BY LINDA EGENES
(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.
Aytittaya 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.
Apinya, 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.”
“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.html. When 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.)