Vistara Primary School Celebrates their 20th Anniversary

Vistara Primary School Celebrates their 20th Anniversary

Lismore, Australia
Report by Kamala

In November, 2007 Vistara Primary School in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia celebrated their 20th anniversary. While this is itself a great accomplishment, they also put on a fantastic celebration. There was a band, children’s games and candle making, beautiful food, displays of children’s art and continual screening of videos of past plays, a display of some of the great costumes that

have been sewn over the past 20 years, an amazing exhibit of photos including a full poster of photos for each year of the school (everyone loved looking over these and remembering), and speeches and songs and performances by the children. (and more!)

The presentations began with a very sweet kiirtan joined in by some 200 participants, and then an opening by school Principal Didi Anandavitandra, who spoke simply and warmly about Neohumanism and thanked all the dedicated pioneers of the past who contributed to the welfare of the school. She was warmly applauded and presented with flowers by the appreciative audience. There were also speeches by teachers. One very special speech was given by Lyn Brown, a current teacher at Vistara who has been
with the school since it’s beginning, only taking time 5 years off to have her children (a total of 15 years). Everyone was nearly in tears by the end of it, and I’ve included it below as a wonderful testament to the power of Neohumanist Education.

Didi Anandavitandra and Rukmini have been running the school with amazing dedication and skill. Many thanks also go to Madhuchanda/Marsha for all the years of hard work in establishing the foundation of the school within the Lismore Community. Her dedication and pioneering work continues to be an inspiration to the school even today. The school now has 60 children and is fundraising for building extensions to accommodate the many children on their waiting list which extends to the year 2013. Vistara Anniversary Speech by Lyn Brown, Teacher

I’ve been asked to speak today about the many children of Vistara. To speak of individual children and their achievements would take far too long so I will need to speak of them largely as a collective.

In Little Family we have a program known as Strong, Wise and Beautiful. Neohumanist schools throughout the world practice similar systems of acknowledgement and affirmation. These three qualities can be used to describe all of the children who come to Vistara and spend time with friends in our classrooms. They soon come to recognise these qualities in themselves and they learn to seek them out in others. Just yesterday I had a small child poking his head in at my door. He wanted to know if we were all the same.

“Some boys just said that we’re all different. Is that right?”
“Well, we all have love inside,” I said. “That’s the same for all of us. He was delighted. “Yes, that’s what I told them. I told them that we look different on the outside but we’re all the same in here”.
He patted his chest emphatically and ran off to play again, a big reassured smile on his face.

 

These conversations are not uncommon. I have had contact with many children in Vistara over the past twenty years and I am privileged to be included in conversations such as this one on a regular basis. I have sat at my desk and been amused by the complex theories on the nature of reality as Kindergarten students talk among themselves while they are drawing and painting. They have very sophisticated ideas. Not all the

conversations are esoteric in nature but they inspire me nonetheless. The surprising thing here is not that these conversations and discussions take place – (I believe they are natural to children) – but more that they are given scope to take place. I have worked in many schools over my career and this characteristic on the classroom culture stands out as something unique to Vistara.

Our children are not more special than other children. It’s just that they are allowed to claim who they are. The classroom culture fosters trust. This school fosters trust. Where this exists, anything is possible.

I have always been struck with the physical beauty and vibrancy of the children who become Vistara kids, even if they are with us just for a short time. We have always believed that children find their way to this place when they need to be here. Over the years I have watched as children have begun their tenuous first days at school. Some of our children have had different school experiences before coming to Vistara. Some of these experiences have been positive and some have been less so. Already, young as they are, some bear lidded eyes, scars of a harder world. Their eye contact is either shaky or they stare defiantly, challenging authority. Their experiences have taught them not to trust. Not to trust their teachers, not to trust the adults in their lives, not to trust their peers who guard their own hearts so well, not to trust their own hearts and instincts. They have learnt to protect their true self by revealing little. They are cynical. Yet the children who find their way to Vistara learn to open their eyes. They learn to trust again. I think this is why they look so beautiful. No one who has ever been to a Vistara Play Night can deny they shine.

Strength and Wisdom develop in our children here also. Sometimes wisdom comes through sadness and challenge, facing loss and accepting disappointments. Life stretches us. It forces us to grow as conscious beings. We are not about denying the realities of life. Challenging times are treated as opportunities for each of us to become a greater person. Rather than teaching our children to fear hard times, we endeavour to help guide them through to the other side. Resilience and optimism for the future are habits and life skills that serve us all through our lives. We ask our children not to run from problems but to breathe deeply, take their own courage in hand and walk forward with friends.

I could talk for a long time on academic success of past students. I could talk about their sporting and cultural achievements. But the strongest success for me are those of humour, those of compassion and those of love. Sometimes simple innocence can remind us of what’s important. Through the heavy rain last week, one of the children was seeing the brightest possible side of the situation. He considered himself personally responsible for the weather conditions and was most pleased with himself.

“I asked God last night to make it rain so I could jump in puddles!” He was thrilled with the results of his request. Life is an adventure and it is comments like this that encourage us to celebrate our own part in it all.

Self-awareness can come unexpectedly. A long time ago I taught a little girl. She never stopped talking! I despaired of ever managing to teach her to look at anything with more than superficial understanding. She was loud and egocentric and put herself in everything. One day, a little bird got trapped on the verandah and was terrified, flapping from one plastic blind into another. The children were all gathered at the entrance waiting for it to fly out. Suddenly, the bird dropped to the floor, exhausted. I was about to move in when some instinct stopped me. A child had silently stepped forward. It was the girl. There was a curious focus in her face that I had never seen in her before. The other children watched her, as transfixed as myself. With infinite gentleness, this little girl kneeled before the distressed creature and took it smoothly into her cupped hands. She rose again and walked softly through the gathering. Once in the open she raised her hands and the bird sat calmly, considering for a moment. Then away it flew! This little girl followed it with her eyes for a few moments more and she turned and looked at me. It was like I was looking at a different person! Her eyes were deep and still and she looked at her hands again, mesmerised.

“I could feel it’s heart beating,” she said. “It was so warm”. Her hands moved quietly to her own heart.

This little girl moved away to a new home in Sydney as few days later. She was only in Year One yet she graduated as a Vistara Kid just as surely as any of our students going through to Year 6. She learnt about the connection between all living things in a very personal way. This is Neohumanism.

moreVistara School news

Rukmini worked with five students at Vistara School to create their school newspaper, Vistara Voices, for the Northern Star’s “Newspapers in Education” program for 2007. A local newspaper, The Northern Star sponsors a “Newspapers in Education” competition for all primary and high schools in the area. A total of 42 schools were involved in the program. The program allows schools and students to be involved in the community newspaper and see their work published. Vistara School’s May 2007 entry won the runnerup for the best environmental
story and the best photograph. The story was entitled “Our Future is in Our Hands”In the June and July issues Northern Star published Vistara Voices’ poems by the children entitled “I Am”. One example is a poem by fourth grader Zarinka Sinden

I am different
I wonder if the world will change
I hear the sound of people singing
I see gardens of flowers
I want so see peace all over the world
I am different
I pretend to fly in the sky
I feel happy and sad
I touch the clouds above
I worry about the endangered species
I cry when people are sick
I am different
I understand that we are all different yet the same
I say nice things
I dream that the world will change
I am different

New cookbook available from Vistara School
“The Broccoli Forest: A Sentient Vegetarian Cookbook”

A cookbook was published as a fundraiser for Vistara Primary School in Lismore, Australia. 12 years in the making, this is a great collection of recipes, beautifully laid out, and easy to use.The cookbook is nearly 200 pages long and contains many useful sections including: Breakfasts, Soups, Starters, Mains, Kids’ Lunches, Salads and Desserts. All the recipes have been parent-tested and the book especially caters to childrens’ tastes. There are some nice additional sections as well, such as a list of Great Vegetarians and a glossary of some of the more unusual ingredients.

This book would also make a great gift as well as an important kitchen resource.
Here are a few of the yummy-sounding recipes: Thai Lemon Grass Soup, Carob Hazelnut Spread, The Never Boring Salad,

Nutty Rice Cakes, Really Alternative Sandwich Fillings, Spanish Olive Parcels, Festive Curry, Celestial Carob Cake, Boiled Moist Fruit Cake and Butterscotch Birthday Cake!!

If you are interested in a copy, please contact Kamala. Books are $25 AUD ($23 USD) each, plus shipping. No discounts are available, as this is a fundraiser for Vistara, but we would be happy to send out volume orders. (I can receive checks to a US bank account or receive funds in Australia.) <inrsongozemail.com.au>