Saturday, December 6, 2014

Shri Ram-a-Thon: A charity walk to become a trend-setter.

  Shri Ram-a-Thon: A charity walk to become a trend-setter.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Shri Ram Mandir Charitable Trust (SRMCT), led by its Managing Trustee Pravin Kumar, launched an innovative idea about charity walk with a difference. The difference was that it was not merely to raise funds, but to amplify well-being of community, importance of keeping fit, networking, service to community and enhancing diversity and multiculturalism. The most important message was to religious organisations to extend their radar of focus from spiritual to the needs and aspirations of and service to the community. Thus the concept of Shri Ram-a –thon took root that will now be emulated by people in the Hindu Diaspora

Shri Ram Mandir - the Community Centre and Temple project under construction at 11 Brick Street, Henderson, Auckland, New Zealand

At the crack of morning on the last day of spring 2014, some committed and enthusiastic community workers sprung out to create history. They congregated before 7 am on 30 November, 2014 at partly-completed Shri Ram Mandir at 11 Brick Street, Henderson to catch Ritchies bus to Papatoetoe for a marathon charity walk of 35 km.

When they arrived at Ram Krishna Mandir at 25 Onslow Avenue at Papatoetoe after some an half-hour’s drive, a large number of walkers and volunteers, with the Mandir Trustee and executive Vijendra Prasad, were already at work to welcome the delegation and serve them healthy and delicious breakfast. After initial prayers, blessings and formalities and donation presentations, final preparations were in place for the start of the Marathon Charity Walk. National list MP, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi and Mrs Bakshi had arrived early at the Mandir to address the walkers, cheer them along, wish them well and even join them at the starter’s line.

On your marks, get set..START: The commencement of Shri Ram-a-thon at  at Ram Krishna Mandir at Onslow Avenue, Papatoetoe. In the start-up line in front, second from left is Vijay Varma of Humm FM, Pravin Kumar, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Vijendra Prasad of Ram Krishna Mandir and Kashmin Kaur, among others.

First Phase12.5km-3 hours
The Marathon Charity walk commenced from Onslow Avenue just before 9am through Clendon Avenue, Old Papatoetoe, Portage Road, Buckland Road, Robertson Rd, Walmsley Rd, Mahunga Drive, Miro Road, through old Mangere Bridge to Onehunga Mall and through to Princess Rd break. The first “pilgrimage” and stop was the Shiridi Sai Temple. After a long walk, a delegation with drums and cymbals has gathered at the temple, to welcome them, including officials and Trustees of the Mandir and community leader Harnam Singh Golian. This was a long 12.5 km and just over 3hour’s walk. After prayers and visit to the Mandir, the devotees were treated to delicious refreshments and welcome address by a Trustee of the Mandir, Bhaskara Reddy and NZ First’s List M, Mahesh Bindra, who thanked the walkers for their courage, pledged his support and urged them along.

The charity walkers taking a breather outside Shri Shirdi Saibaba Mandir at Onehunga, the first stop

Second Phase: 6.9km, 1.5 hours
The next phase of the walk, though shorter, was a challenge as the walkers took the uphill track on to Hill St, through to Manukau Rd from Royal Oak and further 3km on Green Lane West Road brought them to the second “pilgrimage”, Bhartiya Mandir at 252 Balmoral Road. This was after some 7km and one an half hours of walk. On hand to welcome the devotees with Dholak and music was the reception committee headed by the Mandir executive and a generous donor, Roshan Nauharia. After visit to the Mandir, prayers and Aarti, devotees were treated to another round of tasty and healthy refreshments. On hand to cheer the walkers and encourage them was former Radio Tarana talk-back and current affairs announcer, and now National List MP Paramjeet Parmar. She said she was encouraged by the resolve of walkers, and wished them well.

The second stop at Bhartiya Mandir at Balmoral. Shri Ram Mandir Charitable Trust's  Trustee, Gyanendra Prasad addressing the audience, while Roshan Nauhuria and Paramjeet Parmar  look, on before addressing the audience.

Third Phase: 6.9km, 1.5 hours
The third phase commenced with the walk through the construction site on Balmoral Road, through Sandringham, Stoddart, Mairo, New Windsor, Tiverton, Wolverton, Clark and Ward Street to the third pit stop, Food For Less Supermarket, where food and refreshments were in abundance for the walkers. This was after some 6.8km and one and half hours walk. The Director of Food For Less, and a generous donor and community conscious Romit Prakash and Labour MP for Te Atatu, Phil Twyford, with other community workers, formed the reception committee to welcome the team. After another healthy refreshment break, Te Atau Labour MP Phil Twyford and Whau Local Board member Ami Chand addressed the walkers, encouraged and urged them create an-all-time record for the longest walkathon in Auckland. To walk his talk, Phil Twyford joined in the last phase of the walk.

The third stop at Food For Less Supermarket. Dignitaries are being welcomed. From left, Managing Trustee, Pravin Kumar, Trustee Master Shiu Charan, Labour MP for Te Atatu, Phil Twyford, Whau Local Board Member, Ami Chand and Food For Less Director,  Romit Prakash (being garlanded). On the right, in blue with yellow garland is support team leader, Umas Chand, waiting attentively with a garland for next garlanding.

Fourth Phase: 9.3 km, 2 Hrs- Final destination-Shri Ram Mandir
The final and fourth phase began with blessing from the Gods with showers through New Lynn and Great North Road for some 9 km walk. On the way in Glendene, there was a pit stop and refreshments at Shiu Prasad and Sons shop, organised by Chandrika Prasad and family. After a short break the walk commenced on great North Road, through Swanson Rd and stopped at the entrance of the destination: Brick Street.

The refreshment break at Kelston at Shiu Prasad and Sons, courtesy of Chandrika Prasad, Tag 98 in centre.

The reception team, with drums, cymbals and the dance squad joined in and the whole delegation of walkers led the procession to Shri Ram Mandir and Community Centre. A reception was held for the walkers and certificates were presented to them and generous donor. Present to cheer the devotees were Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Paramjeet Parmar, National Party List MP Alfred Ngaro and Auckland City Councillor Linda Cooper, joined by Phil Twyford. The evening ended with networking and a very sumptuous and delicious vegetarian meal cooked under the guidance of Shri Ram Mandir Chef, Hardip Singh.

Walk through Henderson town, West Auckland.

The finish of the walk was a painfully pleasant moment, as it was a long walk, with aching muscles, but a history has been created, and an example had been set. In addition, as the intent of this event was, it was to pass a message to people the importance of keeping fit and looking after health. Thanks to the medical team led by Dr Ajay Kumar, who kept a close watch on the walkers throughout the walk, and travelled with the team to provide any assistance and guidance, supported by very able nurses. Other support vehicles and the logistic team performed admirably. There was a support bus all the way to provide relief for tired walkers and two other support vehicles with constant watch, supply of water, food, plaster for blisters and glucose tablets, among others.

The final walk at Brick Street, Henderson, leading to Shri Ram Mandir. In the lead is Apna TV anchorman Richard who had accompanied the walkers whole day starting 35 km away in Papatoetoe.

Another encouraging aspect was the tangible and visible support from media. Humm 106.2 FM’s Vijay Varma, joined in the walk from the start to end, and also provided publicity on Humm. In addition, the help and support of Apna TV was very commendable, with their cameraman and anchor-man Richard filmed and recorded the whole even for the whole day, and their staff joining in the charity walk. It is encouraging to see Indian Radio stations working together for the good of community.

Richard (centre) Apna TV anchorman, interviewing the Managing Trustee, Pravin Kumar (right). Looking on is Vijendra Prasad from Ram Krishna Mandir, on extreme left.

The chief organiser and Managing Trustee of Shri Ram Mandir, Pravin Kumar was very happy with the outcome of the charity walk. “The teamwork, awareness, community-spirit and partnership built on the way is priceless. Visit to three other temple sites at Ram Krishna Mandir in Papatoetoe, Shirdi Sai Temple at Onehunga and Bhartiya Mandir at Balmoral would forge a very beneficial like-mindedness with our temple and community centre. We wish to pass the message to the community that temples, apart from a place of worship need to branch out into service and well-being of the wider community,“ Kumar said.

The first question people tend to ask after a charity walk is: how much was collected? Pravin Kumar said as had been advised from the outset, the priority of this charity walk was NOT fundraising. While that was one of the aims, it was one on low priority. The multi-objectives of this walk were:

·        To engage with the wider community, including children, youths, elders, women and people from all walks to life – enhancing diversity, teamwork, networking and multiculturalism.

·        To create awareness of well-being, healthy living, walking, exercising and keeping fit.

·        To help raise funds for the Community Centre and temple project for West Auckland.

Presentation at the end of Charity Walk. From left, Pravin Kumar, Managing Trustee of Shri Ram Mandir Charitable Trust, Kanwaljit Singh Baksh, List National MP, Phil Twyford, Labour Member of Parliament for Te Atatu, , Alfred Ngaro, National List MP,  Paramjeet Parmar, National List MPand Auckland Councillor, Linda Cooper.

“We are pleased that we are able to pass the wider message to the community for its well-being through the temple project,” Kumar said. Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi reiterated that this was a historical event. “Such a long walk had never been undertaken before, and the organisers have proved that whatever the size of challenge is, the human determination to overcome that has always won. It has now led the way, the path, the determination and route for others to follow and say that nothing is impossible,” Bakshi said in the closing remarks.

The Managing Trustee, Pravin Kumar added that the multi-pronged objectives behind the project had been met. “We are very pleased with the initial response and enthusiasm temples spread in different corners of Auckland. They have been brought together by the resolve and determination of the team of walkers to meet the challenge. And we hope to make this into an annual pilgrimage,” Kumar said.

So will this concept grow and take root among community workers to work for the wellbeing of all. May the blessing of Ram reach all those who participated or helped in any manner.

Blowing own trumpet, your truly, author of this article and blogger at FIJI PUNDIT, the walker tag number 007, Thakur Ranjit Singh, receiving Certificate of Appreciation from Auckland Councillor, Lind Cooper. Note the 'Cowboy" hat and Ram Mandir flag on the hat. Looking on are Bakshi and Twyford.

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is volunteer media and communications advisor of the Community Centre and Temple project. He runs his blog sites, FIJI PUNDIT and KIWI PUNDIT. ]

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