I was especially impressed by two vital organizations of public service on my recent trip to Leh. Both are reflective of the vibrant institutions of military and religious life in India that remind me of common values shared with America. One is the Indian Army and the critical role they played in rebuilding the roads and infrastructure after the devastating floods in August. Led by the talented Lieutenant General Singh, AVSM, General Officer Commanding, 14 Corps, they linked the community back together by connecting to the hearts and minds of the citizens and constructing new bridges in record time. The second group is the Missionaries of Charity, started by Mother Teresa and now led by the wonderful Sister Prema in Kolkata. We were not surprised to see these Sisters in Leh assisting the families and devoting their skills in a time of great need. Military, civil, and religious organizations complement the dynamic private sector in both the United States and in India.
Archive for September, 2010
We are quickly approaching Gandhiji’s birthday on October 2nd. Last year I participated in the very moving and spiritually uplifting event sponsored by the Government of India at Raj Ghat. This year we honor Gandhiji and America’s tradition of service by organizing volunteers to help paint a school in a very poor neighborhood in Delhi called the Sanjay Gandhi settlement. Joined by several members of my family and students from the American Embassy School, we worked to freshen up the walls of this small school house. We splashed bright yellow paint on the plaster walls and some occasionally ended up on our fellow artists! You always feel like you can make a small difference when you dedicate some time and energy to a worthy cause like children. Give me some more ideas for volunteer service and put me to work!
The early morning light captures the majesty and clean lines of these spectacular mountains around Leh. As you can see from the picture, the shadows are pronounced and the bright white snow caps highlight the view.
We had a similar perspective as we met with about 40 families in Shey Village who had virtually lost everything in the unusual “cloudburst” in August, resulting in massive flooding and huge waves of mud sweeping down these valleys. These families told us about climbing trees in the middle of the night and holding on for dear life as their homes were crushed and swept away. We listened to one woman tell us (Sally is seen hugging some of the residents) that she had lost all her possessions and her husband could no longer perform his farming, due to 3-4 feet of mud covering their once-fertile field. After handing out blankets and meeting with the superintendent of police, we went to Leh for lunch. Near the middle of the market area, we walked up a flight of stairs to a restaurant called “Chop Sticks” where we had a delicious mix of Chinese chicken momos, fresh vegetable hot and sour soup, and spicy honey+chili fries!
I am traveling today on a flight up to Leh, where nearly 200 people were killed last month in torrential downpours resulting in terrible flooding and damage to the local infrastructure. We will be delivering $50,000 worth of bedding supplies, pillows, and blankets to scores of families in the community that lost their homes and possessions. The area we are visiting is over 12,300 feet in elevation, nearly four times higher than the Blue Ridge Mountains outside Washington, DC. Just as India helped America after the devastating hurricane of Katrina in 2005, we will extend America’s generous hand to India in a time of need. These transnational events, such as flooding, terrorism, and cybersecurity, are increasingly reflective of events that can challenge the world and demand more strategic attention. Give me your top three transnational priorities today.
This past week we hosted a reception for “Vital Voices” at Roosevelt House, with close to 400 women from all over Asia, to highlight empowerment, human rights, and economic opportunity for women.
I met with women from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Nepal. People spoke eloquently about their personal stories in their home countries and how important it is to share best practices. When women succeed, their children succeed, their communities do better, and the world does better. As we continue to practice a US policy that takes a regional and strategic approach to challenges in Asia, this evening’s inspiration will last a long time. Tell me what issues you believe are the most important for India’s long term development.
Eid Mubarak! We celebrated the end of Ramadan by joining together with a local family and their neighbors in south Delhi and sharing a meal at their home. Many people from various religions, including Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Christian came together to share stories and discuss common interests. A marvelous lunch was served after 3PM to break the fast. We talked about the pending Commonwealth Games, the generous monsoon season, the latest Bollywood movies, and the floods in Delhi and Pakistan. Reflecting back on 9/11, as we prayed for those who died and their families, I could not help but think that when various religions come together in unity, it becomes the greatest instrument of power to achieve good in society. We have so many tenets and lessons of our respective faiths in common, which shine like a beacon of hope to overcome the challenges in our world today.
The monsoon rain pelted down on the five and six year old children, but still the smiles and excitement could not be washed off their exuberant faces. They were lining up outside the gates of the American Embassy School to get fitted for their school uniforms. As we volunteered for the American inspired “Reach Out” program to help provide education opportunities for children who live in a near-by slum, we greeted both boys and girls into the gym to meet the tailors. It is especially encouraging to see the increase in the number of girls who are being instructed by their parents to attend school. This is a great way to begin a Sunday morning!
In Memoriam to the nearly 3,000 people who were brutally attacked on 9/11 in New York City, the Pentagon, and who died in a field in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania, I recall the many different nationalities and religions that these patriots represented in America. As I think back on my visit to Ground Zero a few days after, I still picture the people lined up across the crumbled buildings to volunteer their help. I still smell the foul odor of smoke and can taste the ash that sprinkled the cars and streets. And I can still hear the stories of courage from rescue workers who ran up the stairs in the Towers to assist others when so many were running down those steps to their safety. Despite it being one of the most difficult days in our history, the best traits of America came shining through that day — bravery, volunteerism, and self-sacrifice. Nine years later, as we honor our lost ones and vow to never forget their accomplishments, let us work to respect different religions and recognize that they all share common values of compassion, community, and concern for their respective citizens. Practicing this will also prove to be one of the most valuable ways to defeat the terrorists in the years ahead.
I have tasted many new foods, did white water rafting in the holy Ganges river waters, and even drove a rickshaw in India, so I am willing to experience many new challenges and am always “up for a new adventure.” In the Reori Talab neighborhood, I even tried to learn the intricate and demanding skill of weaving! Attempting to quickly coordinate my footwork on the pedals and the handloom unit, I worked on contributing to one of the famous Banarasi saris. I definitely have a whole lot to learn from weaving masters like Mr. Mohammed Farooq! I also enjoyed the chance to walk in the streets and meet many of the local residents near this weaving room. Please share your ideas for other types of learning and work experiences for me to engage in.
I walked down a narrow passage, more similar to a lane than a road, navigating the steps sloping gently toward the holy Ganga river. My first glance at the river, given the sacred nature of this ghat and the heavy monsoon rains, was visually overwhelming. Looking across the river, I could hardly make out any specifics on the other side, as it appeared more like a large lake. Peering down the left side of the Ganga, I saw dozens of different ghats with various colors, temple-shaped structures, and fires brightly burning as the sun dropped from the sky. The cremation ceremonies were taking place directly at eye level, since the water was much higher than normal. We ventured out on a boat to get a phenomenal perspective of this 4000 year-old city, its special Hindu religious ceremonies, and the aarti performed by 6 priests to display gratitude and to say, “goodnight” to this magnificent river.