(Excerpted from The Service Link, annual publication of Theosophical Order of Service, International)
What’s going on in the TOS around the world?
Looking for a service project? Try reading these notes of activities in 2003. They were prepared by the International Secretary and the Spanish Language Coordinator.
ARGENTINA: Music and the healing arts
- In Buenos Aires and Rosario, the beautiful TOS ritual is performed fortnightly. Financial support is also being given to a number of people who are seriously ill and unable to afford medical treatment.
- A TOS choral group in Rosario sings at charitable events. The Rosario group is also heavily engaged in the campaign ‘For the Reconstruction of Santa Fe’, a region greatly affected by unemployment and recent flooding. TS members collect all kinds of household goods to deliver to needy families. An excellent bimonthly bulletin reports on activities.
AUSTRALIA: Busybees at working bees!
- Members are very active working in and raising money to support a range of groups: Amnesty International, UNICEF, the Red Cross, the City Farm, Men of the Trees, the Greening Australia Project, the Alternative to Violence Project…
- They organise meditation, healing and ecology workshops, as well as working bees at the TS Retreat Centre at Springbrook in the state of Queensland. In 2003 they collected clothes for a Chernobyl orphanage.
- The TOS in Australia continues to make generous donations to the Endowment Fund of the TOS in Pakistan, the Golden Link School in the Philippines, TOS educational work in Kenya and the Olcott School at Adyar.
- It publishes the ‘TOS Network’ that reports on the wide variety of activities of the different TOS groups around the country. There are groups in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth.
- At the 2003 TS Convention, the TOS hosted a presentation by the Perth group of the ‘Alternative to Violence Project’ (AVP) at which participants talked about their work with prisoners in local jails, helping them come to grips with their anger and their circumstances.
- Each year Blavatsky Lodge in Sydney and the TOS collaborate in organising a fundraising seminar. Their most recent one was in support of UNICEF and was entitled ‘Sacred Rivers: a Source of Life’. Four speakers spoke on various aspects of the Nile, Ganges, Urumbamba (Amazon) and Parramatta Rivers.
BOLIVIA: ‘Modest but keen.’ So says TOS Correspondent, Grover Crespo Vides, in reporting that:
- Members support a health and nutrition programme for the farmers of the Tunari mountains.
- Classes in vegetarian nutrition, yoga, exercise and relaxation (both physical and psychological) are being given on TS premises in Cochabamba.
BRAZIL Unusual undertakings in 2003
- The ecology department of the TOS in Brasilia invited the Fire Brigade to give a talk in the TS building about how to prevent and combat forest fires. The following day a practical exercise took place on the grounds of the Theosophical Institute, under the guidance of experts of the fire brigade staff.
- Rio members designed a Christmas card as an income-generating suggestion for a local animal protection society.
- Members of the Augusto Bracet branch in Rio prepared 20 sets of baby supplies for indigent pregnant women. Each set included handmade nappies, blankets, baby shoes and shirts, along with feeding and washing materials.
- Rio members participate in a movement working against religious discrimination obliging children to study only Christianity in school; they are also part of a inter-church movement trying to promote tolerance amongst the different divisions of Christianity.
- The Brasilia TOS carried out an informal survey of the eating habits, physical and psychological condition of local TS members, an initiative welcomed by everyone and whose results were above expectation. An experimental holistic health education programme is being developed by a group of doctors and psychologists.
Since July 2002 when Terezinha Franca Kind accepted the role of National Director of the fledgling TOS, she has been applying a great deal of energy to reinforcing and expanding the groups in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and São Paulo, and to re-activating work in Belo Horizonte and Recife. Her long-term goal is to have TOS representatives wherever there is a TS Lodge or Study Group.
National plan of action
To this end, the TOS in Salvador-Bahia hosted the 1st National Meeting of the TOS in September 2003 which was attended by about thirty people. Six TOS representatives came from other states. Many could not attend the event because they could not afford to pay for air tickets. Non Governmental Organizations, whose objects are similar to those of the TOS, were also invited to participate and made very worthwhile contributions. Besides inspiring lectures relating to TOS activities, reports were presented during an administrative meeting, and a National Plan of Action was drawn up. Everybody was enthusiastic. Volunteers from other cities now feel they are not operating on their own. Terezinha is in constant communication with them via e-mail and once in a while by telephone. SÃO PAULO will host the 2nd National Meeting at the TS’s Raja Centre at the end of October 2004.
Several groups around the country regularly perform the TOS healing ritual and a meditation for world peace. Much is done in the way of material and financial assistance for the underprivileged. Animal welfare work is also a feature of the Section’s efforts.
CANADA: Choosing a project together
Fundraising for the Animal Welfare Fund at Adyar was selected by those interested in helping new TOS Correspondent, Lorraine Christensen, re-activate the TOS. So far $US100 has been collected and sent to Adyar. Lorraine, who comes from Calgary, Alberta, has produced an introductory leaflet, the first issue of a bi-annual newsletter and a report for the national TS magazine, The Light Bearer.
CHILE: How can so few accomplish so much? 11 individuals, 7 of whom are TS members:
- offer Christmas gifts to children and adults who would otherwise go without.
- collect and distribute food and clothing to the needy.
- organise regular visits to a short list of sick people.
- organise lectures on themes such as animal welfare (the danger of the extinction of certain species, how to shop for cruelty-free products), ecology (the ozone layer, water conservation, deforestation, pollution) and the roots of war.
- meet once a week to meditate for world peace.
- perform the TOS healing ritual (39 times in 2003 for 143 individuals).
- put paintings by members on display.
- perform as a choral group.
COLOMBIA: Outreach to the public
TS Lodges are being encouraged to organise service activities for members, friends and sympathisers to provide an outlet for those attracted to theosophical ideals but not yet interested in attending lectures and study classes. A greater sense of belonging to the TS amongst a wider circle is being sought in this way.
- In 2003 classes in vegetarian cuisine were offered, along with talks and gatherings on the theme of love for animals, ahimsa, etc.
- The younger members present classical music concerts, painting exhibitions, short pieces of theatre and tales for children in order to familiarize them with theosophical ideals.
- The TOS continues to provide special support to the Fundación Sueños del Mañana (Dreams of Tomorrow Foundation), an association that feeds, clothes and educates some fifty children from the poor areas of Bogota. Money, gifts and tools were presented to the Foundation at the TS premises.
- TOS Correspondent, Julia Ballesteros, accompanied by Beatriz Acosta on the piano, made a beautiful CD of songs in 2003 and gave the proceeds of its sale to the Foundation. Bravo, Julia and Beatriz!
EAST & CENTRAL AFRICA: Seven tons of help!
- The TOS in Kenya has a long tradition of making substantial donations to selected deserving charitable homes in Nairobi on Founders’ Day. This year it donated seven tons of foodstuffs to homes for orphans, children with HIV/AIDS, impoverished elderly people, etc.
- It sponsors the education of five orphans at the Starehe Boys Centre and their study progress is monitored.
- A member of Voi Lodge who is a doctor treats patients in a poor, rural area for free.
- Visits of condolence are made by members of the Lodge in Nairobi and regular meditation, healing and Bharat Samaj Puja sessions are held. The Bharat Samaj Puja, a Hindu congregational ceremony for peace, harmony and spiritual upliftment, brings in some donations for the worthy causes supported by the TOS.
- In Tanzania members donated toward the cost of surgery for seven underprivileged Africans this past year.
- Lunch was provided for 120 patients in a local hospital and for the children of a Salvation Army orphanage.
- Forty blankets were given to the poor. The TOS greatly appreciated receiving another donation from the TS in Australia.
ENGLAND: Soldiering on!
For some years now, the TOS has been struggling, which is a shame, because since its inception in 1908, the TOS has been a well-anchored part of the life of the TS Lodges. Fund-raising for a wide variety of charitable projects has been a fine tradition amongst the members for many decades and still continues locally in spite of difficulties at leadership level.
Ivy Pope, a devoted TOS worker in the North West Federation of the TS sent a splendid report about the purposeful year the TOS has had in her region: 'We have sent 700 teddies to destitute children this year. Maureen Atkinson spoke to the pupils of the Westholme School in Blackburn about the Teddies for Tragedy project and no fewer than 189 bears were donated by the students. The TOS in Lancaster cooperated with a local golf club that gave a holiday to 20 children from Chernobyl fighting cancer by sending a teddy along for each child. The Federation also donated 30 shoe boxes filled with goodies for young and old alike. Bonnets, hats and scarves were knitted by a member from Blackburn. Blankets and other bedding went to a local charity ‘Nightsafe’. For over three years now, Bolton Lodge members, Joan and Larry Murtagh, have been collecting money, books, toys and sweets for the El Shaddai street children’s homes in Goa, India. They go out personally at Christmas and take supplies. The proceeds from the Federation and TOS Christmas social hosted in Blackburn were donated along with stationery for the children’s schooling. The National TOS donated £1000 which was added.' In December 2002, Joan and Larry went to Goa with a cheque for £2000 raised from a variety to sources. In 2003, a further £250 was allocated by the National TOS for the purchase of toys.
Other members and Lodges contributed to a variety of charities even if it was not under the auspices of the TOS.
Bradford Lodge, for example, makes annual donations to the TOS and to local charities such as Bradford Soup Run, Animal Aid, Humane Research Trust, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and the Cats' Protection League. The national TOS allocated a grant to Julie Cunningham of Bangor Lodge this year for Compassion in World Farming.
In response to interest from rank-and-file members, a meeting was held at the TS Summer School in 2003 and plans made to revitalize the TOS. Helen Gething, already over-extended but dedicated, was named coordinator and she and long-time key workers such as Annette and Alan Coombs, Greta Walker and Maureen Atkinson, set about providing information, support and advice to branches and members interested in initiating projects. It was agreed to have a regular AGM at Summer School every year as this allows members all over the country to attend. A regular Newsletter was going to be sent out. Unfortunately the untimely death of Helen in January 2004 has set the TOS back again….
- TS and TOS members sponsor the education of well over a hundred Tibetan and Indian students.
- They donate to the Olcott Educational Society at Adyar.
- Medicines are sent to a hospital and two clinics in Togo, and to the Order of Malta.
- Large quantities of clothing and other saleable items are donated to several aid organisations within France.
- The TOS organises a two-day sale at TS HQ each November to finance the bulk of its activities. Items that sell best: secondhand books on Theosophy and related subjects, spiritually-oriented Oriental art and craft and….cakes!
INDIA: A very special Section
Can you imagine being a member of a TS Section with over a hundred local TOS groups? Our Indian members can - because they have them! Their total TOS individual membership is over 5000. Organised service work, principally in the fields of health, education, animal welfare and the environment, is extensive compared with that undertaken by members in Western countries.
Examples of initiatives in the fields of health and education in 2003 :
- A sum of 300,000 rupees was spent on more than 40,000 beneficiaries by way of free medicine, cataract operations and medical checkups.
- Several free homeopathic dispensaries were run for the poor. Ayurvedic medicines and pranic healing procedures are also made available in one or two places.
- Leaflets were distributed in regional languages about cancer and HIV/AIDS prevention. Thousands of leaflets against tobacco were distributed in Bihar Region.
- Bombay region sponsored the education of more than 400 students, ten of whom were supported by Save The Children Fund (London).
- An elocution contest was organised on the life of Annie Besant by the Hassan group of Karnatak Region.
- Two primary schools were adopted by Besant group in Delhi and deserving poor students given scholarships covering uniforms, books and stationery.
- A member donated Rs.100,000 for the construction of an additional classroom in a school run by the TOS in Calcutta for slum children.
- Of the 50 boys and girls given intensive tutoring in Delhi over the last year on an experimental basis to enable them to enter regular classes at their own age level, 12 secured admission in primary school.
Recent TOS workers’ gatherings have been so successful that it has been decided to hold the next one at Adyar itself in early January 2005 in order to facilitate the participation of overseas members. (For details, see page 2.)
ITALY: Steadily expanding. The TOS has been growing for the last 15 years under the leadership of Luigi Marsi.
- The education of 110 underprivileged children is sponsored, 77 of them by members of a single group (Zogno). -----Fourteen groups meditate regularly for world peace. There are over 140 members in the Naples meditation circle alone. (National Director, Luigi Marsi, notes that a rapid growth in numbers in 2003 in this area was largely due to concern over the war in Iraq.)
- The TOS sent 1670 euros to Adyar in 2003 for the Olcott School and 60 euros to the TOS in Pakistan.
- 620 Euros were donated for the printing of books on Theosophy in Eastern European countries.
- Promotion of the vegetarian ethic is strong among Theosophists in Italy, as is assistance for the elderly and ill.
Most readers will recall the hundreds of underprivileged children and young adults the TOS in Pakistan educates through sponsorships, in addition to running a Montessori school on TS premises in Karachi. This work has been seriously undermined in the last two years because, as was reported in 2002, many of the TOS's donors vanished as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA. The political tension arising from the subsequent bombing of Afghanistan and the resulting unrest in Pakistan frightened them; they apparently thought that their donations wouldn’t reach their destination. This has left the TOS in difficult straits. In spite of the continuing and greatly appreciated help of the TOS in England, Australia, New Zealand and one or two kind individual members, damage has been done. This year, the Management Council had to stop paying the salaries of the two part-time doctors working in two medical clinics for the poor.
The Honorary Secretary, Fareeda Amir, writes : ‘We are thinking now of closing down our Literacy Programme Centres as the TOS cannot afford to run those as well as the Family Relief and the Educational Sponsorship Programmes. Since the Literacy Programme is our newest venture, it seems that it will have to be the next to go. It will break our heart to have to stop it, but we really don’t know what else to do.’
On a happier note, Fareeda reports that in addition to regular music classes, the Montessori School children continue to participate with great enthusiasm in World Animal Day and Independence Day celebrations by presenting songs and skits for the children and parents of the educational sponsorship programmes. Support continues to be given on a regular basis to 43 families and elderly people who have no independent means.
PERU: Liquefied frogs
- In 2003, toys were once again collected and presented at Christmas to children in hospitals and orphanages.
- Books and magazines were donated to a Centre for people with drug-related problems.
- Clothes were delivered to the poor and visits to the sick organised.
- Members cooperated with the authorities in the fight against the sale of maca, a juice made from a nutritious tubercle and frogs liquefied while still alive, a mixture supposed to cure various illnesses and increase sexual energy.
PHILIPPINES: Eight areas of work in 2003:
- a health, nutrition and medical programme benefiting 233 people.
- a youth development programme teaching theosophical principles and ideals to children and teenagers.
- an educational scholarship programme for 144 students from kindergarten to university level.
- a livelihood programme extending interest free loans to three individuals.
- a learning centre for nearly 100 pre-schoolers.
- the Golden Link School with a roll of 51, being added to each year by two classes.
- vegetarian parties and cooking lessons for TS and non-TS members.
a publications department bringing out regular news bulletins for parents and friends of the Golden Link School.
- The TOS’s latest project is a 500 square metre organic vegetable garden in the suburbs of Manila. Its primary aim is to supply produce to TS members but the commercial possibilities for fund-raising purposes will also be explored.
SPAIN : Multifaceted Fernando!
In addition to his extensive work supporting and encouraging the TOS in Latin America, Fernando Pérez Martin directs the TOS in Spain. He reports that four branches continue to perform the healing ritual, that two do the peace meditation and 40 individuals participate in ‘Circles For Peace’. A local TOS representative has been appointed in the northeast to develop the work there. In the south of the country, a member-at-large collects clothes and toys year round for a local orphanage.
High point of the TOS year: In September a weekend seminar was organized for 20 people on the theme of support for the terminally ill. The group has chosen to continue to meet periodically.
SWEDEN: Boarding school and community home supported in Latvia
TOS National Director, Birgitta Stålhammar, continues her remarkable work for a boarding school and teenage community home in Riga, Latvia. She works in cooperation with an organisation called Letthjälpen, which she co-founded with her friend Kickan Håkanson. TOS members help her gather donations and tons of furniture, bedding, cleaning supplies, clothing, toys, and even computers to ship to Rigas Internatskola. Birgitta, Kickan and others organize summer camps, holidays for the children with Swedish sponsors and sports activities. Recently, they have even managed to donate to two centres for street children and a home for infants in the same region. TOS and Letthjälpen negotiate reduced delivery and shipping costs. This year they organized specialized training courses for the staff and a collaborative project with members of the Stockholm College of Social Work. For that purpose they have received financial support from the Swedish International Development Agency. They recently applied for more money to be able to conclude the training courses for the staff and for the teenagers as well.
Seven department directors
The core team of the TOS in America puts a great deal of work into providing timely information to members and friends on matters of contemporary concern, enabling them better to apply Theosophy in their own service activities. Seven volunteer department directors contribute articles to the magazine For the Love of Life, edited by the National President, Jean Gullo, assisted by her husband Joe.
Three points of special interest this year:
- the TOS Internet site run by Miles Standish which now has a discussion forum.
- the decision of the Theosophical Society in America to include the TOS brochure in the information it sends in response to inquiries received by headquarters.
- the healing network directed by Hutsy Contractor, who daily sends names of those who are ailing to those who do the TOS healing meditation. (There are close to 60 groups and individuals currently performing the ritual and there is a special free phone line for receiving patients’ names.)
‘Nothing new to report’, says Correspondent, Alice Shergold, ‘except that I would like to find someone young and energetic to take over the work!’ Alice goes on to say that the TS in Cardiff continues to lend its large lecture room every two weeks to one of its stalwart members, Howard Plummer, who runs a ‘Bowen Technique’ free clinic for Cerebral Palsied children, along with a small team of helpers. People from different parts of the country have been coming to observe, with a view to setting up similar efforts elsewhere. ‘Isn’t it wonderful’, writes Alice, ‘that the Lodge has made a contribution not only to Cardiff and surrounding areas, but also further afield?’ The healing ritual continues once a month, as does the charity bookstall that supports the MacMillan Nurses Fund.