Ananda Vidyadharma Community Project

Huay Ma Lai, Thailand
By Michele Montenegro
When approaching the Ananda Vidyadharma Master Unit, you can hear the drums and guitars. Dada Ramakrishna got them last year so that the boys would play music with the children of the village instead of fighting with them. And it helped! Nowadays the children from outside don’t come so regularly anymore, but most of Dada’s boys are really into playing music and the smaller ones even formed a band which plays weekly at a guest-house in nearby Sangklaburi.
On the border of Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand, close to the city of Sangklaburi, is an area of mountains and jungles. In this area live the so called hill tribes, like Karen and Mon. Originally coming from Myanmar, but pushed back into the jungles and mountains bordering Thailand, these hill tribes have kept fighting for their land. During a massive offensive in 1989/90 the Burmese army captured the most important border point with Thailand, the Three Pagoda Pass, so far jointly controlled by Mon and Karen armies. The entire village was burnt to the ground and later rebuilt and settled with ethnic Burmese. The Mon, at one time the most powerful and most cultured people in the region, and the Karen are today living in the border region between Thailand and Myanmar. On the Thai side they are tolerated but in no way encouraged. They are not fully recognized as Thai inhabitants and therefore don’t have the same rights as the Thais. To protect the social, political and economical well-being of Thailand they are not allowed to leave the area without permission of the government.Most of the population has a low level of education and is living in impoverished conditions. They are presently dependent on bamboo and thatch for construction and often persist in illegal logging to sell or use in building, increasing the serious stress on the local eco-system. The villagers cannot obtain enough funds to increase agricultural production, a practice in which the community is most highly involved, by buying more livestock and implementing modern agricultural methods. As a consequence the community remains stuck in the cycle of poverty.

Twelve years ago, in the midst of a beautiful natural setting near one of the few remaining rainforests in Thailand, Dada Ramakrishna started cultivating a piece of wild neglected land in the village of Huay Ma Lai with the idea to grow into a community project. After two years of hard work a big house was built and in 1996 a boys’ home was initiated. A comprehensive farming system with agriculture, dairy animals, mini- forestry, mini-ponds (water catchment) has been set up to support some of the daily needs of those living at Ananda Vidyadharma.
Today Ananda Vidyadharma is an independent community project that supports the people in the village of Huay Ma Lai and the surrounding area as well. It has initiated several projects to develop the community in and around Huay Ma Lai:“Baan Dada” is the name of one of Ananda Vidyadharma’s main activities; the boys’ home. It is a home for boys from marginalized families of the Huay Ma Lai community, its surrounding areas and nearby Sangklaburi. Some children are orphans, some are abandoned, while others come from families in which the mothers were widowed or mistreated by their husbands. The boys’ home complements another project of the Neohumanist Foundation in Thailand, Baan Unrak, which houses abandoned and destitute girls and women in Sangklaburi, a town that faces similar problems as Huay Ma Lai. Currently there are thirty-four children between 3 and 19 years of age residing at Baan Dada.A day at Baan Dada starts early in the morning, when the “mothers” are already busy making breakfast and lunch-packages for the children. A few of the children are going to Didi’s Neohumanist school in Sangklaburi, but that is a half hour away and most of the time they hitch hike to and from school. Therefore most of the children prefer to go to the Christian school in Huay Ma Lai. The youngest ones and the new children are educated at Ananda Vidyadharma itself. A teacher is employed to teach them Math and Thai. She does this with a lot of enthusiasm, art and games. Volunteers often help with teaching English. After school the children do their duties (watering the plants, etc.), practise music or just play around. They are very good in inventing new games. At 18.30 the children do collective kiirtan and meditation. The evenings are for homework. Between 8 and 9 PM most of the younger ones get tired and the quiet evenings start, and one can enjoy the beautiful sky and forest sounds.

“Dairy Goat Lending Project” 

This project was started one year ago and involves purchasing and lending goats to families in nearby villages. There, the females are being impregnated. After the offspring are able to take care of themselves, the goats will be returned to Ananda Vidyadharma so that they can be lent out to another village. This process is repeated continuously, resulting in an ever-increasing number of goats for the local residents.

“Community Weaving and Bamboo Handicraft Projects” 

These are Fair Trade projects which have been set up for the villagers in the surrounding communities. The villagers are skilled in weaving baskets and other goods from bamboo. It requires a relatively small amount of bamboo to make a basket. Ananda Vidyadharma planted a lot of bamboo last year. The baskets and other goods can be made at home. They can also do weaving at their homes. Ananda Vidyadharma provides the yarn and at Ananda Vidyadharma a few women are employed to sew them into bags, clothes and other items. The payment to the villagers covers their minimum costs of living.

“Unite for Sight – Eye Care Program” 

This program provides free eye care for the local residents in nearby and remote communities. General examinations are given and reading and acuity glasses are distributed. Ananda Vidyadharma coordinates the program for Unite for Sight, a foundation from the United States. They have provided Ananda Vidyadharma with the necessary equipment for performing the examinations, and also help
with arranging the volunteers and eye operations where needed. Ananda Vidyadharma helps the volunteers to reach the villages and with lodging. Glasses for reading and distance are provided by the volunteers. Volunteer optometrists and ophthalmologists come every few months to do additional examinations and to perform surgeries as needed. In the Sangklaburi area, the major eye problems are pterygium and cataracts, as well as minor traumas. Thus far, ten villages have received services from this program. Approximately 1,500 examinations and 6 major surgeries have been provided.Health Awareness Project
This program seeks to promote the awareness of various health issues. Yearly events are organized around a certain theme, including yoga, HIV/AIDS, and drug awareness. Theatre, music and games are the primary tools of education used at these events, as well as informational posters. The children at Baan Dada, as well as children from the surrounding villages are participating in these events.P.R. Sarkar Vocational School
Since most of the children don’t have the legal papers to get permission to leave the area, there is an enormous need for a vocational school. For this reason it would be good to have a vocational school in the area. Another reason to start a vocational school is that the nearest one is 4 hours away in Kanchanaburi and families don’t have the financial capacity to send their children to the bigger cities. It is Dada’s dream to open such a school one day. Next to Ananda Vidyadharma, land with a size of 56 rai has been purchased by Ananda Marga Gurukula. The goal is to establish a vocational school within three years, where the students can take mechanical, electrical, IT technology related and dress making courses. The first steps, to clear the land and to make the pathways have been initiated. The next step is to find sponsors for this project.

Natural Construction
Dada prefers natural building techniques, like adobe, when it comes to expanding. At the moment an activity-hall is under construction and plans for a library and a primary school are already on the drawing table. Recently a mud house was built for one of the employed “mothers” and in the future all of the bamboo houses will be replaced with mud houses. Also for the new volunteer residents an oasis with adobe houses is planned.
Thinking Ahead
Dada always looks ahead and is already thinking of the days that the boys will go to college. This will require a lot of funds, so he came up with the idea of planting rubber trees during the coming rainy season. The trees will be ready to harvest in about seven years which is the same amount of years that it takes before the boys can go to college.