Seva Trips to Freedom Land

Reshma Madhusudan

Seva Trips to Freedom Land

This school year was a special one. As most of our work was mainly online, the need for connection went beyond just friends and teachers. It was a need to connect to Mother Earth and Father Sky that led students with parents’ consent, to visit Freedom Land over December, January and February of this academic year.

Nature fixes everything. Many students who had not seen beyond the boundaries of their own apartments or home layouts, who had only met their peers on online forums, stepped and bounced on to the vast expanse at Freedom land. They were transformed, transfixed by the sunsets and sunrises and moved by the hills surrounding the land. The openness of Freedom land brought in abundance of positivity, lightness of spirit, and recharged lives, driving away looming fears of the pandemic that had stifled many hearts,

While some groups trekked up Makali Durga, the nearby government preserved nature site, others bushwhacked through uncharted terrain behind our land though three hills and three lakes. All woke up to glorious sunrises and all quietened away with soulful sunsets, fire meditations, chantings and gratitude by the comfort of their own tents. And those outdoorsy homes were pitched by the students’ own semi-experienced and inexperienced hands - a collaborative mission to start each group’s special bonding time.

It was not just a visit for them to connect to all and nature, but also to ground and open our hearts to meaningful work that was not only for our sake - but for all who will live on the land. Each group worked on different projects on the land - that was their Bhumi Seva. The Cosmos group, 16-18 year olds, built a peace bench and fire pit from first principles, made new planter beds ready and sowed new seeds for a rich vegetable harvest (that is upcoming!) The Ixora group, 14-16 year olds, with their strong hands and hearts, built a stone pathway around the watershed, harvested averekai (hyacinth beans), and helped with tree planting. The Sunflowers, 12-14 year olds, threshed toor dal (pigeon peas) in scorching heat, and continued the stone pathway work. The Lotus students, 10-12 year olds de-weeded and mulched the tree pits with areca nut husks. Many students gave a generous hand in the cooking needs that the staff rigorously engaged in. The mid-morning sun saw buttermilk and juice being gratefully scurried along the peacewalk for the teams to quench and keep up with all the seva.

Most kids were just content to have the physical activities and open air to breathe! They expressed that they had missed just breathing fresh air and staring at the night sky and stars due to the indoor lockdown routines practiced this year. Their hands and legs moved with their hearts and strengthened their spirits as they realized how much they had missed physical activities and working in vast expansive spaces. How much they appreciated their own bodies standing tall and growing with the grasses and trees. Gratitude was a constant signature!

Shobha Rao, a Sunflower teacher writes: We thought threshing would be a menial task but it turned out to be truly meditative. We beat the bushels with a stick to dislodge the pods and as we continued the process only the rhythmic movement and ‘gal, gal’ music made by the pods held us in a trance. Time flew by and soon it was time for us to go on a trek to view the sunset, it wasn’t a long trek. but one that would take every ounce of self-control. Not because of a treacherous terrain but because we had to walk to the point in complete silence. Can you imagine a blush of boys and a giggle of girls walking to and sitting quietly to watch the sunset? Sitting atop the rocks, we gazed into the setting sun and then it dawned on us: the land had changed but so had we! And just as we settled around the crackling fire something whispered in the air and it said, “All we have is Space and Time.”

Maitreyi Alex, a Lotus teacher adds: We did a 5kms trek to a hill nearby. During a 5 km trek to the hills nearby, seniors took care of their friends, helping them carry bottles, giving helping hands at the more difficult parts, and most importantly encouraging each other - all these moments made the experience so special. On our second night at the land, we walked the Peace Walk path post dinner. It was a beautiful experience walking in the night as the bright full moonlight guided our way. Walking silently, we were able to absorb and be present in the vast silent space around us.

Nikita Rao, an Orchid teacher reflects: Looking at and relating to the world through a screen has been hard on all of us. Overnight, children's playgrounds became reduced to the walls of their houses and they lost touch with some of their best teachers - play, friends and nature. Yet, Freedom land has been a gift - especially as a space for coming together, grounding, sharing, exploring and living in the company of nature. It was so heartening for us to see the excitement; the smiles, the unstoppable banter and laughter of friends seeing each other’s faces after nearly a year! It took no time at all for children to let loose and be wholly present to each other and the land. We played, we learned, we meditated, we danced, we coloured, we cooked, we trekked, we worked, and we star gazed. It was two wholesome days of expansiveness, bonding and hearts filled with love.

What is most joyful and reassuring is listening to children often recollecting and reliving memories from our trip to freedom land.