The inaugural AYUDH East Coast Youth Exchange was held from August 14-15 at the M.A. Center in Washington, DC. Led by Br. Dayamrita Chaitanya, the retreat brought together over 30 youth from around the United States for a weekend of activities revolving around the theme of “Embracing Life.”
The exchange commenced with a live webcast with Swami Amritaswarupananda in Amritapuri, who gave the attendees inspirational advice on how to embrace life as Amma’s children. Enthused, the AYUDH members cooked and served a 9-course meal for Mother’s Kitchen and participated in a park restoration project, as a way of loving and serving the world and Nature.
Ajay Ganapathy, who came to the retreat from Atlanta, commented, “This was the first time I prepared and served food at a shelter. At first, I was apprehensive about actually meeting and greeting the people at the shelter, but I saw that the people were happy to see me. I found that I was happy to see them as well, and that they were not out to judge me or hurt me as I had perceived. In a psychological way, they had served me as much as I had served them. As a person who is generally slow to trust others, this gesture of compassion got rid of my fear of meeting new people, and removed the cynical bent I held toward interpersonal relationships.”
That evening, after a lively bhajan set featuring AYUDH singers and musicians, a handful of attendees put on an amazing talent show with a variety of acts, including photography, Bharatanatyam, breakdancing, poetry, a capella, Indian classical singing, Jazz, and a vivacious rendition of “Lean on Me.”
One of the weekend’s highlights was Br. Ramanand’s bhajan class for “Meri Jhoppidi De,” which intertwined the talents of several AYUDH members. From guitar solos to girls vs. boys, classical Indian notes to a clarinet interlude, an alap and a spontaneous rap solo, each and every participant rejoiced in the song and the escalating tempo. Satya Valis quickly threw together a rhyming rap, playing on the meaning of the song. “No desire for the name/ no desire for fame/ I show no shame/ my love for Him’s like one and the same/ so I chant His name/ Oh Rama Oh Rama!”
To culminate a weekend of “Embracing Life,” retreatants tied a string around each of their wrists to symbolize one specific promise made to each other and to themselves to become more active AYUDH members and better individuals, so that, guided by Amma’s Love, they may be able to create a bright and sustainable future for their brothers and sisters around the world.