Updated: Mar 26
I gave myself a birthday present this year that was long overdue - a trip to India - my birthplace and home to heritage, colorful culture, craftsmanship, cuisine, diversity of people and languages.
When you walk off the plane and step into the Indian airport, the scent is quite distinct - a blend of floral notes of jasmine, rose, and Asian spices. Well...that was my imagination, in reality, however, it's a blend of dampness after a rainfall, with notes of smoke rising from a fire, and sweat from an intense workout.
I stuck with my imagination and I felt right at home upon arrival. I was very grateful to have landed at a place like no other, filled with rich history and spiritual alchemy.
The highlight of my trip was a visit to a very special place - a home dedicated to children at severe risk (from poverty, abandonment, abuse) in India known as Ramana’s Garden: Children’s Home, School and Organic Cafe. We arrived at Ramana’s Garden taking a taxi boat from the other side of the sacred Ganges river where we were residing in Rishikesh - known as the gateway to the Himalayas. After walking through the narrow and curved streets filled with shops one after the other with the most colorful craftsmanship of goods, we shortly came to the entrance of Ramana’s Garden. It was quite magical to arrive here, one can feel the love, support and warm welcoming of all who appear here.
The name Ramana means enchanting in Sanskrit; named after Ramana Maharishi, a 20th century South Indian sage whose purpose was to point one towards their Self-awareness, clarity, and bliss through his deep knowledge and spiritual teachings. Ramana’s Garden is a nurturing home to anywhere between thirty to sixty children; equipped with a school, a stable, an organic garden, and a cafe that offers healthy, vegetarian cuisine to the children residing and visitors from around the world.
We walked along the busy pathway of Rishikesh with the Ganges river on one side and stalls of shops on the other, to the entrance of Ramana’s Garden. My first impression upon stepping into Ramana’s Garden was how enchanting the place truly is. The walkway into the main area of the home is built with all stones and a garden, a serene energy that encapsulates the property. There are few building structures that include a school, living areas, kitchen, outdoor patio, deck, multipurpose room, stable for cows and goats, and a terrace overlooking the Ganges river. The seasonal garden grows various organic fruits, herbs and vegetables which are used in the kitchen of Ramana’s Organic Cafe and open to visitors to help self-sustain the children at Ramana’s, which is all maintained by the students, and volunteer staff lead by their beloved and fearless founder and director of Ramana’s - Dr. Prabhavati Dwabha. She is lovingly known as “ma,” by the children and Prabhaji by the locals. She founded Ramana’s Garden over twenty years ago, with a clear mission to help the at risk children in India and neighboring Nepal with these goals:
Empower and encourage every child growing up at Ramana’s to be able to take risks and grow into an integrated unique human being.
Instill in every child at Ramana’s Garden a sense of well-being and compassion for their fellow travelers on this journey through life.
Ensure every child studying or living in Ramana’s Garden will enter the job market with sufficient skills to secure a valuable position for themselves.
Satya (left), Prabhavati (center), Kaira (left), and me (top)
One of the students I met was raised at the Ramana’s Garden from youth, and recently received a college scholarship to a local design school. She displayed a few beautiful unique garments and scarves that she designed and hand sewed from recycled fabric. There was quite a bit of interest in purchasing her art. I offered to donate a few of my saris for her to design and sell, she was thrilled. There are more stories of the children being empowered and encouraging themselves.
Our group, which included my daughter Kaira, a high-school senior (this trip to India was also her graduation present, hoping she knows how lucky she was to experience it, let’s see if she buys it!), was met with the warmest smiles and hugs by the children and volunteer staff. The children put on a traditional dance performance and songs accompanied by a senior student playing the harmonium. The children sang a few spiritual Hindi songs in a call and response style, and ended with a traditional popular song “This Little Light of Mine.” We all chimed in, singing and swaying. There was golden shine and smiles across all the faces. After the lively performance, we were treated to a delicious organic vegetarian lunch; choice of enchiladas or raviolis, and garden salad or soup. Dessert was a choice of fresh pear crumble or raw chocolate cake and herbal lemon ginger tea or chai. Entire meal was made from scratch from Ramana’s cafe kitchen and served by the children with so much love, we were so very grateful. Our group was delighted and so appreciative to try it all! It was all so yummy.
After the meal, my group excitedly went ahead with a tour led by my generous friend and gracious supporter of Ramana’s Garden, Satya, to explore the garden, school, and see the two cows in their stable, who are fed nutritiously and looked super healthy - no wonder the chai tasted so fresh and delicious! I took a moment to take in the whole experience and observe the surroundings. I was soon approached by an enthusiastic and kind young man named Gagan, co-director at Ramana’s who led me on a private tour of the entire place. Gagan was born and raised at Ramana’s Garden, alongside his older brother Oinak - who I had the pleasure to meet first in the United States. He had just finished up a law school program and returned to India to build a school in his native Nepal. Oinak has been dedicated to helping Ramana’s Garden operate smoothly for many years and now is taking his knowledge to help serve many more children who are at great risk daily.
At Ramana’s Garden, Gagan filled me in where there is still need to continue to sustain the entire facility and serve all the children with complete care, including room and board, education, and medical needs as well as any aid for unforeseen circumstances in the future.
Ramana’s Garden currently has thirty-seven children at the home and in order to reach more children to its full capacity of sixty; the place needs support and help to sustain the incredible work it is doing in raising children at serious risk. Visiting Ramana’s Garden and seeing how the children are learning, thriving and building a better community gives me hope that there are ways in which we can all help. Ramana’s Garden is raising one big extended family, each person is present for one another. It is a beauty to see it firsthand and experience wholeheartedly.
The smile on my face that day from my visit to Ramana's Garden never left and my heart expanded with more willingness to serve.
If you would like to learn more about Ramana’s Garden, an IRS approved 501(c)(3), please view here https://www.ramanas.org/. There are many ways to offer help and service - generous donations, sponsoring a child, funding, and volunteering.
It is expressed that Seva yoga is a combination of Karma yoga, the yoga of action, and Bhakti yoga, the yoga of love and devotion. In practicing Seva yoga, one serves others with his/her actions and does it with an attitude of selfless love. When you perform Seva yoga, you let go of your own desires and, instead, give your time, or resources to a person or place for greater good.
If you'd like to explore more on service or Seva opportunities - a Sanskrit word which describes the art of selfless help or giving, please schedule a free meeting here.