Seva and the Flint Water Crisis

Just over two years ago, I was in Flint, Michigan, for the wedding of my fraternity brother Kyle, the grandson of the city's first African-American mayor and a rising community leader in his own right.

As we made our way around downtown before the wedding, Kyle beamed about the changes that were slowly taking place in the city. As a staffer for the local chamber of commerce, he was also selling us on a city that has seen the loss of blue-collar manufacturing jobs and the crippling effects of white flight.

What has transpired in Flint over the past few months has come as a shock for even those who have remained steadfastly optimistic that the city can come back. The water crisis, which can either be blamed on the state's incompetence or indifference, has forced the city's residents to deal with an unprecedented emergency.

But as Kyle told me just a few days ago, things on the ground are changing. The city is now begging folks not to send water bottles, as those donations are creating a surplus that assistance groups are unable to keep pace with. Instead, Kyle suggested two more direct ways to help Flint residents.

The first is money. There are numerous giving opportunities targeted towards both the short and long-term needs of Flint residents. Moreover, the majority of funds are being directed towards Flint children, especially as resources are being channeled to lead detection.

Kyle also noted that communities and groups could show their support for the city by hosting events - including conferences - there. As someone who has stayed in the city, I can vouch for its hospitality.

However, volunteering opportunities and human capital are much needed. Faith-based groups are working daily to provide a number of services, whether in the form of food or even counseling. But as Kyle noted, the majority of the groups are affiliated with churches, and an interfaith presence can help to underscore the ways that the community can heal together.

Hindu communities in Flint and in towns south of the city (closer to Detroit) have already mobilized resources, including raising money and collecting goods for donation. However, the long-term needs of Flint residents - including mental health services, free medical clinics, and even mentorship for young people - can be addressed with the help of the Hindu community in conjunction with other faith groups. Medical assistance would be especially timely, particularly as the city's healthcare infrastructure is likely to face increasing strain in the coming months and years due to the effects of lead contamination.

As I've written before, the Hindu American community has a wealth of human capital to offer in building our common good. Seva isn't just an abstract concept, but one that should be lived in our daily lives.

As our friends in Flint struggle to rebuild, Hindus can be on the frontlines to help the city address its short-term needs and long-term healing. That would be seva in action and a commitment to making sure a once-great American city can emerge from this latest crisis.

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