New Jersey (USA), September 15, 2013: Veeraytan International held its annual general body meeting on September 15 in NJ at the home of Sharad and Ketki Shah. The meeting was graced by the presence of Acharya Shri Chandana Ji, Sadhvi Shri Shilapi Ji, Sadhvi Shri Vibha Ji and Sadhvi Shri Sanghmita Ji. 50 Volunteers and supporters from various parts of the country attended the meeting. This was such a special event that Mr. Abhay Firodia, President of Veeraytan flew in especially from India for the meeting.
The meeting started with welcoming remarks by the host Dr. Ketki Shah and blessings from Acharya Shri Chandana Ji. The office bearers presented report of progress of various projects undertaken by Veeraytan International (USA) along with financial report. The members approved the activity report quickly in anticipation of the next item on the agenda. There was an air of great expectations in the room as the main event was about to unfold – Acharya Shri Chandana Ji was going to present a vision – the giant leap forward for Veeraytan that will transform for the better, lives of thousands of young and poor villagers of India and in the process improve rural health and environmental conditions that will also change the face of Jainism in India.
The benevolent and ambitious plan envisioned by Acharya Shri Ji called for building 200 model primary and secondary schools for 500 students at various Jain Teerthdhams and all the schools will be named Teerthankar Mahavir Vidyalya providing value based education without regard to cast or religion of students. After the phenomenal success of such schools built and operated by Veeraytan since 2001 in Lachhwad, Pawapuri and Kutchh, Veeraytan has seen multitude of benefits of school projects undertaken in small impoverished villages. Value based academic curriculum not only provided quality education to thousands of poor children in villages but special attention by Veeraytan to the nutritional, health, sanitation and environmental conditions has provided demonstrable benefits to the whole village where such model schools were built in the last 12 years. Education not only promise path out of cycle of poverty for the students, but also creates a solid and decent citizen for a brighter future for all of India and for humanity.
For Veeraytan, the reason to focus on Jain Teerthdhams is very instructive. We have all wondered why a school age child is hanging around our Temple during the day and not in school. All of the Terrthdhams, without exception are a hotbed of institutionalized poverty. Generally native Jains have left the towns for cities to the extent that many of our Teerths have no local Jain population. A town with a Teerhdham develops a culture of dependency – dependence on pilgrims for their generosity – no major industry or commerce providing job opportunities. Furthermore the pilgrims arrive in high spirits with charity in their heart but they have no attachment to the town or the town’s population. That “benign neglect” attitude is reciprocated by the local population that views pilgrims only as targets of opportunity to make some money and wait for new pilgrims next day. To break this deplorable situation played out at every Teerthdhams perhaps for centuries, a new approach is needed. By creating opportunities for their new generation to be educated, prosper, be healthier and becoming a useful member of their society, Veerayatan sees this as our duty to the town hosting our Teerth and an opportunity to practice Mahavir’s message of compassion and service to the poor and needy.
This gradual transformation/ betterment of a town by an ideal school is not just a theory. The schools in Bihar and Kutchh built by Veeraytan over the last 12 years have proven to be an
exemplary laboratory for this social and educational experiment. Now it is time to expand our horizon and make every one of our Teertdham an ideal village, a seat of decent education, where poverty will be on decline, life expectancies of children will rise and jains will be seen as saviors of their town. Veeraytan’s own Teachers training college can provide the teachers for the new schools. By following Bhagwan Mahavir’s message, we can bring these towns to their former glory and revive Jainism to the places where Jainism was once a dominant presence.
The proposal to build schools at our Teerthdhams by Acharya Shri Chandana Ji received overwhelming support from those who were present at the meeting – one after another, 20 individuals stood up – each pledging to sponsor one school. The power of the idea, spirit of giving and the opportunity to be an agent of change so appealed to these generous souls that no one asked how much they will have to contribute! The meeting was adjourned for lunch break.
When everyone returned from lunch break, Acharya Shri Ji proposed a Global conference of Veerayatan family be held in 2014 to work out details of how a massive project of 200 schools will be carried out. Various committees for detailed planning and financial controls will have to be formed and awareness will have to be raised for the dream to become a reality. Dr. Vinod Shah of MD proposed the name of Dr. Kiran Patel of Tampa, FL (Past President of AAPI) to be the Convener of the conference approximately a year from now in 2014. It is expected that one hundred international delegates and 100 US delegates will gather to brainstorm and propose a plan for implementation at the 2014 Veeraytan Global Conference. Over the next 4 to 6 weeks, Dr. Patel, in consultation with Acharya Shri Ji and Veerayatan International Board will form various committees for the conference.
Last speaker of the day was the one everyone was waiting to hear from. Veerayatan President Abhay Firodia, made a detailed presentation on issues ranging from acquisition of land, budget, construction, government permits, corpus funds for sustaining the schools after the construction, hiring of staff and the teachers and Veeryatan’s vision. His presentation was so thorough that it answered all the questions there were on this ambitious and visionary project. Lastly, Abhay ji proposed with the permission of Acharya Ji that Sadhvi Shri Shilapi Ji be the overall in charge of the entire project. Under her leadership, with the divine blessings and guidance of Acharya Ji the project will be executed. Everyone applauded the idea as a Sadhvi Shri Shilapi Ji graciously accepted the responsibility. – Submitted by: Dilip V Shah, Philadelphia & Mahesh Shah, Mumbai