In the Footprints of the Lord - Ukraine 2011

Once again, this year an International service camp was held by the Sri Sathya Sai Service Organisation (SSSSO) of the Russian speaking countries. This year, it was conducted from 5 to 13 August 2011, in the Ukraine where three years ago, in 2008, a previous camp was held. Both these camps were held in the town of Bogodukhov in Ukraine, in the region of Kharkov.

Over 250 volunteers, youth and adults, from 10 countries united to support the programme with three elements - medicare, sociocare and educare. The socio and educare camp was made up of volunteers from the Russian speaking countries whilst Dr Surendra Upadhyay from UK supported the medical camp, accompanied by enthusiastic healthcare professionals from SSSSO UK, USA as well as Russian speaking countries.

The dedicated volunteers lived and breathed Sathya Sai Baba’s message, performing every deed in His name throughout the nine days: forgoing sleep, food and their comforts.

A great deal of preparation is required on these occasions and the work began, in earnest, much earlier in the year. During April representatives of SSSSO Ukraine visited the location to meet the administrative board and mayor of the town along with his deputy. This is an essential process to gain the necessary permission in order to hold the service activities in the region. During this visit the planning team visited various kindergartens and schools as well as hospitals. Various needs were identified during the initial visits, not only for the local population themselves, but also for areas in the community which had been neglected or in need of repair due to shortage of funds, enabling the restoration to take place. It took time to obtain the official permission but once granted, a detailed work plan was agreed within the SSSSO Ukraine and a formal announcement of the camp was made, essentially for the following:

- Medical activities
- Social activities such as construction and repair works
- Educational activities such as working with children on human values

Medical activities

63 healthcare professionals and support team members from several countries attended the camp, hailing from UK,Europe, USA, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Azerbaijan. They saw over 4,000 patients and dispensed several free medicine and glasses to patients. The long tiring hours were no dampeners as the team found innate energy to care so compassionately and thoroughly for each and every patient that arrived. The medical team covered a comprehensive list of specialisms: General Practioners, Ophthalmologists, Optometrists, Psychologists / Psychotherapists, Psychiatrists, Pharmacists, Nurses along with a Gynaecologist, a Paediatrician, an Immunologist, an Endocrinologist, a Dermatologist, a Pain Management specialist. Without support staff, a medical camp cannot run smoothly and we were blessed with so many willing volunteers. The reception desk (for registering patients) was manned by 9 volunteers, including senior registrar. The host team took charge of the reception/patient registration due to language issues. Paramedic staff also played their role incredibly well. The translators served diligently throughout the camp.

Each morning, a briefing report and action plan for the day are summarised by the Central Co-ordinator of Russian Speaking Countries, Valery Voschinin, to well over 250 volunteers. In the evening, a feedback session was held whenever possible. Valery and Dr Upadhyay have worked together during every medical camp in Russian speaking countries since the first one in 1998 and share mutual respect and love.

Dr Upadhyay, member of International Medical Committee, Prashanti Council and Consultant Ophthalmologist, London, UK stated: “Three teams worked at different sites. Despite not having enough Optometrists in the team, the Eye team managed to serve lots of patients. Over 600 new glasses were dispensed during the week, to children, adults and elderly. Many members walked away with joy in their eyes, for “restoration of the eye sight”!

The eye department requires a range of equipment and hence requires careful planning with the eye team and the host team on the availability of equipment at the local hospital/ clinic. Just less than 48 hours before the team UK & USA teams were to travel to Ukraine, Urvi received a phone call from one of the Optometrists from Russia and said that they were not allowed by Customs to bring any of their Eye equipment into Ukraine and had to travel for 24 hours to return the items back to Russia. They only managed to get permission for one trial set! This changed all our planning. Immediately we had to co-ordinate and arrange for a portable slit lamp, an extra trial set and other necessary equipment that we initially thought we would not carry given that the Russian Optometrist had them (these were left by the UK team from previous camps in order to save carrying these items each year to Russia). All this was arranged with Bhagawan’s Grace within a day – Bhagawan reminded us to Love His uncertainty! Eventually He arranged and executed in the best possible way! GOD is the doer; we are but the instrument!” Apart from patient diagnosis and advice, medical health awareness presentations were also shared with local doctors. However the medical team felt that there were a lot of patients and not enough time to do more of the awareness sessions which they felt were important.

The medical team from UK & USA felt that the local doctors needed to talk to patients more, about diet and other important issues.

The base site for the medical camp was at a local hospital (Polyclinic), but daily visits by healthcare professionals to various villages and homes were also arranged. Home visits are arranged for members who are severely disabled. One can well imagine the challenge the host team had, in order to research and identify which patients should be visited at home! The planning, co-ordination and logistics is no doubt extremely challenging but Bhagawan led the way. This way, each day, medical teams would organise themselves to establish who would be placed at the Polyclinic and who would be travelling to villages / for home visits in the villages. The transport team would help transport the healthcare professionals to various medical locations. Bhagawan has left us the tools, to look beyond his physical, Bhagawan’s presence is ever there for the taking: Be of service to others, for that is giving yourself to Me. For whatever you give, I will repay you thrice; nay I shall repay you ten-fold. Try Me and you will see. I say to those who know the joy of giving, look back! Yes, look back and see how each time you felt that nothing but a miracle could save you, keep you alive, fill your larder, save your son, stop a disaster - has not that miracle happened? Divine guidance is always at the side of the giver. Yes, I will give to those who give of themselves, untold Joy and Bliss; and what is more, I will lead them by the hand along those petal strewn paths of eternal joy. ~Sathya Sai Baba.

At the village visits, any complicated cases identified were referred to the Polyclinic. Patients from all age groups were examined – from infants to those who were 90+. In the eye department, the main eye problems identified were: Glaucoma, Cataract, Inflammation, Squint, Refractive errors (we had sufficient new readers sourced locally). Any complex prescriptions were arranged through the local team. A list of selected cases for Cataract surgery was handed over to Geraskina Tatjana, the host administrator of the medical camp who would arrange a suitable date for the patients to be operated. The majority of women came for general check-up (shows the health awareness of the population in general) and reassurance. They were mainly healthy from gynaecology perspective, except for obesity. Many needed simple reassurance for which they were very grateful and they went away very happy knowing all was well with them. Health education in terms of dietary advice may be very helpful as an additional component with the camp, involving a nutritionist. This may raise their awareness re carbohydrates etc, and alternative healthier options they could use from local produce. In the psychiatry faculty the team saw twice the number of patients than what they would see in UK.

Most of the conditions were those that would be seen by GPs/primary care workers in the UK, such as mild anxiety, mild depression, marital disharmony and alcohol misuse/dependence. Many people just wanted to have a chat and get things off their chest. The psychiatry specialists prescribed minimum amounts and there was more use of the knowledge of psychological interventions. We are sharing some brief experiences and observations of the medical members from UK & USA:

Dr Uma Gordon, Consultant Obstetrics & Gynaecology from Bristol, UK stated: “I can truly say that this was a very memorable and rewarding camp. Dr Upadhyay had also mentioned often that I should join the Russian camps, as it is a different experience altogether – the love and warmth you feel is similar to being in Prashanti. I could not identify with this until I was actually there to really experience the love and devotion of the Russian and Ukranian devotees. They seem to live the values and teachings of Swami effortlessly and in an unquestioning manner that, speaking for myself, I can say that I was truly humbled. They seem to breathe and live Swami in their day to day lives, at a different level altogether. I would encourage anyone who has not been to a Russian camp to please do so just as an eye opener and to bathe in the warmth of this love. A very big thank you for this wonderful experience and opportunity (especially involving my daughter Serena) and hope we will be blessed to join and serve in many future camps.”

Dr Rajeshwari Atkuri from USA (MD, Ophthalmology, USA) suggested that for future camps, perhaps patients should be seen for half a day and the rest of the day should be spent in training local doctors and providing health care awareness sessions to local doctors and patients. This way basic awareness and standard of care can improve in the long term. However, this would be possible if we had a bigger medical team as patients travel long distances to be diagnosed.

Nuleen Panday, an Optometrist from UK said that this was her first international medical camp and is already inspired to join the next one in less than 4 months at Alike in India.

Nuleen stated: “On the medical camp at Ukraine, many lessons were learnt. The working hours were certainly long and tiring, but the continuing inner transformation that occurs thereafter is phenomenal. It was difficult, in that in the UK we have access to modern equipment and in Ukraine we had to do the best we could with limited facilities – despite this we were still able to treat patients to the best of our abilities. It certainly has given me a new appreciation for the range of medical services that are available to everyone in the UK. In Ukraine, patients travelled for miles to see us – in fact many elderly patients had not had their eyes examined previously, and it was rewarding and touching just to see the happiness on their faces after they were provided with a new pair of spectacles, as it enabled them to see family members more clearly, or to be able to read a book again or even to help in their jobs. There was such an atmosphere of love and camaraderie from fellow volunteers, translators and patients – helping us to feel the message that: “Service to man, is service to God.” I will certainly encourage any health professional to participate in the medical camps, international hospital rotas or even the walk-in clinics in the UK - it certainly is a rewarding experience.”

Dr L Nilan Sasikethan, a General Practioner in UK stated “The medical camp in Ukraine was both a rewarding and interesting experience. We saw locals from all ages with a variety of ailments. Their healthcare system was completely different to what we were used to in the UK. Primary care was almost non-existent and hence patients lacked holistic healthcare. Our most popular cases were centred around hypertension, which appeared to be over diagnosed with the procurement of home BP machines. However, although over diagnosed, it was astoundingly undertreated. Patients would only take medication to lower their BP if they had symptoms. Symptoms of hypertension only manifest when the BP is extremely high, high enough to cause a stroke! This non-compliance in taking medications daily was secondary to poverty and skewed health beliefs. In addition, we saw many patients post stroke or heart attack on no preventative medications. Simple, cheap drugs such as aspirin can prolong their survival. Health promotion and education forums at the villages would help locals to grasp the basics of primary prevention with regards to cardiovascular disease.” Dr Mani Sairam, a Psychiatry Registrar from UK shared: “Personally & professionally, it was both wonderful & distressing. The reasons for the camp being wonderful & lovely, but the distress was mainly due to lack of psychological therapies available for the Ukrainian villagers & the increased difficulties they face in life. Future important topics for health awareness to benefit this faculty should be alcohol misuse/dependence.” Dr Shanthy Parameshwaran, a Consultant Psychiatrist in UK observed that in the villages people marry young in their early twenties and alcohol abuse and work stressors were contributory factors. Most of the female adults were widows who lived alone as their children had to leave the villages to find work. Loneliness too was a significant factor.

Dr Nadisha, a Paediatric Consultant in UK imparted: “The paediatric section was reasonably busy. Children were seen in different locations which include village clinics, region polyclinic, and summer holiday camp, home for children with disability, nurseries and orphanages. The Paediatricians took holistic approach mainly looking at children’s physical health and emotional well-being. The Paediatricians’ work was mainly directed on health education and health promotion.”

Dr Lakshmi Atkuri, a MD in Paediatrics from USA thoroughly enjoyed her participation in the medical camp and also enjoyed the preventative health advice sessions with most patients.

Serena Gordon, a youth from UK who is considering choosing the medical field for her further studies stated: “The Ukraine Medical Camp has been one of my favourite weeks this year. Although the journey there was rough, the welcoming people and the wonderful place made the initial trip well worthwhile. On day one all of us younger volunteers got involved with the construction work which is something that none of us expected. We worked really well as a team preparing lights for installation and peeling layers of wallpaper off the walls, something I can now do confidently in my sleep! We were all paired up with a doctor for the rest of the trip. Overall, the Ukraine Medical Camp was meant to be mere work experience for me, but it ended up being a real and meaningful experience.”


Bhagawan says: Good education is not merely reading several books; it is so called secular education. By acquiring bookish knowledge, you may perhaps become a book yourself! Real education is that which promotes unity, equality and peaceful co-existence with fellow human beings. Real education flows from the heart and is termed as 'Educare'. Educare is the basis and foundation for all types of education. Educare is the adhara (support) and education is the adheya (supported). All the texts we read teach only education to us. But, this is totally inadequate. We must pursue educare along with education. ~Adapted from Sathya Sai Discourse, October 10th, 2005.

The international service camps in the Russian speaking countries have been held annually since 1998 but 2011 is the first year in which educational activities were included in the project’s framework. Therefore, careful and detailed planning was carried out by various members of the SSSSO of Russian speaking countries.

Several meetings and discussions were led by Ruslan Tarasov (SSSSO Co-ordinator in Ukraine) and other members of SSSSO Ukraine and held with the Deputy Head of Administration (Bogodukhov) of Social Issues in Ukraine, Lubov Raginskaya. The educational activities were targeted to involve children, parents and teachers. The efforts involved were rewarded with a lot of positive feedback.

During the camp, educare was covered by:
- Human Value activities in five age groups (children aged 1 to 13)
- Creative workshops with orphans and children from musical school. Classes were conducted to give the youngsters guitar and piano lessons, to teach them the basic of dance along with drawing, embroidery and knitting. All participants had great fun during quiz and games sessions!
- Educational activities generated much interest and the children were also given guidance as to how to improve eye sight

There was joyous atmosphere during the daytime programme as the children watched cartoons or films and delighted in the opportunity to be able to do so. The interaction between the children was wonderful and many new friendships were formed.

More than 825 children participated in the educational camp, with over 108 classes! Several activities were carried out at the local palace of culture.

A “Clean Town Day” project was implemented, involving clearing litter in the town, to make surroundings environmentally clean and more livable. There were many willing participants and encouragement was given to maintain and standard of cleanliness and tidiness. Certainly enthusiasm was shown by the locals when the difference in the aesthetics of the town became apparent following the cleanup operations.

In parallel a series of events were held for parents as well as kindergarten and school personnel, on topics such as “Raising children on Human Values basis”. One to one tailor made child-parent sessions were also arranged for specific children and parents.

All in all, all participants thoroughly enjoyed the activities. Many felt at peace and many felt sad when the camp was over. In fact no one wanted the teaching team to leave and the children even asked the team whether they could stay behind at Bogodukhov forever and keep doing those classes! Participants were amazed that such qualitative activities were arranged at no cost at all! What more can we say about Bhagawan’s Love? We could see that everyone was touched by the love surrounding the activities – the ambience radiated joy and positivity. Here is some feedback from the children at the end of their camp: They learnt:

- How to live in love
- How to experience immense joy from classes
- That they are capable of changing everything for the better
- The power of gratitude

Even during the few days, parents noticed positive changes in their children: They became calmer, wanted to go to classes for the first time and were willing to learn.

Parents also learnt that they needed to devote more time towards their child and that the parents should be good role models and first look to improving themselves. Local teachers who joined the SSSSO volunteers also took away lessons from the classes (on the job training!). For instance, they experienced new methods of teaching children, they saw that the teachers in the SSSSO group did not demand of children, but instead acted as loving role models and encouraged children to make their own choices.

Being the first time the educational activities were included in the international medical camp structure – it was very fulfilling, beneficial and transformational.

Social activities

A building and construction brigade was set up in order to regenerate worn out areas. Due to lack of financial support, a lot of buildings, rooms and sanitary systems were left unattended over the years. The aim of these repairs was in order to create a more pleasant and functioning environment. Sathya Sai Baba’s teaching of ‘Prevention is Better than Cure’ was to the forefront of the minds of all volunteers. One instance is the possible adverse effects of inadequate sanitation facilities.

The construction team worked tirelessly and carried out several major repairs in the kindergartens, as detailed below:

- Kindergarten N3 - Dismantling of the wooden floor in the headmaster’s office and replacing it with a new one. An insulating foam plastic was pasted onto walls as preparation for wallpaper hanging. Laying of linoleum gave a new, fresh look to the kindergarten… An old pipeline was replaced and a fence which looked as if it would tumble down in the autumn gales was dismantled and a new one constructed.
- Kindergarten N5 – Removal of old window frames and then brick laying for the replacement plastic vinyl coated metal windows, which were then mounted. The aged, worn wooden doors were also replaced with pvc metal ones, creating a brighter, up to date, appearance.
- Kindergarten N7 – Replacement of the sewage pipeline. New toilet bowls were installed. A new entrance canopy was erected.
- Kindergarten N8 – The walls, which were in dire need of a fresh coat of paint were given just that and more! Murals featuring folk fairy tales were painted onto the walls in the pavilion which transformed it giving an ambient atmosphere.
- Kindergarten N9 - The creaking old floor was pulled up and a new one was made then covered with new linoleum which will be safer and more comfortable.
- Vocational school N 3 (This is where camp members from Russian speaking countries slept during their stay) – A total of 62 lamps were replaced in the assembly hall and in specula on the first and second floor. The old electric wiring was replaced or repaired, as it was in the dining room. New toilet bowls in the boys’ restroom were installed and the water taps were replaced. The dining room was graced with a refrigerator as it had been difficult for them to manage without one.
- In the nearby village of Semenov Yar, the entrance door to the school was badly in need of replacement and the brigade team members were able to do that, installing a new pvc metal door which will help to keep in the heat during the winter months.
- A fence was mounted around the house of pensioners as they had no hope of being able to do this for themselves…… Repairs were undertaken in the home of a family with many children.
- Three pvc metal doors and a window were mounted in the town’s out-patient hospital.

In addition, nutritional packets of food and essential items (more than 80 items) such as clothes and footwear were distributed. The SSSSO team from UK brought new clothes which were distributed to villages and orphanages. The team from USA brought 6 laptops which were distributed in schools.

A “sustenance” programme was also undertaken whereby gaps were filled for those that needed financial support in order for the recipient to be self-sufficient after receiving the support – a few examples are shared below (there were several more activities):
- Tool kit purchased for a welder
- Hoisting jack bought for a polyclinic garage
- Financial support provided for a child who needed advanced medical investigations
- Overdue electricity bills settled for a single mother family, who were living without electricity for a few years (imagine how one can live in the bitter cold without adequate electricity facilities!!)
- Electric cooker and boiler repaired in the gymnasium kitchen, giving way to hot water facilities!
- Fridge bought for the gymnasium kitchen
- Facilities for proper sanitation supplied to a local college
- Needed items bought for two blind elderly people

Throughout the days, the team in the kitchen worked tirelessly too! Their job was to provide a variety of food for more than 250 volunteers each day in addition to the food for the children in the education camp. During the camp, various national dishes were prepared from fresh ingredients in a happy, positive environment.

One need not say anything further – it is evident that one can only complete all the above activities in less than 2 weeks by Bhagawan’s Grace, without which it would take months to complete such feats!

The Mayor of Bogodukhov, Vladimir Belyy thanked the Organisation for its selfless activities and breadth of free services offered, at no cost to the recipient. The Mayor welcomed the team once again!

The icing on the cake were the concerts by Dana Gillespie! Dana was in Ukraine and performed concerts that enveloped the public and volunteers in ecstasy.

One was transported back to the days of Meera singing to Krishna – the love, the feeling and the sweetness, echoing the feelings of the whole camp………..

There is nothing quite like working alongside members of the SSSSO. Their enthusiasm and selfless service is contagious. Love, Peace, Truth, Right Action predominated throughout each day of the camp reflecting the teachings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, known as Swami. Participants felt the Presence of Swami throughout. It is a spiritually and physically uplifting experience to participate in service activities and one gains far more than one gives. The joy one feels is far greater than having spent one’s holiday indulging oneself! Would you not wish to join us for the next medical camp? I can assure you, you would not regret it and it could possibly be one of the greatest experiences in your life!

All in all, the most important element that was present during the camp was the endless and boundless love and mutual understanding that our beloved Swami taught all participants. There was no doubt that Swami worked through all volunteers!

This was first international mega camp after Bhagawan’s physical departure but a profound sense of overwhelming love was experienced by all - they were transmuted as it were. Youth and adults showed great understanding, love and respect for one another. In every field one could feel Bhagawan’s divine hand. Thank you Bhagawan for your grace and blessings for this united and LOVING VENTURE!

Of all the wondrous things Sri Sathya Sai Baba has created over the years, this transformation of hearts the world over remains his greatest miracle.

Bhagawan’s physical body is no longer with us but yet His love and grace are the driving force behind this programme and all our lives. It is now up to us to sustain this by following in His Footsteps, in the blazing trail that He has left for us.

"Every deed performed, do it in My Name. Every person who passes near your path give them the sweetness of your smile. Give freely of the nectar of your cup of happiness, of kindness, of Blissfulness. Give the warmth of your love. Extend your hand as I extend Mine to you."

~ Sathya Sai Baba.

Alifia Babich, educational coordinator of Russia,
Elena Belik, spiritual coordinator of Ukraine
Urvi Widhani, UK

Posted on: Sat 19 Nov 2011 19:24