The following projects were started by the SSSEWWT in 2005 onwards and then handed over to the Sri Sathya Sai Sadhana Trust – SSSST – in Sept 2013. These projects were handed over due to Indian laws that affected Charitable Trusts which were running non-profit commercial activities that nonetheless incurred incidental incomes. Thus all commercial activities of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust and the Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust were brought under the auspices of the Sri Sathya Sai Sadhana Trust. The history of all the projects which were initiated and managed by the SSSEWWT is as follows:
The Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust kitchen is housed in the Trust training facility, a converted shed inside the ashram. The kitchen is a busy place, with people flowing in and out continuously, and a constant schedule of deliveries, preparation, and cooking for the next dispatch of delicious food to the little kiosks around the ashram, where the snacks are sold to hungry and appreciative devotees and visitors.
Visitors to the kitchen experience a kind of focused ballet of activity. The village ladies who work there seem like smoothly flowing waves, moving from one project to the next. No one stands around idle; as soon as one task is finished, the next is started. They have been intensively and continuously trained to be able to work like this. Although at times there can be seeming chaos around them, the young workers appear peaceful and confident in the midst of it all. The kitchen was launched on August 15, 2005 and on its first day of operation produced a grand total of 30 samosas, 30 spring rolls, and 30 vegetable cutlets. These snacks turned out to be very popular, and the operation grew fast. By Dasera that year – not even two months later – never having made more than 500 at a time, the kitchen staff produced 1,700 samosas on a single day for devotees and visiting Bal Vikas children. On that day, the staff started work at 3 a.m., and by 10 a.m., the 1,700 samosas were successfully delivered.
Later, on an average day, the kitchen produced a total of about 3,500 snacks; during festivals the total was approximately 5,000. Since many of these snacks were produced in multiples – for example, three idlis per plate – this means that many thousands of snacks were produced per day to meet the demand.
There was one overall supervisor for the kitchen, and one part-time assistant – this system continues to date. Every lot of vegetable preparation produced in the kitchen is taste-tested by one of these supervisors, who were always on hand to answer questions and direct operations. The regular kitchen staff numbered 26, and was assisted by about 20 Seva Dals from the state groups in India who come in rotation every one to two weeks to help run the ashram.
The regular project workers learned just how much of the various ingredients to use, with only their hands as a measure. But because of these constantly changing groups of seva dal volunteers, one of the challenges for the intrepid kitchen staff was maintaining consistent standards in quality, in amount of ingredients, and in size. This was solved by using inventive little measures, such as using puja cups for determining the amounts of filling to be used in the snacks. The Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust kitchen was run by a former professional caterer. Asked about training these young women, her comment was, “What am I teaching them? They are the ones who are teaching me.” Coming from the city herself, she was struck by how honest and trusting these village girls were. Actually, she describes trying to live up to the trust in the eyes of these young women as an awesome responsibility.
Nowadays, thanks to the training received, these same women manage to read the dispatch order slips and fill them out for delivery. They can also take a special order in Telugu, Hindi, or English over the phone, calculate the ingredients needed to make several hundred of an item, order the ingredients, organize the food preparation and cooking, and deliver the food on time.
The Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust Tailoring Section was started in 2005, along with the other departments, in order to train village women in useful skills. There were originally a variety of tasks and projects undertaken by these women, such as sari painting, bead work, and other crafts. Some of the tailoring ladies made western style clothing for ashram wear, particularly for overseas devotees who had difficulties wearing traditional Indian attire. In addition to training and employing village ladies, this afforded devotees with comfortable, yet decent clothing which consisted of full length skirts and long tops, with matching scarves, made out of 100% cotton. Later, matching small purses and hair ornaments were added to make use of scrap fabric.
This group also made carry-bags out of donated upholstery fabric. All of these items were designed by the Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust staff, and the designs grew increasingly sophisticated and stylish. Later, Indian-style tops were incorporated as well, so that Indian ladies also came to enjoy these creations for at-home wear. Periodically, a large batch of fabric would be acquired, and a variety of designs would be produced.
By the time all had been stitched and often hand-embroidered, there would be 200-250 pieces in each such “collection.” Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust would hold an exhibition-sale to sell off the products of this training program. Although not advertised, word somehow got around about these sales, and the clothes and accessories were so popular they would sell out in 1-2 days, making the village ladies feel happy and proud.
Other tailoring ladies worked on large orders, making hundreds of nightgowns to be sold in the shopping complex, for example, and hundreds of school uniforms for institutions outside the ashram. The ladies’ favourite project from these early years was stitching uniforms for a school for the blind. Most of the ladies working on these various tailoring tasks and crafts were cross-trained. They served about 500 individual customers per month, besides doing large batch orders and special orders of clothes and costumes, especially for the large pilgrimage groups who came to Prasanthi Nilayam.
The tailoring department has also made decorations for Sai Kulwant Hall at Christmas in 2007, 2008, 2009, and again in 2010. Once a year, the tailoring unit workers made clothing for both the Sri Sathya Sai General and Super Specialty Hospitals, including hundreds of patient gowns for children and adults, surgical sets, nurses’ aprons, and uniforms for the nurses.
There is a continuous stream of ladies into and out of this section, placing orders for individual items such as children’s clothes, sari blouses, petticoats, and Punjabi sets. The senior project workers have been trained to accurately take and record these orders, take the proper measurements, discuss the styles of necklines, lining, and so on, determine how much fabric will be needed and where it should be obtained, to calculate how long the job will require, and to make the items ordered.
In 2007, the supervisor of this section also went out to the villages surrounding the ashram and conducted three-month trainings in tailoring, both to prepare a resource pool of trained workers for the tailoring department and to help these ladies to become more confident and self-sufficient, working in their own villages. Most of these ladies had no knowledge of such basic concepts as measurement, multiplication and fractions. The Trust tailoring supervisor invented a measuring system based on hand-widths, palms and forearms. She also discovered that these ladies did not know how to count unless they were counting money, so she adapted tailoring measurements to money counting, and thus the ladies were able to transfer their knowledge to a tape measure. There were then about 100 of these trained women in nine villages.
Besides the training and experience they have acquired, the girls also feel more confident because of their uniform saris and badges. As with the other Trust workers, they say that now they are treated with more respect in their families, who feel proud of their work inside the ashram. As one of the girls expressed, “The men used to look down on us like worms; now they speak to us like human beings… Our fear has gone and we have gained self-esteem and dignity. We have no words to describe our thankfulness to Bhagawan for all that He has done for us. Without Him, we cannot imagine where our lives would have been. He has given us all a purpose to live.”
Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust has managed a fruit juice stand inside the ashram since 2006. A variety of seasonal juices were freshly prepared as the customers placed their orders. Great care was taken to use only sweet, fresh fruits, and the project workers had been thoroughly trained in hygiene practices. Devotees happily drank so much of the fresh juice that it was sometimes difficult to meet the high demand.
Many devotees, overseas devotees in particular, preferred that the juice be chilled. For this purpose, an ice machine was ordered to be designed and constructed for us. With heavy use, it broke down, and of course, there were no spare parts for such a one-of-a-kind piece of equipment. For some time, the ladies tried chilling the fruit itself before transporting it to the juice bar, in an effort to meet the requirements of the devotees. This was found to be successful, so nowadays, the problem has been solved with large freezers located at the juice bar, which keep the fruit chilled and ready for use.
Fresh sugar cane juice was added to the offerings. Two special made-to-order machines from Coimbatore were used to grind the tough stalks of raw sugar cane directly into juice. Sugarcane was fed into the machine, and chilled juice poured out of a tap, in a completely hygienic manner. There was also a very high demand for this vitamin-rich and delicious juice. Local sugarcane crop was sourced for this refreshing juice.
The volunteer supervisor of the juice bar reflected, “The main aim of the Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust was to train rural women in different fields to give them a better future. Similar to the other departments, the juice counter had four training objectives. First, the lady workers needed to be trained in job skills; in this case, how to extract juice from the various fruits in a hygienic way, and how to serve it. The second objective was to train the ladies how to behave with the devotees coming to the juice counter. Third was to teach the project workers to observe and maintain high standards of personal cleanliness. And the fourth objective, really the goal and context, was to educate them to improve their lifestyles, to elevate them in society.” She concluded, “In my observation, all four objectives were fully met.”
The village girls who work in the juice counter themselves say that it was their fortune to be members of this prestigious institution. They felt that their lifestyle was totally changed for the better, as they had absorbed the habits of duty, discipline and devotion taught to them. Attributing their ability entirely to the infinite divine grace of Bhagawan, they said that although they were uneducated, they were able to communicate even with foreign customers.
Devotees coming up to the juice counter expressed a high level of satisfaction about the behaviour of the workers, and the cleanliness, concern, and hospitality with which customers were welcomed.
Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust also managed a purified drinking water project. In a modern facility, the purification process began with the water provided by the existing Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project. This was already safe to drink, and the water was further purified for use by ashram visitors, residents and staff.
The drinking water project began in August, 2007. An advanced reverse osmosis system was installed, along with pre and post-treatment systems. Special care was taken by Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust in selecting the design for the water processing plant, and continuous, ongoing care and daily testing had been undertaken on behalf of the customers, to meet the exacting requirement of matching perfect raw water.
Here was how the water plant worked: the water was pre-treated first by passing it through multigrade filters over a supporting layer of pebbles, ground silica and activated carbon. This removed suspended particles, as well as any smell and colour. Next was reverse osmosis: the pre-treated water was passed through a membrane that had only microscopic openings, further filtering out of the water any remaining undesirable elements, such as excessive iron or bacteria. This was followed by a dual post-treated process, in which ultra-violet treatment eliminated any remaining pathogens, and ozone – which was generated on site – purified the water in place of chlorine, a more commonly used purifier which caused health problems with repeated exposure.
The plant was designed to process 4,000 litres of water per day. The water was packed in 25 and 30 litre ‘cans’ (large bottles). On a typical day, 120-150 of these cans were provided. Six young men were seen pedalling furiously throughout the ashram, balancing the large cans on their bicycles and delivering these heavy bottles right to the rooms of ashram residents.
Why young men in a women’s welfare trust? Readers may wonder. These cans full of water were too heavy for women to manage, so this problem was solved by hiring the sons of needy village women. While the engineering supervisor of this project was also a man, the coordinator was one of the village women. She was now able to take orders over the phone, write out receipts in English, and send correct change with the water boys. She handled the cash independently, kept a record of deposits and refunds, maintained accurate tallies, and reconciled the accounts.
Simple solar cookers were developed for use as a charitable donation by volunteers working with the Sri Sathya Sai Easwaramma Women’s Welfare Trust. These cookers were easily transportable small wooden boxes with sheets of aluminium inside and a glass lid that could be raised or lowered to take maximum advantage of the sun. The cookers were engineered for angles of the sun in India, specifically Andhra Pradesh.
Any staple food in the area could be cooked using these boxes. Villagers carried their grains and vegetables with them and cooked fresh hot food on-site, wherever they were working.
The use of these cookers saved early morning cooking time, and the time and lost wages required when villagers go to the hills periodically in search of firewood. The solar cookers were eco-friendly, required no fossil fuels to operate and released no gas, heat or fumes into the atmosphere. They were also better for the health of the villagers, who could develop breathing and eyesight problems from using fire pits inside their houses.
Trust project workers who participated in the testing of these cookers during their development were able to do the training and follow up monitoring in the villages for acceptance and successful use of the solar cookers.