Lotus Children’s Centre: A Symbol of Hope
By Didi Gayatri
It was about a year ago when I started managing our small school in a town called Soko in Ghana. In the first month we had only 7 children, but now the number of children has increased to 36 and many more children are yet to join the school. There were many challenges and there are still challenges yet to be overcome.
At first most of the children didn’t attend school regularly. Any small rain will stop the children coming school that day. The parents were not serious about their education and many brought their children very late. Even though there were many problems with the condition of the school, I also realized that lack of seriousness on the part of parents was due in part to our way of doing things including not enough participation by the management in the running of the school. I decided to visit several homes and families to assure them of the renewed commitment to help lift the standard of the school. This message of hope perhaps played a major role in the renewed interest on the part of parents in the school. My key advice to all managers of schools is that there will be no progress if the management does not fully take part in the full day to day running of the school.
We started with many challenges: Only one classroom was serving Nursery, KG1 and KG2. To overcome this challenge, two additional classrooms were created and two new teachers were employed to work in the school. Discipline was rigorously enforced for the teachers to serve as role models for the children. This initiative helped the children to start arriving to school on time. Before that, the teacher who was teaching the combined class was regularly late for school, which set a bad example for the children.
She was also reluctant to accept The Circle of Love curriculum which incorporates the use of Baba Nam Kevalam meditation and yoga asanas. Her fear was that parents would withdraw their children from the school if we teach meditation and asanas. Yes, this was a challenge but the school is currently practicing the Circle of Love and the number of children is increasing.
I started teaching the Circle of Love myself with the teacher present. Although some of the people in the local community have had a negative perception about Ananda Marga because the local culture attributes meditation to black magic, as we reached out to the community and interacted adequately with them, we are able to help them do away with this superstition.
We currently have three classrooms serving KG1, KG2, nursery and crèche. Three classrooms with three teachers have helped raise the standard of the school because we are able to give the needed attention to the children at different levels. As a Didi, I spend almost half the day with the teachers in the classroom and often I find myself in the position of a teacher as well.
I managed to raise the salary of teachers with the hope that they will increase their output but I realized that without my active participation nothing will turn up well because the general approach to work by teachers in the local community is not encouraging. A sympathizer from the community introduced reading through the phonics approach. It has been very successful as it is highly psychological. In just two weeks of daily phonics lessons most of the children in KG2 started reading. Also, our friend, Bibi from Australia introduced a comprehensive method in teaching memory skills and brain exercises.
What about Neohumanism? How are we incorporating it?
I started with service to the plants; every day the children interact with the plants by watering them. They have to plant new ones from time to time. They love it and share the philosophy through this service. We talk about the welfare of the animals and the children feed the only cat in the school before they eat their lunch food. This is part of our social education.
I Love God in All
To teach morality we use one topic of yama and nyama each day of the week. The teacher will talk about it at the school’s assembly which takes place in the morning (for example I love God in all, the principle of Brahmacarya) and the children will repeat the phrase. We ask simple questions, for example, “How do we show our love towards the plants?” Afterwards at story time we again use the same theme. We have nice phrases for the children like “I like to be caring and kind”, “I am thankful”, “I expand my love”, etc.
By Grace we are moving forward, with 36 children hoping to reach 50 plus. We are very careful to choose the right teachers who can give a good example to the children and can even explain Neohumanist principles to the suspicious and curious people of the community.