And Now For Something Completely Different!
Being a Guest in the School of Nature
My stay in India over the May holidays would not have been complete without coming across a completely unique phenomenon; the ‘School of Nature’. The school sits on the top of a hill in the foothills of the Himalayas, 1710 meters above sea level, in the small village of Shrikhalnear a town called Pauri.
The school is named: Paramarth Awadhawan, which means ‘aiming towards the highest’, and is the initiative of the Shin Shiva charitable foundationcalled after a master Shin Shiva. Residing in Switzerland, Shin has held seminars for the past 20 years all over the world, and believes strongly in the importanceof reviving ancient cultures that carry the ‘ultimate wisdom of life’. The foundation of his teaching lays in the understanding of the ‘Shivaitic approach’, as well as the revival of Celtic culture in Europe. He teaches that God’s input into humanity has been a continuous stream throughout time. Human dignity and dynamic harmony are the two foundations upon which his philosophy dwells.
He truly believes that people can live a simple and a happy life on Earth, but that is only possible if we connect with each other and with nature in a harmoniousway. We should strive towards a beautiful and worthy life, towards truly deep love and respect for each other and for children.
At the school, learning is acquiredthrough the brain, heart and body together, (thinking, feeling and willing/doing and perceiving) as opposed to learning dry facts. Learning is inspired by nature, rather than from a text book only, and allows the child to understand the creation of God in its primordial, natural shape and form.
Wisdom and knowledge, Love and beauty, inner strength and empowerment are the school’s fundamental values and at the same time, their aims. Emphasis is placed on creating happiness and raising curiosityin children, cultivating their desire to be observant, ask questions and find answers in a natural and practical way. For example, teachers use stones to explain mathematics, use colours or flowers to help shape the aesthetical understanding of beauty, and learn how to meditate to tap into spiritual aspects of oneself.
“Working for children is part of my life, it’s a very peaceful school, I feel free, and I can initiate new ideas, it’s pure freedom of expression for the teacher”– Dinesh, a local teacher who comes from a nearby village (100 km away).
The Indian heritage is celebrated during the celebrations of each pupil’s birthday and during communal festivities, such as Janam Ashtami, (Birth of Krishna) and Christmas, via dances and songs at the frequent community gatherings. 65 children from 11 villages around the area, from kindergarten all the way to grade 5 have the opportunity to get a free, alternative, world class primary school education.
The school provides uniforms, school materials, books, food and transportation for the pupils. For some villagers who are clearly below the poverty line, sending a child to such a school means a ‘ray of hope for a new life’ and a better life for their children.
In India, it is common for unemployed villagers to have to leave their homes and go and work in cities like New Dehli for literally peanuts, sleeping in shelters, as they can’t afford accommodation. This school brings these parents back to their village. Since the existence of the school, three families were successfully reunited and brought back into the community.
Life always has to be lived and celebrated with dignity. Even in a country with such a large population like India, each life has to be cherished and celebrated.
The school is situated in a picturesque location. Just imagine. With the sacred Himalayas as a backdrop, the village is located on an ancient (estimated approximately around 5000 years old) pilgrimage road, set in beautiful hills with pine trees. Together, the trees form a beautiful green-brownish sea with waves rippling out in the wind all over the horizon.
The countryside is full of hidden surprises, such as tigers and leopards which attack cattle on occasions. Locals say that the local eco system was damaged by the British who felled the original forests for timber, leaving only pine trees. Around the school, there are some fruit trees planted by children, as part of the global green movement ‘Plant for the Planet’, in hope of encouraging diversity. With troupes of hungry monkeys which inhabit the area however, this may prove to be a useless endeavour.
I noticed that in the villages, people live in very small rooms, often sharing their homes with cattle. Children literally have no flat ground to play, nor are they able to enjoy communalgatherings… The school is their oasis of joy! Teaching in the school is unique, and teachers from all over the world have visited and made valuable contributions. I met two ladies from Australia, who hope to enhance the skills of 6 local teachers with their creative and practical approach to teaching. Both ladies are very experienced teachers and their input into school life has proved invaluable.
The mood for the day is set with the yoga and movement sessions, followed by the teaching of main subjects in the classrooms: Maths, Hindi, EnvironmentalScience, General knowledge English. An individual approach is possible due to a very small number of children in the class, from 6 to 14 in one class. The aim is to emphasise each child’s individual capacities and gifts.
The governmenthas recognised the schoolas registered primary school, however it is not supporting or endorsing it’s approach in education, leaving the maintenance of the school squarely on the shoulders of one brave Indian family, the Parihar family, who decided to change for the better the lives of 1,100 Indian brothers and sisters from their region and neighbouring villages in Uttarkhand. Mr. Parihar said: “We are trying to revolutionise the concept of junior school education and it’s not easy to do by ourselves”.
The secret of success of this school which has operated for 4 consecutive years, is in the hard work of the founders and supporters. The Parihar family who are also the co-founders of Shin Shiva Foundation co-created a new spiritual yoga retreat which provides about 10-20% of the school’s needs. The “Anand Lok Centre” promotes peace and the ‘International Peace Centre’ is fully operational and set on the banks of the beautiful river Ganga, three hours away from the School. There is a ‘Shiva’ temple on the territory of the International Centre for the World peace called Gangeshvaralinga. Shin Shiva designed the temple, which will open in 2019.
Seeing children run around at the school and learn about the purpose of life through the understanding of natural laws, learning how to be appreciativeof what they see, rather than by what they have (or don’t have), filled my heart, mind and soul with real feelings of bliss and joy.
Who knows, maybe this school offers something of an alternative to the huge, powerful destructive forces set off by global consumerism and robotization. Perhaps the answer is to turn to our roots to simply embrace the life that God has given us, be grateful and be happy with very little. We could learn how to cherish every moment and live in the here and now. Being able to cultivate the abilities to observe, admire and be happy from an early age might well be a good start.
Welcome to the School of Nature, where children are the flowers of Life!
Om namah Shivaya.
To learn more about the school and how to maybe help by making a donating, engage in volunteerwork, becoming a teacher, hosting a workshop, or help to raise awareness about the school in your community and country, please contact Maria Ushakova on +7 915 496 10 82 or visit the website:
Maria Ushakova. 13.5.18