BAPS Charities (formerly BAPS Care International) is an international non-religious, charitable organization that originated from the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) with a focus on serving society. Their history of service activities can be traced back to Swaminarayan, who opened alms houses, built shelters, worked against addiction, and abolished the practice of sati and female infanticide with the goals of removing suffering and effecting positive social change. This focus on service to society is stated in the organization's vision, that "every individual deserves the right to a peaceful, dignified, and healthy way of life. And by improving the quality of life of the individual, we are bettering families, communities, our world, and our future. BAPS Charities carries out this vision through a range of programs addressing health, education, the environment, and natural disaster recovery. The organization's worldwide activities are funded through donations and are led by a community of over 55,000 volunteers who are mostly members of BAPS. The volunteers work with local communities and other charities and the organization's activities are mainly based out of their mandirs.
The Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) was founded by Shastri Yagnapurushdas in 1907. As an extension of their spiritual beliefs and practice, the organization's volunteers participated in charitable activities focused on fighting addiction and helping the poor during this period. BAPS registered a charity wing in 1950 with a goal of engaging in larger social and charitable works from a secular perspective. The organization increased the scale of its charitable works in India to a national level and assisted in major disaster relief activities, anti-addiction campaigns, and education drives. The organization then expanded its breadth of activities outside of the Indian subcontinent to Europe, Australia, Africa, and North America. In 2000, BAPS Care International was officially registered as an independent, nonprofit, and nonreligious social services arm of BAPS. In this time, the organization expanded its activities internationally and began worldwide walkathon campaigns to benefit local communities, health fairs, environmental activities, and youth development campaigns. In 2007, "BAPS Care International" changed its name to "BAPS Charities". Since 2007, the organization has continued to grow and has partnered with other organizations such as UNICEF and the International Red Cross to serve the global community.
The founding of vision of the charity is rooted in the philosophy of secular social service advanced by Swaminarayan in the early 19th century. Swaminarayan undertook several programs of social reform based on non-violence, temperance, and social justice.:173 He helped stop the practice of animal sacrifices in yagnas and promoted animal welfare. He also helped outlaw two common social crimes against women during his time, female infanticide and widow burning.:165–67 During times of famine and plague, Swaminarayan marshaled the resources of his followers from different parts of Gujarat to meet the relief of those areas hit by the disaster by setting up almshouses.:24 Outside of times of disaster, he commanded devotees to regularly engage in charitable work according to their means. Many of Swaminarayan's reforms also served as public health interventions. He educated the masses on rules of personal cleanliness, human waste disposal, and avoiding water contamination that improved sanitation and contributed to ritual purity.:162 He preached against the harmful effects that addictions such as tobacco, alcohol, opium, other intoxicants, and gambling have on the mind and asked society to give up these activities.:160
Shastri Narayanswarupdas (also known as Pramukh Swami), has further contributed to the founding vision and highlighted the importance of service to society in as an extension of spiritual endeavors. He has traveled around the world emphasizing the importance of family harmony and community service. In his speeches, he has continued to preach about addiction-free living.
BAPS Charities engages in numerous health-focused activities. As of 2011, the organization supported 14 hospitals, clinics, health care centers, and 11 mobile medical vans serving over 600,000 people annually worldwide.
In India, the organization has supported anti-addiction campaigns led by several thousand children who spent their summer vacations traveling through cities and villages persuading people to give up their addictions with personal appeals and presentations on the dangers of addictive behaviors. In the de-addiction campaign, approximately 10,000 children contacted over 800,000 people to raise awareness of the health consequences of addiction and convinced 312,000 individuals to give up drugs and violent behavior.
In New Zealand it organizes an annual Health Expo in Auckland in which visitors undergo screening, learn about common disease prevention, understand ayurveda, and learn about women's and children's health.[self-published source?]
In Africa, their volunteers have screened for disease and arranged for treatment for visitors at various health camps in areas of need. The organization has arranged eye care camps and Hansen's disease camps in Tanzania and medical screening camps in Kenya.
In the United Kingdom it organizes an annual challenge, which is a 10 kilometer walk in London and across other cities for the purposes of mobilizing communities and raising funds for different British charities, one of such being the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The UK chapter has raised and donated over £22,000 to the Anthony Nolan Trust Leukemia Charity and donated over £25,000 each to the charities Macmillan Cancer Support to support patients, raise awareness, and promote scientific research. To help the needy in vulnerable age groups, it also has used funds raised from the Annual Challenge to donate £25,000 each to the charities Barnardo's and Age UK in previous years.
In North America, it organizes health fairs run by volunteer medical professionals where visitors can undergo screening tests, participate in consultations, and receive treatment. These fairs help provide medical care and advice to people who lack access to quality health care, serving about 10,000 North Americans annually. With a goal of educating about major risk factors and causes of disease and a focus on preventing illness, the group has organized a series of health awareness lectures at over 60 centers across North America covering topics such as nutritional deficiencies, heart disease, stroke, and flu prevention, among others. In support of the National Institutes of Health's "We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children's Activity & Nutrition)" initiative to promote healthy habits in children, they organized Health and Safety Days for Children at centers across North America with the aim of giving parents, caretakers, and children knowledge about hygiene, healthy living, diet, and physical activity. Supporting the goals of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign which is working to end childhood obesity, BAPS Charities recently launched a health awareness initiative in the United States focused on educating parents and children on benefits of a vegetarian diet. It organizes annual walkathons in cities across North America to help a wide range of community, health and humanitarian organizations. Recent beneficiaries of the walkathons include the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, local schools, and local hospitals. To support biomedical research, the Toronto chapter raised funds through walk-a-thons and donated $20,000 to the Princess Margaret Hospital Cancer Campaign and $100,000 for Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children's Research and Learning Tower Campaign. It works with local hospitals and blood banks to organize blood donation drives to help those in need of transfusions. Since 2006, 9,073 pints of blood have been collected across 27 centers. It regularly organizes bone marrow drives where potential donors are registered and informed about the donation process; these drives have been effective in recruiting South Asian donors to national bone marrow registries.
In India, it supports organizations which fund 5,000 scholarships each year, operates 10 schools and 8 colleges in addition to supporting other colleges, schools, and hostels. It supports organizations that provide professional development opportunities to teachers to help them be more effective in the classroom and run education awareness campaigns to encourage parents to understand the importance of education for their children. Through volunteer-led classes, these organizations are working towards achieving 100 percent literacy in Indian villages.
The UK chapter partnered with the charity KIDS to help provide support for home learning and other educational services for disabled children and their families. It also partnered with the charity Barnardo's to help with the counseling, education, and training services of vulnerable children and teenagers. In the past their Children's Forum in the UK has been collecting funds for the BBC's Children in Need campaign to help support programs helping disadvantaged young people through their housing, schooling, and other needs.
In North America, it organizes annual seminars for professional development where workshops help youth develop interpersonal skills, public speaking, management skills. The organization recently partnered with the Silicon Valley Education Foundation and local elementary schools to help public education in areas of need improve achievement in math and science. Volunteers have also organized awareness lectures on the safe use of technology in education and the dangers of cyberbullying. It raises funds from walkathons to support libraries and book banks in underserved areas around the world.
The charity manages several programs designed to protect and improve the environment. Volunteers across the world have raised ecological awareness and promoted conservation by employing energy-efficient technologies, such as solar power and biogas and organizing large-scale tree planting campaigns and recycling programs. The charity has planted 1.5 million trees in 2,170 villages. In India, it supports organizations that lead campaigns to improve water supply and conservation and helped secure safe water consumption for communities. These organizations have also conducted almost 500 rainwater-harvesting projects globally. The organization has also recharged 5,475 wells in 338 villages. It supports organizations that arrange 'cattle care' centers to research and improve cattle in India and to support areas experiencing drought or other emergencies; they also provide free veterinary services and help provide food and water for cows, buffaloes, and bulls owned by area farmers.
The organization has undertaken tree planting programs in over 2,000 villages, with over 1.5 million trees planted. The organization has established paper and aluminum recycling programs in the UK, USA, and India and used funds generated from this to support other charitable activities. Globally, it has recycled over 10,000 tons of paper and 7 million aluminum cans.
The UK chapter has teamed up with Thames21, a leading waterway charity, to clean up Brent Feeder Canal of litter.[self-published source?] In observance of Climate Week, it organized a clothes recycling drive.[self-published source?]
The group has responded to disasters in many parts of the world. It has constructed more than 50 schools in areas affected by natural disasters.
In South Asia, the group has supported organizations carrying out relief activities of providing medical care, medical supplies, warm food, drinking water, clothes, and shelter after natural disasters like the 1979 Morbi Dam Failure, 1993 Latur earthquake, 1994 Surat Plague Epidemic, 1995 Malda Floods, and the 1996 Andhra Pradesh Cyclones. After the 1999 Odisha cyclone, it assisted the Government of Odisha and other groups in reconstructing three villages with cyclone-resistant houses and other infrastructure in addition to helping other villages and providing food, medical assistance, counseling, and other supplies. Within hours after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, it supported organizations whose volunteers began providing victims with daily hot meals, clean water, and clothing and assisted with debris removal and search and rescue missions; the organization also adopted more than 10 villages in which they rebuilt the entire community, including all infrastructure and thousands of earthquake-resistant homes. With the help of donations from volunteers in India and abroad, the organization supported the rebuilding of the area's communities by constructing schools, hospitals, and other buildings. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the group supported organizations working in affected areas of India and Sri Lanka to provide 174,000 hot meals, 12,000 food packets, more than 60 tons of grains, and fresh water tanks to the homeless in 51 villages. These organizations also treated more than 1,700 individuals in 4 medical camps and administered medicine and protective equipment. As part of the rehabilitation efforts estimated to total over one million US dollars, it helped relief organizations construct 245 new houses for victims in Tamil Nadu.[self-published source?]
In Africa, its volunteers assisted in the rescue operations after the 1998 Nairobi US Embassy bombings, 1996 Mwanza Ferry sinking and 2013 Uganda Floods. During this time, they provided food, clothes, water, blankets, and financial aid to victims and rescue workers.
In North America, it helped in the relief efforts in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake. After the 2001 World Trade Center Attacks in New York City, it conducted blood donation drives, provided counseling to affected individuals, and provided financial assistance for victims’ families, and organized prayer assemblies across the world. Following the 2001 El Salvador earthquakes, it sent $3.3 million worth of medicines and supplies to assist in the relief efforts. After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States, its volunteer teams supplied hot food, water, emergency supplies, and relocation aid for victims. The organization carried out similar relief activities in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in 2008. Recently, the organization partnered with UNICEF to provide medicine, clean water, and temporary housing for children affected by the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Following the 2011 outbreak of tornadoes in the Southeastern US, they took action to provide hot meals, drinking water and shelter to the over 2,500 affected people at four relief centers and the organization responded similarly after the 2013 tornadoes in Oklahoma. After the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, they provided supplies and transportation to aid in the relief efforts in affected areas.
The group organizes initiatives promoting a stronger sense of community. It recently donated $250,000 to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City to educate future generations about the importance of ahimsa, or non-violence, and the consequences of hatred.[self-published source?] To convey other values such as coexistence, faith, friendship, fearlessness, and service prevalent in Hinduism and Indian culture, it produced the IMAX film, Mystic India, which was shown in theaters around the world and is on permanent display at Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi.
Caring for the elderly, disabled, and other vulnerable populations is also a core value promoted by the organization. In the United Kingdom, BAPS Charities has an outreach program in place where children with chaperones regularly visit assisted living facilities and homes in their communities to spend time with the elderly residents. It has used funds raised from its annual sponsored walks to contribute to charities like Barnardo's to help provide disadvantaged children with counseling, adoption services, vocational training, and disability services and charities like Age UK which helps advocate and necessary social services for the elderly. In Tanzania, BAPS Charities regularly provides self-care items, comfort goods, and food to area orphanages.[self-published source?] In South Africa, BAPS Charities organizes an annual Winter Warmer Drive where volunteers donate blankets, clothes, toys, and food to underprivileged communities during winter months.[self-published source?]
In India, it has organized numerous activities to help promote gender equality and improve the lives of women. Programs include campaigns against the practice of marriage dowries, domestic violence and in support of marriage counseling, self-employment training, vocational guidance, and child health seminars.
It has many programs in place working to help reduce poverty. In marginalized communities isolated from many social and governmental services, it has set up nearly 2,000 community centers which serve as hubs for running education programs, distributing food and clothes, providing healthcare, and facilitating community meetings. In addition to centers, the organization operates mobile health vans, scholarships, student hostels, and literacy campaigns to serve these communities.
Awards and recognition
Jn 1995, the UK Chapter of BAPS Charities was awarded the Brent Green Leaf Award for the Environment and the Care of Croydon Award for its recycling efforts. In 2004, the National Federation of Indian-American Associations (NFIA) awarded its Humanitarian and Social Services Award to BAPS Care International for the lasting impact the organization has made on those in need. This marked the first time that NFIA has awarded this honor to an organization instead of an individual. In 2005, BAPS Care International received Special Congressional Recognition for its tsunami relief efforts from the United States House of Representatives. Mystic India received the Audience's Choice Award at the 10th International Large Format Film Festival at La Géode in Paris, France. The festival lasted from January 12 to January 31, 2005. Mystic India was one of nine large format films selected to be screened at the festival and was accredited with the honor of "Most Popular Film" at the San Jose IMAX Film Festival. The Children's Forum of the UK Chapter of BAPS Charities was awarded the prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Service in 2009 for "nurturing Hindu values, education and talents in children and young people in London" through their voluntary service. The Queen's Award is a prestigious national honor in the UK equivalent to the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). For their various livestock projects, BAPS Charities has been awarded 34 National Livestock Awards.
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