The 58-year-old Ram Kumar LamaRam Kumar LamaRam Kumar LamaRam Kumar Lama's story is the ray of hope we can use at this time. Lama, who is an Art of Living teacher, along with 40 other volunteers trudged along deadly slopes trekking 8-10 km uphill to reach out to over 1,070 families in 28 villages in Alipur Duar district of West Bengal, villages so remote that they were inaccessible by road.
But here's why Lama's journey is most incredible. Lama along with his volunteers trekked while carrying supplies weighing 15-20 kg on their back.
The rural areas across India have been just as hard hit by the lockdown as cities, if not more. Lama's journey, alongside 40 other volunteers, has sparked hope in the lives of many villagers across Alipurduar, West Bengal.
As an individual dedicated to social welfare and community outreach, the current pandemic and its implications on the local population immediately caught his attention. He learned that "several of these areas cannot be accessed by road", posing a significant problem for its people.
On April 1st, only a few days after the announcement of the lockdown, Mr Ram and his team began their journey, their first stop being Pambari Basti, Adam Hill region. With only 15 families inhabiting the village, Lama first hand witnessed the extensive difficulties faced by them since the implementation of the lockdown. The lack of proper roads meant the villagers needed to walk an hour to access daily necessities. Additionally, their masks were made of torn, old clothing. After hours of walking to Buxa Tiger Reserve, Lama and his team managed to successfully provide food, medicine and money to each and every family.
Next Stop- Tribal Village of Kalchini Block
The next stop on their journey was the tribal village of Kalchini Block, where widespread poverty persists, preventing the locals from accessing quality education. To this day, the village has not had a single graduate. Mr Ram and his team knew the issues that needed to be addressed in this particular village went beyond just basic necessities- rising levels of anxiety, stress and fear were alarmingly evident amongst the locals. Thus, his team ensured to provide relief materials and aid to over 50 people each day, while connecting with the villagers, and checking on their well-being.
Tales of the Villagers
Why did Lama's outreach matter? Amongst the families that were badly affected, Lama encountered a 25-year-old young woman, abandoned by her husband. She was left with 5 children, the youngest being only a month old. She had no way of stepping out to get basic stuff to run the household, without leaving her children behind. Other heartbreaking encounters included a family with a handicapped man whose wife was unable to reach out to him due to the lockdown. Another family consisted of a husband and wife both deaf and mute, completely unable to help themselves. Lama ensured these families were afforded the basic necessities to sustain them through the fortnight, before more help came along.
"Our founder Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says that it is the daily wage earners and poor people who are the hardest hit by the Lockdown and we had to do everything we can to support them. I feel it's our responsibility to help them. I got plenty of help from Mr Ajad Bhujel, Youth Leadership Training Program (the rural youth development wing of The Art of Living)."
The Art of Living volunteers have been reaching out and working alongside the tribal communities of Kalchini Block and Buxa Tiger Reserve for quite a few years now.
Lama says, the team followed all the social distancing and hygiene protocol along the journey. "All the team members wore masks and gloves when they stepped out. They placed the ration outside the homes of families. Though transportation is a big challenge, we were determined to reach every family, even if we had to visit the same place twice, carrying the ration on our shoulders," Lama said.
What drives Lama and his volunteers?
"Faith and spiritual practice are key attributes to my team's dedication and resilience. When you are happy within, then you will start thinking about others and spiritual practices like pranayama and meditation give us enormous energy and strength to achieve that state of contentment and service," Lama said.