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LMAD Youth Conference - 2013

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Let's Make a Difference Youth Conference – June 1 - 8, 2013

The freshness we all feel running the “Let’s Make A Difference” youth conference (LMAD) is still the same as eighteen years ago when, in 1995, it was first organised.

Asia Plateau, Panchgani

Mr. Yogender Chaudhry, a dynamic officer from the Indian Revenue Services and currently working with Competition Commission of India,  was the guest of honour for the 18th national youth conference “Let’s Make A Difference”. His simple, crisp and articulate message was appealing and instantly the young participants connected well to his talk. He highlighted his favourite project of rejuvenating the Nehru Yuva Kendra all across the country and he sees real hope in the rural youth. The true potential of India lies in the hands of rural youth and if this energy is channelized the country will benefit immensely and if not then the loss will be colossal. The role of today’s youth is to behave more responsible towards self and society and not let negativity affect them; hard work and positivity should be an integral part of the youth’s character which is not at all difficult.  He also cautioned them against getting influenced by all forms of media. He advised that everything that is being projected by the media need not necessarily always be true, but one needs to apply own logic and reasoning. His own journey from a village to a successful IRS officer connected well with the participants and in his closing sentence was an appeal to the gathering to contribute towards the country from where ever one can. A young lad from the New Era School, Panchgani who had come as an invitee for the inauguration; who was spell-bound listening to his speech requested his teacher to allow him to attend the full conference stating that if the first day is so powerful and electrifying I can imagine what will unfold in the days to come.

Lieutenant Commander KV Singh from the Flag Foundation of India was also our esteemed guest during the inauguration. He enlightened the participants by letting them know the history and details of the National Flag. National Flag represents the entire nation and on 22 July 1947 the Constituent Assembly adopted the present national flag. The tricolour has three colours with saffron on the top signifying courage and sacrifice, white in the centre signifying purity & truth and green at the bottom for growth and auspiciousness. The blue wheel in the centre with 24 spokes [24 hours]  depicts motion which signifies life. The official flag specifications require the flag to be made of Khadi, which is a special hand spun yarn made up of cotton, silk and wool.

Ariha and Vignesh were the voice of the youth their message was short and thought provoking. ‘Surrender to the LMAD conference and you will see the difference at the end’.

Looking at the country from perspective of ethics and values in the present time, the scenario is extremely depressing, giving no hope to a young person who is at the threshold of stepping out into the real world of making one’s life and career through struggle and hard work. All one can see to a larger extent is short cuts and how to make easy money without any efforts. The average middle class which is the large chunk of the population and the youth of this country have never before in the nation’s history been a majority. In this nation of youngsters it is a challenge to show the correct path to the younger generation. The word challenge is very important keeping in mind the prevailing deep rooted evils of scams, unemployment, political uncertainty, corruption, rapes and endless baggage of frustration carried by the ordinary citizen day in and day out showing feeling of helplessness. For many years the civil society is experiencing a deep rooted uneasiness all around them, a feeling of helplessness has crept into many in the society. Life beyond family has become foul.  Each one  is  searching  something  and they  cannot articulate  what they  are  searching  for. However, one can sense the search is definitely towards the nation and the way it is drifting away from its desired destiny. In the back drop of all this a hope-giving youth conference is organised year after year at Asia Plateau, Panchgani to empower young people and challenge them to live their life morally  and ethically. When  one  compares the  situation prevailing outside  the  domain of  Asia Plateau then the words like ethics and morality sound rare and alien. The youth team empowered by the teachings of Initiatives of Change {IofC} strongly believes in imparting the values of IofC to many at the younger level, year after year. They subscribe and every time they put their best foot forward towards building a nation based on inner calling; they gather at Asia Plateau and pour their heart and soul in giving their best to every individual who participates in “Let’s Make A Difference” youth conference. This year there were 149 participants and this report will cover how the conference unfolded.

Mr Yogender Chaudhry (centre) with the young participants at Asia Plateau

The  theme  of  LMAD  revolves  around the  four  absolute  standards  of  honesty, purity, love  and unselfishness  and  the  base  of  all  the  inputs  and discussion are  connected  to  Quiet Time.  The organising/coordinating team plays an important role in giving shape and structure to the entire conference. Before the conference is inaugurated the prelude is showcased. The base of the conference is moral values and one takes it for granted that all those who have subscribed to be part of the LMAD will be willing to go through the process of an ethical journey, but still it is a challenge in the present times to get all the participants on the same page of moral values. The coordinators play an important role in every aspect of the conference and they are the ones who illuminate the students by show casing their journey with IofC. Each one of them shares their real life struggle and experiences with Absolute Standards. Deep down they believe that the teaching of IofC works in all situations of life, all one has to have is patience and application.

A young Chartered Accountant from Chennai, stands up to her mistake of accounting error, within herself she has recognised that she had committed an error which will cost her company in crores. Feeling restless she shares the same with her fellow colleague whose reply was “forget it, nobody will come to know, you have already closed the accounts”. The reply is general perceptions which exist in the society in present times but for her it was a constant struggle with her conscience. She goes to her higher boss and shares her anxiety and raises her hand for her negligence which will cost the company in crores. Such act of honesty is appreciated by the receiver and it gives strength which builds the foundation of a good character and reinforces the maxim that Honesty works.

A young girl shared her story as follows: “I love my father very much in my family. During my younger days I used to see my father having alcohol. Though it was kind of a norm for people who are serving in Air Force to brink but as I started to grow I started hating my father  due to his drinking. He was becoming insensitive and to show my resentment I started to keep a distance from him and not to allow him to touch me, he thought that I am growing up so   there is a physical distance but that was not the case, I was angry with his habit. Later I moved to Asia Plateau for my internship programme and in my extended quiet time I thought I will write to my father and express myself towards him about his drinking habit. He was not aware why I had created distance from him. The letter was posted and after a week my father called by and expressed that I have stopped drinking and I  love  you, same was  the  feeling at my  end too and I  was  feeling so happy  and contented from within that I have got back my family the way I wanted it. After a month when I went back home I saw my father drinking, I was sad but this time the feeling was of betrayal rather than sadness. I was feeling completely shattered from within and again went in my shell. More than love I was doing verbal bashing regularly towards my father and did not support him in his struggle to leave alcohol, and I am sure he must be feeling weak and lonely and that is when in one of my quiet time I realised that I need to support my father and care for him and love him unconditionally for what he is. I know he is a good father but has a bad vice which does not make him a bad father and I started to care lot more and express my love more towards him and I know  only way to bring change in him is through unconditional love. Today I feel healed within me and my definition of world has changed completely for four of us to infinite.“

Another participant shared the following: “It is so easy to be selfish which easily flows in our nature. Taking my younger sister and my friends for granted was my habit. I spoke to them only when I wanted something from them. It became a habit to use people and forget. Being part of LMAD and regular quiet time has helped me to assess my life and see where I was going wrong.”

Another sharing goes such “I work as an event manger in a company and I am workaholic, my parents have given me liberty and freedom which many times I have taken advantage of. Friends mean more to me than my own family and will work hard for them and make my friend’s birthday

The guests at LMAD (L-R: Mr Jadav Payeng, Mr Raj Phukan, Ms Mittal Patel)

Mittal Patel from Mehsana, Gujarat is a daughter of a farmer and was raised in an environment where there was no freedom for girl child. Yet, she was different because her parents supported her in what she wanted to do. Being a good athlete she got admission in a school at a distant place away from her home; she was very well supported and encouraged by her family. This has been her foundation of courage and taking charge of her life at a very young age of thirteen.  She took her own decision and experimented with herself to find what her real purpose and goal in life was, as she was not sure what she wanted to do. Like any other young person many thoughts crossed her mind like becoming a sports person, then thought of becoming a class one government officer by writing UPSC exams. Meanwhile, she tried her hands on Journalism also and for the first time she heard the word NGO and came in contact with an organisation called ‘Charkha’ and they selected four students from entire Gujarat and she was one of them.   Working for Charkha was her first encounter with social work and in her first experience, when she was in a village closer to Surat one of the sugar cane worker’s wife was kidnapped in front of her husband, panic stuck her and social work created doubt in her mind, this incident made her question what next?   Later she came in contact with an organisation called Janpath that worked for the nomadic tribes of Gujarat and that is when she came to know that there are 40 nomadic and de-notified tribes in Gujarat and there are almost twelve crores people in our country who belong to the de-notified tribe or nomadic community. This community does not have any recognition across the country because they are not stationed or stable at one place they are gypsies and due to this they did not have any identity proof like ration card or voter card and they are not even included in our census. The government also wanted to help them after she sensitised them about their condition, finally her perseverance paid off. The Gujarat government took her help and for the first time more than 20,000 people got their voters card with the help of electoral officer. She also got them land from the government to build their own homes. It was a moment of personal triumph for Mittal Patel. One day she asked her husband that “we both work and I am absolutely happy in what I am doing and feel satisfied from within, do you feel the same with your job?”. Her husband replied “NO” and that is when she expressed that he should also do what gives him pleasure and she also believes that whichever field one works, one has to be the best. Reading Gandhi ji’s life gave her an alternative to remain quiet and think and by doing so she always found an answer from within. Continuing with her passionate work, she became the first activist to venture into Vadia village which for generations did not allow their daughters to get married. The village girls were forced into prostitution by their own fathers and brothers as per the village’s tradition. In 2012 for the first time she got twelve girls engaged and 8 girls married and once they are engaged or married they can not be forced into prostitution. Due to her intervention into the village the middle-men, who had made a business out of this tradition, were quite put off by her presence and she faced life threatening situation. However, she never gave up and decided that she will make sure that no girl from the Vadia village gets into flesh trade.

‘Power of one’ is strongly seen in her lonely crusade.  Her simplicity and passion towards her work speaks volume for this lady who now runs her own NGO called Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch [VSSM].

Anurag Maloo one of the integral part of the LMAD youth team dared to dream big and follow it till the very end. His dream was to visit Antarctica and give a message to all “save the earth from global warming.” Having chosen environmental protection as his life’s goal, many years ago one of his close friends drew his picture looking like an Eskimo all dressed in winter clothes and penguins all around him. He nurtured this dream and quietly worked for many years to make this dream come true. Finally, in February 2013 he visited Antarctica on a 15 day expedition with Robert Swan, founder of “2041”, an organization aimed at maintaining the pact for preserving Antarctica in its natural form. In Antarctica, Anurag looked similar to the painting drawn by his friend with ice everywhere and penguins all around him. This gave a powerful message of conviction and how important it is to nurture one’s dream if one strongly believes in it. Getting selected on the expedition was a moment of happiness, but what was more challenging was raising money for the expedition. Rupee by rupee he was able to collect the entire trip expense of fifteen lakhs in the form of donation and sponsorships. All this while he was balancing his life and not compromising on other responsibilities which he had to fulfil. One could see dedication and commitment in his approach which was an exemplary message to young people of his age. Through his talks he emphasised how important it is to dream and that now he is dreaming for a better and sustainable tomorrow for all.

Actor Ashish Vidyarthi’s evening session made a striking point that life is a series of moments and the living in the present – the power of now is very important. He urged the young participants to keep life simple rather than making it complicated.  What really matters in life is living in pre sent moment. The only part of life on which we do not have control is past and future but we can have control on the present moment. He further told the participants to feel blessed and to make the most of their moments while they were at Asia Plateau attending the LMAD conference. The participants enjoyed his session which was full of humour, action and one could see shades of his acting while he was interacting.

 The coordinators celebrating the Khadi Day on 4th June

Family is a powerful word in all respect and majority of people are a part of a family. Many times one is known by his or her family name. During the LMAD we all live like one large family and a deep bond is built based on some convictions or common affiliations between various participants. It is seen that people belonging to different age spectrum have become cold to their family members or take them for granted. In the family session the participants create an atmosphere of repentance, forgiveness and finally love through their sharing because family means a lot to them. But, due to own actions of hurt, pain, anger, insult, attitude, arrogance and above all ego one drifts away from the family. During this session one sees his/her own real life film of division within the family in front of their eyes, suddenly realising what they have been doing. From this point of realisation begins a new journey in the same family with renewed vigour, understanding and sense of sacrifice. A short story will sum up the theme of the entire family day. This story is about a young man from a village in Maharashtra who comes from a humble family consisting of two brothers, a sister and parents. Life was a constant struggle and making ends meet was a challenge. His father was from the military and had retired after 22 years in service. After retirement the father would regularly drink and come home fully drunk causing so much inconvenience that it had become a big nightmare to live with him. Due to his vice, the family was always short of money even to meets their daily needs. The father was influenced a lot by his elder brother and three sisters. This caused great anguish to the boy’s mother and his other siblings. The behaviour of the father was painful and the boy started hating his cousins too and stayed away from them. One day in a drunken state the father comes home and asks the boy’s mother to give away her mangalsutra - the most precious belonging of a married Hindu woman. The mother refused to part with the same and in his rage the father cursed her by saying – “keep it around your neck even when I die”. According to Hindu customs once the husband dies the widow has to remove her mangalsutra. She could not bear the curse and later pours kerosene over her body and burn herself completely. Few days later she passes away. It was an unbearable shock to all the siblings. This catastrophe over the family left lot of bitterness within the boy, especially towards his uncle and aunts, who were only instigating his father rather than correcting him.  Years passed by and the father too was on his death bed due to his bad habit. After the father’s death, the boy blamed his uncle family for his early demise. The boy was living with bitterness within him and did not keep any relation with his cousins after his mother’s demise. He had to go and stay with his mother’s sister and was practically raised at her place. During LMAD, the boy was introduced to the idea of Quiet Time . To quote him as he shared his moment of change:

“ Quiet time has given me a new meaning in life. The hatred and bitterness which I was carrying within me for years towards my uncle and aunt’s family has evaporated and the reason for this change of heart is inner voice and thinking deeply during my quiet moments. What is the difference between them and me even if I hate them, we both are doing the same and that could be one of the reasons why such tragedy struck my family? I feel liberated today from within and the burden which I was carrying within me has all of a sudden gone. I feel nice and weightless from inside, I am happy and I have forgiven them for all that they have done towards my family. From now onwards I am going to care for them, I cannot express in words why tears are rolling down my cheek all I can say is I feel liberated.”

Next day he came and shared that he has spoken to his uncle and aunt’s family and said that “ I am thankful to this conference, life is changing and I take back a lot from here. I do not have words to express what I feel within, all I can say is only when you experience it, you will feel connected to what I am saying. LMAD is like way of living.”

The participants come from diverse backgrounds and bringing all of them on the same wave length is a challenge to the speaker and for the group-leaders. Group discussion [GD] really adds meaning and depth to all that is spoken and shared. Many participants by nature are quiet in a new set up. So, when they have to speak in a group of un-knows/strangers they can’t share openly and go deeper into their own shells. The group leaders create an atmosphere, which is encouraging and conducive to speaking out and for personal sharing. As a result even those who are least vocal express their heart and mind in front of a totally new group. GDs have always been one of the most effective components of the youth conference. Participants get to know a small group of fellow participants much better. They are able to share their thoughts and life instances within their groups knowing full well that they can safely confide. There was some remarkable sharing by some members about their estranged relationship with their parents, issues about self esteem, personal struggle with anger, doubts about friendship. There was a very healthy and open debate on the four moral values and the idea of their being absolute. One of the participants spoke about how anger towards others did more to destroy him internally than those whom he felt had hurt him. The attitude of everyone was strikingly positive and there was greater emphasis on looking for solutions to personal and general problems rather than complaining about them.  Participants were honest about pointing out their personal faults and what they wanted to do to change. GD during the LMAD conference becomes a place which can be called soft cushion where one can talk about all their anguish, struggle, achievement, failure, family, peer relations etc. The group leader normally listens to all the sharing and  if  needed they  give their guidance. From  here onwards  a  special  bond of  relation is  built between the participants and the group leader and others members. Throughout the LMAD conference participants were kept engaged in thinking about themselves and about those areas which are generally not touched upon in daily life. During the course of the eight days, enough space was created for each individual to look deeply within and evaluate one’s life by virtually going into the depth of seeing where one stood. Career is the most important aspect in the life of a student. The biggest challenge for every student is to decorate his/her career in the finest manner which will give fruits every day. Apart from career another important aspect in life is family and relations. Life looks wholesome and complete when loving people are around us. In almost all the moments of life we want our own people to be with us.  In life both the earlier aspects are complemented by a good health. Good health gives an overall feeling of wellness and it also adds lot of impetus in doing and achieving many things. During LMAD each important aspect of life was metaphorically denoted by a golf ball. Application of this exercise on a guided sheet of paper helped participants draw a road map from where one stands to where one wants to reach.

LMAD constantly highlights the role of EGO in a life of an individual and how ego varies from one situation to another and it also varies from people to people. EGO is one damaging characteristic in every individual which only delays the process of an end result. We all can identify that we carry ego. An exercise designed with colourful balloons darker and brighter colours of the balloon denoted the degree of ego one carried. The exercise clearly showed every individual where one stood on the graph of life in terms of relations with all those who mattered and meant in their life. This group exercise helped the individuals to identify and look within themselves where I take my relation for granted and how ego has destroyed the warmth which once was precious. After doing this exercise with balloons it had the cathartic effect of lightening the members up as in they felt they were letting go off bitterness and resentment towards certain family members and friends. They felt the exercise gave the opportunity to start afresh with a clean slate and get closer to those whom they cared for and get back in touch with those whom they had drifted away from. At the end of the exercise with the sheet of paper and balloon flying over their head letting each individual know what ego is all about.   There was a sense of relief on the faces and a desire to begin fresh, with short prayers in their heart and recital on their lips the balloons were released in air for God to take care of the unwanted quality.

 The participants letting go of their ego, during the balloon exercise

LMAD focuses a lot on the relation aspect of one’s life. In different ways it tries to highlight the relevance and importance of people in our life and how one needs to nurture and constantly work on all those relations to keep them smooth. Many a times one tends to ignore a relation which has broken or drifted. But when one gets in touch with the idea of IofC-LMAD, one realises the value of people in our life and in the quiet moments at Asia Plateau, a lot emerges out from within. The new realisation stares straight into ones eye and shows a clear picture of life and relations. A small exercise is done wherein one maps his/her relations on a sheet of paper to clearly see where one stands vis-a-vis his relations and what actions need to be taken to bridge any gaps that might exist with some people. The message of the supreme power is that you cannot really love somebody and be separated from other. Love has to be in us for one and all that we know. All the written exercises add value in terms of personal life. If career and good relations are in place and ego is kept outside the door, life becomes worth living. All one will see is happiness and everyday quiet time will keep life on this path.

At the end of these exercises one gets answers to many personal questions as well as a guiding compass to use in life. One feels empowered when they attain some clarity on their goals, the path to be taken and the instruments required to reach the goal. The positive group-discussions also strengthen their conviction towards the goal. Regular positive sharing also helps many others who are still stuck somewhere in the middle. Each and every exercise has life changing potential and if followed without dilution and keeping quiet time as its base any goal can be achieved.

The common thread throughout the conference is and will always remain Quiet Time, which has a continuous relay effect every day in the morning. Those who are aware and have experienced quietness  can  vouch  that it is  the  best therapy. Very  carefully  the  practice  of Quiet Time was introduced to all the 149 participants. Every day, the idea of Quiet Time was demonstrated and the participants were taken deeper where they tried to experience their connection with their inner voice/self. Gradually one was getting connected to concept of the inner self and how it worked when one was still and quiet. Across age groups everyone started to enjoy the morning times of quiet. The word “absolute” preceding the four IofC values of Purity, Honesty, Unselfishness and Love was highlighted and explained in right perspective. Each young person was encouraged to look at “absolute” as a journey and evaluate their life against honesty, purity, love and unselfishness in their absolute forms. During an entire morning session of 3.5 hours every participant evaluated their life by writing in their personal sharing diary against the four IofC standards. Never before they had made an attempt of this kind to look within and filter out all the unwanted thoughts and emotions which had stuck inside and choked a person. This first step of inner cleansing was guided by the idea of  absolute.  Here  onwards  the  everyday  inner  journey  was  uplifting  and  by  the  end  of  the conference the idea of Connection, Correction and Direction (CCD) had evolved. Overall more than twenty hours of Quiet Time was practiced. Later, the feedback mentioned the need of more time for remaining quiet at Asia Plateau. This need and willingness to remain quiet also shows the high level of anxiety, stress and peer pressure one has at such a young age. Quiet time, diary, pen and inner guidance can become the most powerful tool to chisel one’s life.

The youth conference is taken seriously and enrolled participants are sensitized before-hand about what is expected out of them and what will be delivered during the eight day journey of LMAD. Discipline, punctuality, willingness to participate, respect towards elders, unconditional surrendering to new learning and embracing people from diverse background of the society is expected in the least from the participants. During the entire conference there is ban on all electronic gadgets and every participant has to earn his/her certificate of participation by adhering to the guidelines in honest earnest. At the end of the conference if someone is not satisfied and seeks a refund of the conference fee, then without any questions asked the organisers will refund the entire amount. One may wonder if anyone would like to participate after reading such strict rules for the conference. But the quality of participation has always been good. Though the conference sounds very serious there is equal opportunity to present one’s artistic talents through many other events within the conference. Daily news, songs and skits giving a message are integral parts of the conference. Picnic has been the best opportunity where there is mingling of the entire group. Each evening is fun-filled and before retiring for sleep each one gets a chance to show their jive, tango, jazz, bhangda, balle- balle, hip-hop, rock and pop from Mithun to Travolta. The conference emphasises a lot on writing. A personal letter to own self to be posted by the organisers after few months is the best gift one gets later. Similarly postcards written for other loved ones is a very good exercise and touches the loved ones a lot when they receive and read the postcard. We constantly fight with negativity but at LMAD we take out all the negativity in a moment and in the most symbolic way Asia Plateau absorbs it. Positivity is appealing and a positive letter, thought or resolution once written down there can not be ignored easily and it constantly reminds one to practice it.

Khadi has been the most important cloth which had united the nation during its struggle, Khadi for every Indian means sacrifice and it always gives a smell of freedom. During the LMAD we hoist the tricolour and celebrate Khadi day to respect our forefathers for their sacrifice to get freedom for our nation. A session called “India I care” took the participants a step ahead, encouraging them to make simple efforts in promoting cleanliness and reducing wastage. A hilarious skit depicted the small acts of negligence which was more an eye opener than comic. This was followed by the commitment from the participants in the form of Character Bank deposit slip. In the present times the word secular is abused and people of the highest office use it with utmost disrespect where many of us have started to hate the word -secular. LMAD is a great example of all faiths under one roof which only speaks in one language that the highest power has taught all of us and that is the language of LOVE. The multi-faith prayers recited by all in praise of the Almighty echoed all over the plateau. Before the curtains were drawn for the final time on LMAD 2013 the participants applauded for all the coordinators for their tireless and dedicated service. In true sense one could see the servant leadership quality in each one of them. The co-ordinators worked continuously in preparing for the conference and later on they delivered it with excellence. None of the coordinators expressed their fatigue even for a moment and kept serving with utmost love and care. Finally, during the last gathering  the  participants  gave  a  standing  ovation  for  the  sacrifice  made  by  each  of  the  co- ordinators and after the certificates were distributed the conference was concluded on an emotional note.

The co-ordinating team for LMAD – 2013

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