Excerpted from an article published in the Sunday magazine, O GLOBO, one of the largest newspapers of Brazil
Translated by Avinash
A few miles from Belmiro Braga, a town close to the state border of Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, in the 1980s a small squatter settlement began called Vila Sao Francisco. The place began because a new law was introduced giving rights of ownership to landless people who had lived for a few years in any cabin. So large landholders evicted all their tenant laborers. With no other place to go, the farm workers settled on a stretch of land that belonged to nobody, devoid of any planning or infrastructure, and with a multitude of social problems – among them, lack of a school for children. To study, children had to walk at least 6 miles on dusty roads.
The story changed with the arrival of a group people following the philosophy of Shrii PR Sarkar, founder of a Center for Yoga and Meditation called Ananda Marga. In Rio de Janeiro, the office of Ananda Marga is in Copacabana. In 1990 the group bought a farm neighboring Villa de San Francisco and opened the Rising Sun school, which gave poor children, with no hope and no future, a model education until then exclusive to well-born children. This Neohumanist Education school prioritizes the emotional, intuitive, creative and spiritual development of the children. According to NHE philosophy, it is not enough to only learn Portuguese, math, etc. The challenge is to develop nice people. We work with the ethical and moral foundations of human beings. The idea is that the children will grow up healthy in all ways and be creative, whole, and happy – says the pedagogue Sandra Brys, a founder of the Rising Sun. A farm was bought by 30 people, who donated one hundred hectares for social projects. The Rising Sun school is one of the projects. Trivenii has been the director of the school for the last year and half.
The building of the school is built with gardens, playgrounds and classrooms equipped with all sorts of pedagogical toys. Maintained with donations from godparents, people from Ananda Marga in Rio, the Rising Sun School has been developing over the past 18 years. In the beginning it functioned in an old house with no structure at all, relying on the goodwill of volunteer teachers. Four years ago the new building was finally inaugurated, though it had no electricity at the time. The point was to introduce a new philosophy of education for children. “At first they had no toys or furniture and ate in little plates over pieces of wood”, says Dhiira Gomes, Aunt Dhiira, a mother resident in the village who decided to roll up her sleeves and work with the project. “Everything people would offer us, we would accept. We use to go into the photocopy shops asking for waste paper. My 3 children studied here.”
The kids’ routine is really special. At 7 am the students begin the day with the “Circle of Love”. They sing mantras and practice yoga and meditation. Then comes breakfast, educational games, and also the conventional disciplines. At 11 hours, lunch. All the food is vegetarian from organic crops harvested in the school garden, planted by the children. According to educationist Sandra Brys, yoga and meditation are keys to increasing the concentration of children in the Neohumanist Education model. And the vegetarian food aids to develop ecological awareness and respect for life. Nobody complains of not having meat. Estefany, one of the students, 4 years old, says she does not like to eat “dead animals”. She prefers the vegetarian dishes prepared by the school cook, Aunt Preta. Even at home she does not eat meat any more.
The activities of the Rising Sun are not confined to the school. According to Aunt Dhiira, very often the teachers will knock on the door of the parents, encouraging them to be involved in the new world of the children. They might help prepare snacks or cover the books. One of the main focuses of the work outside the classrooms, however, is environmental education. In San Francisco Village, clean water has become a daily challenge. There is no sewage system. So learning to keep the taps closed and not pollute the local river, and plant near the springs, is crucial for the survival of the village. In general, our public schools do not foster the value of love of nature. The children come from problem families, sometimes with alcoholic fathers and mothers who are victims of domestic violence. Neohumanism is valuable and indispensable in a context of poverty. I can say with the Rising Sun, the children began to educate parents. Aunt Dhiira says, “Mothers tell us that the children come home and say they want everything the same as they have in the school.”
This project helped me a lot personally. When my kids started to study here, I did not know anything. I learned how to relate to the environment and to other people seeing my kids learn. The managers of the Rising Sun have ambitious plans for the New Year. In 2009 they will begin a Centre for Neohumanist Education in Vila Sao Francisco, with the aim to train educators. Also next year the school will implement a teaching technique called “brain gym”. Soma, (Sandra Brys) attended a course at the University of California and wants to replicate this technique whose goal is to enhance intelligence through movement. Brain gym is nowadays top-line in the children’s learning process. In southern of Brazil, for example, it is already widespread. I passed by California and I am one of the instructors accredited in Brazil: “Now you just think: with brain gym and yoga / meditation, these children will go far”, Sandra bets.