BY LINDA EGENES

Transcendental Meditation and At-Risk Girls in ThailandThe Story of Two Students

(Part two of a three-part series)

The word “education” comes from the Latin verb “educere” which means “to lead out.” For children in many parts of the world, an education is a way to lead their families from poverty to prosperity. In Thailand, education for girls means earning a higher degree or learning a respected trade. Without an education, girls growing up in poverty often end up being trafficked into prostitution and living on the street.

At the Dhammajarini Witthaya School, the only free boarding school for at-risk girls in Thailand, girls are not only being given a safe haven and a quality education, but have the opportunity to develop their mental, emotional and physical potential by practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique. They are literally being “led out” to a better life.

While visiting Thailand recently, I had the pleasure to interview two students at the Dhammajarinnee Witthaya School, where 500 children preschool to age 12 meditate together. The school is located on 11 acres of gardens, lakes and shady lanes.

Outside the beautiful administration building, smiling girls in crisp uniforms stop to greet me, saying in perfect English, “How are you?” I talk to them for a moment. English and Chinese are part of the curriculum here, which includes computer science and other college-prep courses, as well as instruction in traditional Thai crafts.

Aytittaya, age 16, tells me, through a Thai interpreter, that she is in grade 10. She is wearing a blue polo shirt and sweat pants, the attire for after-school chores and sports. While we talk inside Acharn Yai’s comfortable office, we can hear the happy sounds of children playing outdoors.

Girls at the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya schoolAytittaya smiles when she explains that her family is from Bangkok. Unlike many of the girls, she is not here due to poverty, but rather because her parents divorced when she was two years old. “I lived with my mom and brother and grandmother in Bangkok, but my mother had to travel for her work,” she explains. “So she put me in a boarding school in Bangkok.”

Then in grade six, her great grandmother, who is a Buddhist nun, found out about the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya school and her mother brought her here.

“The students in the previous school were not so disciplined,” she says. “Here we learn Buddhist values. In the previous school there is a gap between the student and the teacher, but here the teacher is like the mother.”

Another difference is that the students meditate longer here. In her previous school, they spent five minutes doing Buddhist meditation before school each morning, as has been mandated by the King of Thailand for every school in the country. “Here we practice the TM technique and meditate for a longer time twice a day and I really like that. I feel much more protected, more happy here.”

Aytittya smiles again when she describes how naughty she used to behave. “At my other school, I didn’t listen to my mother and listened to my friends instead,” she says. “I’ve changed a lot.” She is more focused on her studies, and she’s proud that she just won the province-wide competition for Buddhist chanting. And her team just won second place for the national Mind Map competition.

Girls at the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya schoolApinya, also sixteen years old in grade 10, has a different story. She comes from a very poor family in Ratchaburi province. When she was only eight, her parents divorced and her mother left her with her father and two older sisters. Her father had a difficult time making a living, and took his anger out on Apinya. Eventually, her teachers removed her from her abusive home environment and placed her first in a foster home, and then brought her to the Dhammajarinee School.

Apinya not only feels safe here, but happier. “The nuns and teachers take good care of us, just like a family.” She also confides, “Before I didn’t dare to express myself. If I saw a stranger, I was afraid. Now, after practicing Transcendental Meditation, I have more confidence. I’m not afraid to express myself.”

Apinya also was on the secondary school team that won second prize in the national Mind Map contest, and later this month she will compete in the national Memory Competition.

I ask the girls if they mind doing chores for the school. Aytittya says that her job is to help clean the buildings, take care of the grounds and cut the grass.

She smiles widely and says, “I don’t mind because the physical work helps me stay in shape. And I want to help the school.”

Aditya says that she likes helping in the kitchen. “Before I didn’t know how to cook,” she says. “Now I know how to cook for myself and for others.”

Awards at the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya school“From the beginning, from when I first started to meditate, I have felt that this is very good for me,” says Aditya. “When I feel tired or stressed, I just do my evening meditation, and all the stress is gone. I feel happy.”

Aditya enjoys learning Chinese and English as part of her studies. She would like to go to college and study Chinese and become an interpreter, while Aytittya wants to become an air hostess so she can travel to see her mother, who now works in Norway.

Or, they both mention, after college they may come back to teach here, at the Dhammajarinee Witthaya school, to give back to others the same extraordinary education that they have received.

New Fundraising video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JoS32IKA1c

Full 13 minute video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCHFb_2Q_5U

During the past two years, Acharn Yai and supporters have raised funds and completed a new classroom building. Now the school are raising funds for a new dormitory building that will allow the school to expand from 500 to 750 students. Tax-deductible donations for the school can be made athttp://www.seedsofheaven.org/donate.htmlWhen donating, be sure to click the button for Dhammarjarinee Wittayah school in Thailand. Or you may donate directly to the school here: http://www.buddhistgirls.org/eng/donate.html

Photos by Tina McQuiston, reprinted with permission.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, October 16, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

(Part two of a two-part series)

The Personal Journey of Acharn Yai, Buddhist NunAcharn Yai is not a typical Buddhist nun. For one thing, she drives a car, uses a cell phone, and is committed to employing the best of modern technology to help the school thrive, even creating her own videos for fundraising.

She is also the founder of a unique school in Thailand. In 2003, Acharn Yai founded Dhammajarinee Witthaya School, the first and only free Buddhist boarding school for Thai girls who are at risk due to poverty, abandonment, or abuse. The school now has 530 in-residence students from preschool through grade 12, taught by 41 teachers. In order to accommodate 500 more girls who wish to attend the school, a new classroom building is already under construction.

The story of one woman uplifting thousands of girls from poverty is inspiring, to say the least. These girls not only receive safe haven and a free education—they are being transformed in ways that no one could have predicted or imagined. Under Acharn Yai’s leadership, they practice the Transcendental Meditatio technique twice a day, which she credits as the turning point for the school—since the girls started meditation, they now win top academic awards, live in harmony together and have learned skills to succeed in a culture that would otherwise exploit them.

It would be hard to imagine anyone as suited to the job of leading the school as Acharn Yai. As she walks through the peaceful campus, the sounds of Buddhist chanting mingle with birdsong. The younger girls flock around her as she walks. It’s obvious that she is not only revered by them, but dearly loved.

“She is a universal mother, so compassionate,” says Anarbha Supaneedis, a teacher of the Transcendental Mediation technique who helps teach the new students who come each year. “I feel my heart melting when I see how much she loves these girls and wants to take care of them and nourish them in every possible way.”

Outsiders also have recognized Acharn Yai’s gifts. In 2012 she received the Enlightened Leadership award from the Global Mother Divine Organization in Vlodrop, Holland. And for her service in providing a free education to thousands of girls in poverty, she was honored with a service award for her leadership in Ratchaburi province, where the school is located.

It was Acharn Yai who made the decision to introduce the TM technique to the school’s staff and students in May 2008, having heard about the educational benefits. Yet she herself preferred to remain a cautious observer and even went into hiding while the TM instruction was taking place so she would not get pulled into learning!

A few months later it became clear to her that the atmosphere of the school had already transformed. “Everyone seemed to be happier and more harmonious, unlike before,” she says. “I heard no complaints about any difficulty or headaches from the TM practice even among the youngest students. This was a surprise to me because I had experienced complaints in the past from teaching Buddhist meditation to the girls.”

She became curious about why this simple and easy technique could make such a dramatic change in her school. To find the answer firsthand, she finally decided to learn Transcendental Meditation in December 2008.

Ever humble and honest, Acharn Yai says she has experienced positive changes from practicing the TM technique for five years. “It benefits my life as a whole—making me healthier and calmer. The most obvious change in me is my emotions. I usually was a hot-tempered and impatient person. But after practicing TM, I became more peaceful, modest and careful. I am able to understand other people better than before.”

Acharn Yai also feels that the practice of Transcendental Meditation supports traditional Buddhist values.

“When we practice TM, we go to the source of pure consciousness and purify stress, and when we come out of meditation we naturally think good, speak good, and act good. It’s completely effortless and natural. When we have less stress, we don’t have to force ourselves, we don’t have to try to be good. We naturally live the teaching of Lord Buddha—to think good, to speak good and to act good. So TM and Buddhism are very related.”

Based on her own experience, Acharn Yai became the first Buddhist nun to become a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation technique.

The construction of a large building is now underway to accommodate the 500 additional girls. A significant portion of money has come from the government and private donors, but the school still needs to quickly raise $95,000 to finish this large building in 2014.

This dynamic woman is thinking beyond the individual lives of these students, to ways they can become a force for good for the entire country. If she realizes her goal of providing room for 1000 students, then more than 800 students and teachers will be practicing the TM program together.

Noting research on the positive changes that take place for the community and nation when large groups of people practice the Transcendental Meditation program together, Acharn Yai aims to create nothing less than national coherence for Thailand. And that will be the greatest transformation of all.

Watch the video

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women BlogFebruary 20, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

(Part one of a two-part series)

Helping At-Risk Girls in Thailand SucceedThey come from all over Thailand, speaking many different dialects. Some are orphans, some from families destroyed by divorce. Others, members of the hill tribes huddled at Thailand’s northern borders, suffer from extreme destitution. Some have been abandoned to the streets. Often their parents are young and ill-equipped for raising a child. One young mother dropped off her preschool girls because her new boyfriend didn’t want them around.

One thing these girls have in common: they have learned to fight to survive. Yet these at-risk girls are living in harmony together at Dhammajarinee Witthaya School, the first and only free Buddhist boarding school for Thai girls. The students consistently win top awards in every school competition imaginable from speaking English to Thai language skills to PowerPoint presentations. In fact, this year they have won more awards than any other school in their province. At the heart of these students’ transformation from illiteracy to academic leadership, the teachers say, is the students’ daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. Acharn Yai, the Buddhist nun who spearheaded the founding of the school in 2003 with other nuns of her order, tells about a fourteen-year-old girl who was sentenced to prison, but the judge sent her to Dhammajarinee Witthaya School instead. “In the beginning she quarreled with everyone—with teachers, with friends. She was rebellious and not interested in studying,” says Acharn Yai. “After this girl learned TM, her behavior completely changed. She is much softer and more humble with other girls. Now she is a leader.”

One of the school’s teachers, Acharn Chakriya, remembers a girl who was sent by UNESCO as a last resort because she had been kicked out of every other school. “She was so big and combative that even the teachers were afraid of her,” says Acharn Chakriya with a laugh. “After she learned TM, she started helping the other students and made it her job to sweep the floor for the younger girls to sit on when they meditate. And just today she won the first prize in singing for the whole province! She said she meditated before the competition.” Acharn Yai says that she sees this pattern over and over—the girls come in fighting, but with the TM program, the aggression goes away. “The students become more calm and settled,” says Acharn Yai. “Their aggressive behavior decreases, their grades go up; they pay more attention to whatever we teach them. When they have inner happiness, they soak up whatever knowledge we give, unlike before. Because of their TM practice, the school is doing better and better.” Before the school introduced the TM technique in 2008, it was much harder to teach the girls, says Acharn Chakriya. “The teachers never even tried to send the girls to competitions because the girls weren’t ready.” The teachers also benefit, enjoying greater energy and better focus with TM. One teacher found relief from chronic headaches.

Besides learning the Transcendental Meditation technique, the girls take courses in Buddhist studies and an academic curriculum that allows them to pursue a higher education if they choose. Learning how to use the Internet, make PowerPoint presentations, and create basic computer programming is also an important part of the curriculum. The students also receive vocational training in baking, growing organic vegetables, creating traditional Thai handicrafts, performing basic accounting, arranging flowers, crocheting, weaving baskets and creating Thai flower garlands. This training is critical for those not attending college, as it gives them a way to make a living when they graduate. And in keeping with Buddhist principles, the students spend time every day performing service: keeping the buildings orderly and tending the beautiful gardens. So the day is full from dawn to dusk. (to be continued . . . ) See the video To make tax-deductible donations to support the classroom building project, please visit Seeds of Heaven. Click on “Donate” and find Dhammajarinee Witthaya Girls’ School, Thailand. Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog,  February 13, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)