Every time I ask myself what a Theosophist’s role is in providing tangible solutions to the problems of the world, my answer seems to be: let us put up more schools. For 18 years, I have been working as a social worker in many communities in both Bangladesh and the Philippines. Through the TOS, we have systematically undertaken projects to meet needs in health and nutrition, to develop livelihood skills, and so on. These projects help improve the material conditions of the underprivileged. Something more is necessary, however, something that addresses the selfishness and sense of separateness at the root of social problems.
Many times I ask myself: why do some people grow up to become kind and altruistic while others grow up to be just the opposite? I am convinced that education plays a major role in the kind of person we are as adults. By education I mean not only education in a formal school but also what we learn in the home, because everyone’s education begins at home.
What is the role of TOS members in helping to add a different dimension to education? In my understanding there are several ways we can contribute.
First, as adults, we can serve as role models in the lives of children, whether it be in the school or home setting. Children learn from what they see at home, in the community and in school. Therefore if we want our children to be kind, then we need to display acts of kindness. And if we want our children to be honest, then we have to learn to be honest. This may seem obvious.
Second, during parents’ meetings in the schools our children attend, we can influence school management and suggest changes in certain practices. Even if we do not have children of school age, we can still volunteer for activities in a local school and try to bring a different dimension to the educational environment.
Similarly, we can design and offer resource material for the teaching of individual and planetary peace and of religious understanding and tolerance. We can even offer teachers training in stress management (incorporating simple techniques of meditation), or in how to teach without the use of fear. We have to invest a lot of time and energy in teacher training – and in learning how to be of real use to them – because what a teacher is, that also is what the pupils will become. Each lodge could even adopt a local school.
‘What input would a school system or individual school possibly allow on the part of members of the TS or TOS?’, I hear you ask. It is in fact surprising what successful relationships can be developed where there is a will to do so and through a gentle, respectful, patient approach with a view to the long term. Possibilities will vary from country to country, of course, but I am convinced that each can find a way to connect with the educational establishment if s/he tunes in and adapts to local conditions.
An interesting example of constructive collaboration is provided by a wealthy foundation in the Philippines. The Andres Soriano Foundation has been working in the remote islands of the province of Palawan. Its principal work is coastal resource management. In addition, the Foundation has lately taken on the establishment of seven pre-schools (for 3 to 6 year olds) for the children of fisher-folk. The Palawans are really remote islands where there are no public utility vehicles to transport passengers.
The executive director of the Foundation (whom I have known for some time) invited me to go over to one of the islands to conduct one week’s training for the teachers of those seven schools. They have difficulty in finding resource speakers because of the remoteness of place; trainers generally charge high fees. Since we in the TOS do not charge any fees, it is very easy for anyone to invite us. I agreed to go, not really knowing the conditions of the place. In fact it is without telephones and has electricity for only a third of the day. Drinking water comes from the spring on the mountain. There are no vehicles except motor bikes owned by a few rich people. The organizers could offer all kinds of sea food but no vegetables and fruit. They had to bring them from Manila for me as I am vegetarian. The teachers from seven islands came together on one island to where I was brought from the mainland by a fishing boat.
For seven days I helped the teachers review the curriculum. I presented the latest information to them about classroom management, assessment procedures and so on. It was a really meaningful stay for me.
A third way in which we can contribute – and this is my favourite – is by the establishment of as many spiritually-oriented schools as we can afford. As of now, we already have three kindergarten or elementary schools in the Philippines. I am not talking about starting yet another school where children simply learn how to read and write to equip themselves to find a good job – and in the process learn how to compete with each other. I am talking about schools where spiritual principles are communicated.
We have a Muslim pupil who transferred to our Golden Link School in Manila. When I asked his father why he transferred his son from another school to ours, the father said because in that other school, every day, at the start and end of classes there would be a religious prayer different from the Muslim way of praying. During prayer time the Muslim boy was asked to leave the classroom. Instead of teaching little ones the fundamental oneness of religions, schools are unwittingly teaching a sense of separateness.
What kind of school, then, are we to establish? I’d like to quote here a letter from a TS member in South Africa: ‘I was most interested to read in an interview with Vicente Hao Chin, Jr. of the wonderful work of the TOS in the Philippines, especially to read of the progress of the Golden Link School. It is a tremendous innovation for the education system to create an awareness of the spiritual dimension of life amongst the children. I hope and pray that many schools around the world will follow your example. The Golden Link School has a special place in my heart for it gives new life to old and outdated educational systems.’
What is the vision of the Golden Link School, started in 2002 in a suburb of Manila? It is to create an education system in which individuals can discover the core values of their lives for themselves, free from fear, coercion and prejudice. Through innovative teaching methods that respect and nurture the individuality and creativity of students, it attempts to integrate the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual aspects of their growth in a well-rounded programme. Teaching students to embrace their common humanity and to recognize their place in the web of life, the school strives to honour many faiths. It holds the conviction that individuals who are at peace with themselves will ultimately create a world at peace. In short, the school is an experiment in transformative education.
By using the three objects of the Theosophical Society as the fundamental educational philosophy of our schools, we can create a beautiful educational system for coming generations, where little children live in a brotherly environment – no competition, no need to learn to be self-centred. They can learn to appreciate each other’s differences by studying different religions, guided by a Theosophist teacher who understands the unity of all life and recognizes the divine nature of the human being. If we could have schools with an educational philosophy such as this, then one day we could hope for a society where people live in peace and harmony with each other and with all living beings.
A practical aspect in the development of such schools is the need to offer quality education at affordable prices. Yes, there are a few schools with very good educational philosophies. However, they are very expensive and beyond the reach of the marginalized sectors of society. Is quality education meant for children from rich families only?
Is this an impossible dream? If we all gather together our energies and resources, it isn’t! What is needed most of all is devoted workers, people whose heart and head are in the same place. What do I mean by this? There are times when our heart wishes to be of service to others but our head says to the heart, ‘You are foolish! What are you gaining from this?’ and so on. Therefore our heart and head need to sing the same song.
Putting up a school is not an easy job. It not only requires huge funds but also individuals engaged over the long term, in both the teaching and management aspects of the school. I have finally come to see, however, the truth of the saying, ‘Money will come if the work is worth it’. I have found that there are individuals and organizations willing to contribute if they feel there are genuinely motivated, strongly committed people behind a project.
While constructing the Golden Link School, the thought has sometimes popped up in my mind that we are witnessing history in the making. We are writing our own history, not using paper and pencil but with the power of our love, which will last well beyond our lifetime.
Theosophists have before them the opportunity to undertake a life work:
I long for a time when hundreds and thousands of young people will graduate from theosophical schools with these words from the ceremony of the Round Table engraved in their heart: ‘I am a Link in the Golden Chain of Love that stretches around the world and I promise to keep my link bright and strong’.
If you would like more information on the Golden Link School, write to:
Theosophical Order of Service Foundation
If you would like to support the School, you can make a direct donation by writing to Mr Vicente Hao Chin at: philtheo [át] gmail.com (Please replace the [át] with an @ sign.)
Another possibility for supporting the Golden Link School is to sponsor a child.
If you would like information on a theosophical school such as the Olcott School in Chennai, India, write to:
Miss Keshwar Dastur
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