Written by Atharva Mehendale, Community Project Manager, URI - North India & Afghanistan
Religion, spirituality and community building are terms that are seldom spoken of in the same sentence. Generally speaking, spirituality is a concept that has been used in a variety of contexts. At times, spirituality refers to religion, faith, and beliefs around meaning, purpose, and realms beyond the physical. Crisp (2010) describes spirituality in a rather broader sense as, “our needs and desires for meaning, identity, connectedness, transformation and transcendence, which may or may not be associated with a specific religious framework”. Spirituality is not tied to any one particular worldview, but encompasses a way of being on an individual level, as well as a way of interacting with the world.
There are several definitions that explain community development and some include concepts of community economic development, community organizing, and social change. In this context, community development is “the planned evolution of all aspects of community well-being (economic, social, environmental and cultural). It is a process whereby community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems” (Frank & Smith, 1999, p. 6). The role of community members is key to the community development process and the role of the community development professional practitioners is to empower and support community members to bring about sustainable change. Can spirituality and community development be then brought together? Shantivan CC, a Cooperation Circle of URI – North India and Afghanistan might just have the answer to that!
The organisation, located in Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand has been working since its inception for the betterment of the society, and the humankind at large. It primarily works in the following focus areas:
Brahmanand ji, who is the founder of the organisation strongly believes in the power of spirituality in peace building & community development processes. Shantivan CC is a group of spiritualists joining hands to help those in need. The pandemic that we’re all living in has posed numerous problems for a large number of people. The organisation has been trying to put forward its best efforts to provide ration, medicines and other essentials to all those in need. Over the years, Shantivan CC has been instrumental in organising health camps and awareness workshops in association with medical professionals to help maximise the reach of medical services in the country. Brahmanand ji, who is a professor himself actively helps people with queries about education. He, along with others at the organization has organised several seminars and lectures in this light. These efforts are with the aim of providing quality education to the underprivileged and to those living in the rural hinterlands of the country – where there’s a dearth of good schools, roads and medical services.
The role that spirituality plays in the organisation’s work is of particular importance. Spiritual qualities, such as compassion and justice, are often directly connected with the work of community building. Spiritual assets, such as compassion and forgiveness, are widely valued qualities found in every culture and community. Although acknowledged in virtually every religious tradition, they are not the province of a particular religion, denomination, or sect. They can be seen in people who do – and do not – believe in a higher power or God. These spiritual assets can lead to more effective community building and community life in general. What members of Shantivan CC firmly believe in is that - when community members are aware of the needs, beliefs, and emotions of others; when they take pleasure in their interactions with them; when they are disposed to seek out and value connections with others; when they feel common bonds with them and are motivated to maintain them – those personal qualities and spiritual assets – are likely to facilitate community building. The organisation actively uses these ‘assets’ to translate a goal into action.
Shantivan CC’s association with URI has helped the former in interacting with a wider network of individuals and organisations operating in a similar sphere. Shantivan CC aligns with URI’s principle of ‘sarva dharma samabhaav’ (every religion / everyone is equal). The organization has been striving to transcend all boundaries as it works towards building a more inclusive society.