The Sarva Dharma Ashram in Welbedacht, Chatsworth was founded 10 years ago by Swami Ramkripananda Saraswathi. Sarva Dharma in essence means embracing all in unity of faiths.
Ramkripananda says “This facility is open to anyone so long as they follow the regulations of the ashram.” The ashram was initially started as a bajan hall to empower and enlighten people but to date has initiated many projects for the benefit of the community. One such project is the soup kitchen that was initiated in 2000. “The poverty in the area touched us and we realised the need for a soup kitchen,” says Swamiji. Members of the ashram started a weekend soup kitchen in Welbedacht and surrounding areas after they noticed that children used to go to school without lunch. This scheme caters for 12 schools in the area. Swamiji says “One hundred and twenty loaves of bread are prepared daily and distributed to schools. Apart from this the ashram has also extended its weekend soup kitchen in that we prepare food on a daily basis and feed on average 3000 people a day.”
Youth are encouraged to volunteer their time and help with the feeding. “It is a good opportunity to instill a sense of service to the poor and less fortunate in our youth and it would be heartening to see them getting involved and supporting such initiatives,” adds Swamiji. Gert Olivier, a resident from Welbedacht East and a builder at the ashram said, “This ashram is a blessing for the people in the area, without it many of them will stay hungry.” Poverty and hunger often drives people to committing crime in order to sustain themselves and their families. “If it wasn’t for the ashram people in Welbedacht will go into Chatsworth and steal so that they can live. It plays a very important role in keeping the peace in the area,” he added.
Hailed as the Jesus of Welbedacht by the locals, Swamiji has also started a schools programme in the area. “We invite schools to the ashram for a day and engage the students in inspirational and motivational talks. We highlight the importance of leading a righteous life and abstaining from the social evils such as drug abuse and gangsterism. In this way we help to empower young minds and shape their lives in a positive direction.” Knowledge is power and with this power these children can make a positive difference in their future as well as the future of their community. Therefore, the ashram places a great emphasis on the education of these children. Swamiji says, “Every year we spend between fifty to sixty thousand rands on school books, uniforms and in some dire cases we pay the school fees of those children that cannot afford it.” Donations for the meals and education materials come from individuals and business. Retired teachers also come into the ashram and run literacy programmes for the children where they teach them how to read and write.
Apart from their involvement with education, the ashram also has a free medical center which is opened five days a week, a wellness clinic which creates awareness on healthy living, arts and crafts for the children and computer lessons. The Sarva Dharma Ashram is expanding its social involvement in Welbedacht and is currently building a three story Trade and Empowerment Center which will be ready in July this year. “The first floor will be dedicated to engineering, carpentry, welding, panel beating and general mechanics. The second floor will focus on courses in sewing, cooking, baking and skin and hair care. On the third floor we will have a fully fledged computer center with courses in computer literacy,” says Swamiji. All courses at the center will be facilitated by professionals and all students who attend and complete the courses will be awarded with certificates recognized by industry. This initiative will undoubtedly equip the youth in the area with skills that will help them improve their lives. "More children are dropping out of school as a result of social ills and we have the opportunity to help them channel their energies into something constructive and prevent them from becoming criminals, drug lords, alcoholics and a menace to society. By giving them skills, we are empowering them to become responsible individuals," says Swamiji.
A project of this magnitude requires a large amount of funding to sustain it. “We are looking at business and individuals to come forward and assist us with our projects. We have received funding from members of the community who have pledged their support to this project and we hope local companies will also help us develop the community by investing in our children,” he added.
Those who are interested in the activities of the Sarva Dharma Ashram are welcome to visit the ashram in Welbedacht or contact them on 031 404 6638 or visit the website www.sarvadharma-sa.org