kindness, in reality, are acts from higher spiritual station. The path of illumination of heart is also the path of increased awareness of sufferings of fellow human beings, our neighbors, those who are so near to us. See such act not as a favor to them, but as a duty on part of us, who  are given enough and more than enough, to share with those who have less and still lesser. It is a practical way of thanksgiving for what we are given without asking and deserving for. 

The path of enlightenment is also the path of lifting the veils from our eyes which yesterday failed us to see someone in need, today can see better, can feel better for others need. Awakening to Oneness is best achieved by seeing the oneness of humanity and their suffering and their joy as our own, at one with ours. And to care for fellow human beings is one of the most effective practice towards that realization of oneness.



7.
The realized Sufis see the Divine Presence everywhere, whom often they call The Friend, (with capital F). Capturing this blessed state of realization, Sufi poet Hazrat Niaz, Allah be please with him, composed the following:

yaar ko humne ja-ba-ja dekha
kahin zahir kahin chhupa dekha
kahin mumkin hoa kahin wajib
kahin fani kahin baqa dekha

Everywhere I looked, I have seen the Friend
Revealing Itself at one place, hidden at others.
Somewhere as implicit, somewhere as explicit
Appearing sometime ephemeral, sometime perennial.

yaar ko humne ja-ba-ja dekha
kahin zahir kahin chupa dekha

Everywhere I looked, I have seen the Friend
Rising and falling, playing hide and seek.

kahien woh baadshaah-e-takht nasheen
kahin kaasa liye gadaa dekha

Somewhere He is the King adorning the throne
Somewhere seen as a beggar holding the bowl

yaar ko humne ja-ba-ja dekha
kahin zahir kahin chupa dekha

Everywhere I looked, I have seen the Great Friend
Revealing itself at one place, hidden at others.

kahin wo zar libaas-e-mashokan
bar-sare naaz aur aada dekha

Somewhere He is the golden attire of my enchanting lady
Showing off the charms and seductive gestures

kahin zahir jahin chupa dekha
yaar ko humne ja-ba-ja dekha

Playing hide and seek
I have seen the Great Friend, wheresoever I looked

kahin aashiq niyaz ki soorat
seena girya-o-dil jala dekha

Somewhere in the form of lover Niaz (the poet himself)
seen beating his chest and heart aflame

yaar ko humne ja-ba-ja dekha
kahin zahir kahin chupa dekha
yaar ko humne ja-ba-ja dekha

Everywhere I looked, I have seen the Friend
Revealing Itself at one place, hidden at others.
Everywhere I looked, I have seen the Great Friend.


(translation credit: Aisha N., Allah bless her | this Sufi Kalam is rendered by Abida Parveen in her audio album, Raqs e Bismil and can be listened via youtube here)


What is the fruit of seeing the Friend everywhere? What action does it demand that Friend is recognized in every form, behind every human face, hidden within every eye? What is the most appropriate and worthy action on our part when we wish to raise ourselves to that level of awareness and vision? It is to provide loving kindness, compassion and love towards our fellow human beings, specially those who are in need  living nearest to us and who are suffering.

I wish and pray that our state of realization be blessed, and may we all be accepted among those who are worthy of the sanctified vision of the Great Friend, and made more so worthy through our action, involvement and in alleviating the sufferings, in whatever form we may come across. Ameen. By The Great Friend, so be it.

I strongly encourage to engage in feeding the poor in your neighborhood, even if that means just one meal in one single weekend for one single person. If you feel in your heart that you may, and you can contribute to Porshee Foundation feeding program kindly get in touch with me mysticsaint@gmail.com.


At the beginning and at the end, God is the Real Provider.
Allahu ar Razzaq.

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