Time and time again, life has shown me that service is a path to happiness. I truly believe that 'it is in giving that we receive,' and the more that I give the more I have to give.
I have experienced the connectedness in all beings, and I know that when I serve, I am serving ALL beings everywhere. I feel now is a time on earth where humans need to revitalize our culture of service in order to bring balance back to the planet.
As the Summer Solstice has come and gone, I found myself contemplating my 3 year involvement with Sat Nam Foundation, and how I ended up here?! Life is so precious. Every moment is a drop of honey dew magic, and the choices we make write our story.
In 2015, I was living in the valleys of Hawaii. Free and unbridled, with only my backpack and my wits. One fateful morning in Pololū valley, as my friends and I were packing up our camp from the previous night, I heard terrible screams coming from the beach. Without thinking, I sprinted towards the screams.
I found an Indian man up to his waist in ocean water screaming, "My son! Someone help!" I looked down the stretch of white sand beach, and saw approximately 20 people stunned by the situation.
About a 100 meters away I saw a wooden post with a lifeguard buoy on it. My mind became laser focused. I remembered the years of lifesaving training that I had gone through, and I took off running for the buoy. I felt a strange sense of lightness in the moment, like I was living a dream.
I grabbed the buoy and did not stop stride until I reached the father.
"Please describe your son," I asked the father.
He replied, "He is 12 years old and wearing a blue shirt."
I entered the ocean and was greeted by crashing waves. I swam hard for about 35 meters and reached a grown woman flailing her arms. She frantically grabbed on to me, begging for me to save her. I asked her to relax, put her feet on the ocean floor (as we were only in about 4 feet of water) and carefully make her way to shore. I would return to help her, though the young boy was my first priority.
I continued to swim into the ocean, and I soon saw a bobbing figure. I could see the boy struggling to stay afloat and beginning to swallow water. I grabbed him from under a wave, put him on my buoy.
We connected eyes, and I could feel a sense of relief wash over him as I told him he was going to be alright. I asked him to start kicking and keep his head above water. I successfully brought the boy into shore and delivered him to the embrace of his crying mother. I then turned back to the ocean and swam out to help a few adults that had entered the water in an attempt to help the boy.
The family celebrated me as though I was a hero. It made me blush, as I did not feel special. I felt as though I was just doing what I could with the skills that I had in the moment. I felt it was my duty to help the boy.
A longing to serve flowed through my veins. I called the Hawaiian search and rescue team to inquire if I could join. I was told that the coast guard led search and rescue, which was a military unit; therefore, I was not able to join their crew. I was disappointed. I was young, strong, trained, and able to serve, though I could not find the right outlet to do so.
A month or so later, by chance, Ramdesh (board member of Sat Nam Foundation) wrote me a message via Facebook, "Do you know any lifeguards?" I could feel my insides turn with excitement. I told her I was trained in search and rescue, and inquired further. She explained that there were refugee children drowning in between Turkey and Greece, and Sat Nam Foundation wanted to do something about it.
I had no idea what was going on in Greece at the time, though when I began to research, I was shocked. Millions of refugees escaping the war in Syria were searching for freedom in Europe. It was considered illegal for them to cross into Europe via plane/ferry, so millions of people began crossing illegally and unsafely via the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek Islands (primarily Lesvos). Thousands of people were drowning due to unsafe conditions.
Ramdesh expressed that Sat Nam Foundation wanted to sponsor a volunteer on the ground. She asked when I could go. I responded, "Tomorrow."
My research began. Would I be able to plug into a team that was already on the ground? How could I be most effective? What kind of gear did I need in order to be safe? I worked with Ramdesh to put together a list of my needs and a budget for 3 months of volunteer time. With Spirit Voyage, Sat Nam Foundation released a Kirtan Aid album that raised enough money to sponsor me and my wife, Anais, to serve in Greece for 3 months.
We arrived in Lesvos, Greece in January of 2016, at the height of the refugee crisis. I could write a book on our 3 month experience in Greece, though I am going to keep this short and relevant to this blog post! And answer, why I joined Sat Nam Foundation?
I connected with an international rescue team, "Refugee Rescue," and served on a rescue boat for about 2.5 months. We helped to ensure the safety of thousands of people during this time. A few incidents stand out in my memory and have continued to shape my life.
Early one morning, before the sunrise, we were patrolling in Greek waters looking for boats crossing. Through the lenses of our night vision goggles, I spotted a boat. Our captain pointed us in the direction of the boat and we took off. As we approached the boat filled with 70+ people, I greeted them in Arabic, ensuring them that we were there to help.
After doing an initial assessment of the health of the passengers, we called in to the Coast Guard to report the boat and then began guiding them to shore. I heard a father crying out for water. 'Water, Water!' he begged. We always had a couple of bottles of water on board in the case of emergency. We leaned over and tossed the father the bottles. I watched as a few thirsty children sipped the life giving water.
As the sun rose, we reached the shore safely, and the boat full of cold, soggy refugees were greeted by a team of volunteers with a warm fire, tea, and dry clothes. Our small rescue team of 3 parked our boat and prepared to rest before our next shift.
As I walked through the crowd, I could feel the buzz of celebration. The refugees felt like they had made it to freedom. I was embraced by the father that we had gifted water. He looked deep into my eyes, and said, "We were stuck in Turkish refugee camps, and my children have been without water for three days. You gave us hope." His wife and seven children looked up at our rescue team with big smiles and a glow of gratitude.
On that morning, I felt full of love and joy. Even though the situation in Lesvos was one of the darkest, most twisted situations I have ever been in, there was a glimpse of hope. A taste of humanity. My life was forever changed in this moment. I am committed to serving humanity and this planet.
I have deep gratitude for the father and his children for giving me the opportunity to help them. This experience has provided me with internal freedom that is beyond words. I have experienced the power of service, and I hope to share the magic of service with you.
When I returned to the US from Greece, Sat Nam Foundation invited me to continue to serve with them. There was never a moment of hesitation. The individuals and community involved with Sat Nam Foundation has always felt pure and true to me, and I believe in the mission of service. I gladly accepted their offer.
Since the Summer Solstice of 2016, I have been running the day to day operations for Sat Nam Foundation. I have learned many lessons along the ways and I have always felt supported by individuals and our community. If you made it this far in this story, chances are that you are one of those people! I have deep gratitude for you.
I pray that we can continue to serve together, and that we can help bring peace to this planet.
God Bless you. Sat Nam.