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Going around the world

Soumitro Sen

The children who live in Ananda Village may grow up in the serene, sequestered ambiance of a rural, spiritual community.

But they expand their horizons not only by embracing a foreign philosophy – Hinduism – but also by traveling oversees to educate themselves in diverse cultures.

On Feb. 16, the junior high and high school students who gathered in the “Cherry” room of the Ananda Living Wisdom School in the afternoon had a sense of thrill and excitement about them. Within a few weeks, 11 boys from the institute will travel to Costa Rica, while six girls will visit India.

And for some of them, it will be their first trip abroad.

“The three themes for our school are service, adventure and self-discovery,” said Nancy Kendall, administrative director of the school. “Part of the reason we go abroad is to bring students to a different culture.

They have the opportunity of looking at different values and how they affect the culture. So a part of discovering themselves is to compare their values to values of other cultures so that they learn experientially.

“One of the biggest problems of education in the West is that they have taken all the values out of it because those values are all based on religious dogma. So what we are trying to do is to teach them values experientially.”

Michael Deranja, aka Nitai, is chaperoning the boys’ trip to Costa Rica. He teaches math, history, social sciences, and physical education to junior high and high school students at the Living Wisdom School.

“We call them (the annual student trips abroad) ‘service adventure,'” Deranja said. “With teenagers, they are ready to explore a larger world. If the adults don’t make it possible in a constructive way, then they are going to choose drugs, and sex, and whatever is available.”

According to Deranja, children growing in small communities tend to get bored with it by the time they are teenagers. They think they know everything, a misconception, he said, that’s dispelled by visiting other countries.

“When we go to Mexico or India or Costa Rica, they see an entirely different way of living,” Deranja said. “They see people washing clothes with their hands. They see people eating a different diet, practicing a different religion. They see there is more than one way to do things. It broadens their idea of what’s possible in life.”

In Costa Rica, the boys will protect turtle eggs during the hatching season. They will also help with construction work at a retreat and painting projects with local villages.

Another group of students consisting of six girls will go to India. Headed by Kendall, they will visit New Delhi, Calcutta and the Himalayan town of Rishikesh. As a part of service, they will do projects at an Ananda center in the outskirts of Delhi and work at orphanages in Calcutta and Rishikesh. They will also give musical performances at the three venues.

Simon Hermann, 16, a junior at Living Wisdom, is in the boy’s group. He had been to India last year on a similar trip. He even had a chance to meet the Dalai Lama.

“We realize how lucky we have it here,” he said, about what he learned from his trip to India. “I want to go back – I am totally sure. There was something that was nice, something totally un-American.”

Relaxed in a gray Calvin Klein T-shirt and jeans, with tulsi beads (string of off-white beads worn as a choker by a certain Hindu sect) and a thin silver chain with a delicate AUM (symbol of Hinduism) around his neck, Hermann looked just as much an eclectic mix of cultures as his travels have been.

“I really like northern India,” he said. “Rishikesh and Dharamsala (the residence of the Dalai Lama) were my favorite places. I just enjoyed the whole trip.”

Leiya Mahoney, 14, a freshman at Living Wisdom, felt she has a “deep connection” with India, a place where it’s her “karma” to visit.

The trip to India costs $3,000 per person while that to Costa Rica is $900 per head. The trips are funded partially by the students’ parents and partly by the money students earn doing odd jobs within the village. Group fundraisings organized by Ananda also help supplement the expenses.

Besides educating the students, one of the aims of the trip to India is to choose a high school female student from New Delhi to come and study at Ananda Village.

“It’s not a cut and dried thing,” said Diane Atwell, aka Hridaya, English and social science teacher at Living Wisdom, who will also go to India with the group. “If it looks like a student would work out here and really wants to be here, we try to work with their parents. We have them fill out a financial form. We see what part of the tuition they are able to (fund) … for the rest, we do it.”

For now, it’s an atmosphere of eager anticipation among the students of Living Wisdom, who are all set to set out into the world for a whole new experience.

“I’m really excited,” Mahoney said. “I’m going to get a lot of it. Maybe from this one trip, I will get what I could have got here in one year. There’s just so much going on. I think it will help me grow spiritually, in my self-confidence and independence.”


To contact staff writer Soumitro Sen, e-mail soumitros@theunion.com or call 477-4229.

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