Dalai Lama offers Unsung Heroes of Compassion Awards

Guri Mehta is the co-founder of ServiceSpace.org, and was present at the award ceremony.  This blog was originally shared by her on the ServiceSpace blog.

In late February, Dalai Lama awarded Nipun with an “Unsung Hero of Compassion“, award and he graciously received it on behalf of ServiceSpace.

During last year’s annual retreat, Rajesh attended our community night and was quite moved. With Phil Borges, he was invited to photograph the Unsung Heroes of Compassion and he urged us to nominate some everyday heroes from the ecosystem. Nipun sent along a long list that included many ServiceSpace volunteers and friends. They came back and insisted on nominating the nominator himself!

Given our shared value set, the ServiceSpace ecosystem has close ties to Dalai Lama’s community. Yet, it was incredibly special to be blessed by the Dalai Lama. It was a beautiful weekend at the Ritz Carlton in SF (we ended up staying on the same floor as the Dalai Lama!), with 51 honorees from around the world and their guests. It was such an honor to meet many of the “Unsung Heroes”.

One of the first people we met was Jill Seaman.  As a doctor born in Russia, she first went to sub-Saharan Africa in 1989 while helping ‘Medicins San Frontieres’ respond to the epidemic of kala azar. “Every evening I would look down the dirt airstrip and see a line of ‘stick’ people — people so malnourished they had trouble standing up — using their last strength to get to our treatment center. We worked with few supplies, without food for patients, and all attempts to get potable water in the midst of this war zone failed. Still, 89 percent of our patients survived in those early years, and I became a part of the whole there.”

In the late 1990s, the region — still in danger from kala azar – was ravaged by two new threats: war and tuberculosis (TB). “It was a devastating time,” says Jill, “and no NGO in the region was willing to undertake treatment of TB because it requires six solid months of drug therapy—something thought to be virtually impossible to provide in a situation like this. Sjoukje de Wit, a nurse, and I decided to try. We were two crazy women trying to show that even under these most desperate circumstances, people wanted treatment enough to complete a six-month course of therapy.”

From her presence you could tell that this woman has walked the talk. “There are times when I have been completely scared, when our village was attacked and burned to the ground…I was completely panicked. There’ve been times when the planes go overhead and I know there is a lot of bombing; sometimes I just have to close my eyes and say, ‘What are you going to do now? Don’t be scared; take a deep breath and do what you want to do.’ But that isn’t the worst thing that’s happened. The worst thing that happens overseas is rationing care—how much time are you going to spend with someone who is sick, what medicine are you going to use, how much effort are you going to use to get special medicine for someone who is especially sick? These types of things are incredibly horrible because you see people coming in and they are just skeletons and you think, ‘I’m going to eat dinner tonight? That’s just not right.’” Today, she spends time serving in remote regions of Alaska and Sudan. “I’m putting my skills to good use. I can’t imagine a bigger honor,” she humbly adds.

Right after, we ran into was Jake Harriman, a former Marine and Platoon commander, who left the army to wage a more constructive “war on poverty”:

“We were on Highway 7 awaiting resupply. I heard a vehicle rapidly approaching. We fired warning shots. The driver, a gaunt Iraqi, jumped out and ran towards us, waving his arms. As I raised my weapon a military vehicle stopped behind the man’s car. Six men jumped out and began spraying his car with bullets. The Iraqi man stopped, screamed, and began sprinting back toward his car. It was then I realized what was happening.”

“Southern Iraq was a desperately poor region. Iraqi Special Forces had been coercing poor farmers to fight Americans, promising they would feed and educate their children if the farmer picked up a weapon. I had no doubt this man was one of those poor farmers. Yet instead of fighting, he was trying to escape across our lines to safety. By the time we got to the car it was too late. His wife lay slumped over dead on the passenger seat, his baby girl had been shot, and he was cradling his six- year-old daughter who was choking on her own blood. I put myself in his shoes. I thought, ‘I live in a world of choices. But what choices did this man have?’ Something awoke inside of me. That day, I vowed to devote my life to giving people choices and hope where none previously existed.”

We kept meeting such amazing people. :) Maggie Doyne (and her mom) was delighted to meet us, in gratitude for their previous features on DailyGood and KarmaTube. Her video on KT was titled, “23 Year Old Mother of 30″. And it read: It is not unusual for high school graduates to take a year off to “find” themselves before starting college. And that’s exactly what Maggie Doyne intended to do. At age 18, she strapped on a backpack and headed for the South Pacific Islands to start her trip around the world. Several months later, she traveled to a remote village in Nepal, where she felt a deep sense of belonging – a sense of home. Distressed by seeing so many working children, many of them orphans, she decided to sponsor the education of one child. Soon, one became five, then ten, and Maggie very quickly realized that she wanted to build a home where these children could live. In five short years, this 23 year old has built a home for 30 children, as well as a primary school for 230 children.

The list went on with James Alexander, who turned his life towards compassion after 28 years in jail. Or 16-year-old local named Kiran, who decided to create a technology nonprofit called “Waste No Food” to take unused restaurant food and donate it to shelter. Or Nir Oren who lost his Israeli mother after suicide bombing, and started hosting circles with Israelis and Palestinians families — now having hosted over 600 of them! Many of our friends, from Grace (who received this award earlier in 2001) to Darlene to Tarsadia family to Anne to Ziggy to Marsha ended up being in the audience. At the  luncheon, our table of 12 was right in the front, with big philanthropists, including a fellow who ran the foundation for Sergey Brin and told us some great stories of small acts of kindness. :) It was beautiful to see, that no matter who they were, every single person in that room was equally excited to be in the presence of the Dalai Lama.

Peter Coyote was the thoughtful emcee, Grandma Agnus opened, Dalai Lama followed. He shared a short talk about his hope in the next generation, following the award ceremony. As each of the honorees are being called up, the audience of 700 is asked to hold the applause until the end. The ever-so-graceful 79-year-old Dalai Lama stands up and dynamically blesses each one in their own special way. (HHDL greeted Nipun with a big smile, as Nipun touched his feet in the Indian custom and they embraced.) As I watched each person’s name being called along with a description of what they were doing in the world, I couldn’t help but tear up. Generally, we are presented with big problems, and here were open-hearted pioneers that each represented many solutions those problems. It was kind of overwhelming, in a good way. Inspired by all the real heroes of our world, I thought about how every single one of us has the capacity to be a solution in the world, by shining our light as brightly as we can. The energy in the room just elevated, until the end when there was a long — very long — standing ovation.

Father Boyle ended the day with a really touching talk that connected to the heart of what these heroes stand for: “The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship. The good news, as Mother Teresa reminded us, is that we belong to each other.” – See more at: http://www.servicespace.org/blog/view.php?id=14471#sthash.KRf89Ig7.dpuf