The India Journals of a Dancer: The Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement
Between the last post and now, we have been continuing with lessons, lectures (Intro to Carnatic Music, Nigerian Economy, Gender and Caste, Bollywood, Gita for Westerners and Leadership in the Gita) and sight-seeing to the bird garden, the zoo, and more in Kerala where we spent the last weekend at a resort by the beach. Our long bus rides were daily summed up with all the windows completely open and various albums playing on a bluetooth speaker. I have to say, I think it’s an aesthetic to feel the wind chiseling your face with your eyes closed and Tame Impala’s album “Currents” in the background. Another is dancing away from the waves as if you are one with them.
Of course, describing everything in such detail might be boring so I want to focus on our visits to the Swami Viveka Tribal Center for Learning, the Viveka School of Excellence and hospital in Sargur. Our day began with 6 am yoga as usual, breakfast of probably idlis or dosas and a 2 hour bus ride to the first school. The school had hostels for the tribal kids and the teachers. I was amazed that people have so much drive for service to commit to living in this rural school with the children.
We interacted with people who were in teacher training and were introduced to them as musicians, and they asked us to sing a song. We sang “This Land is My Land” which I think is not the greatest song from America, but it is super American. The teacher trainees sang a song for us in return, and Steve (our professor) sang Bagyada Lakshmi Baramma. They didn’t really have that many questions for us, but they did ask what our names are, and how technology and education are different in the US.
Our response was that people here are taught so many different languages. They knew Kannada, English and Hindi. In the US, people really only know one language and maybe two.
Next, we saw the library which had collections that anyone at the school could read. They had English and Kannada selections, my favorite being “The Natural History of Stupidity.” Two first graders were inquisitively waving hello to us as we left to meet the young children in the classrooms.
The first classroom we visited had children that were around a pre-first grade age, and they were arranging the English alphabet in block letters on the ground. The next class were 6 or 7 year olds. They were busily writing in notebooks but as they saw us they immediately stopped. We mingled with them and some were extremely shy, but others had a myriad of questions like what our names are, how old we are, and where we came from. I sat with a group of four boys and took pictures of them, and when I showed them the pictures the smile on their faces were irreplaceable.
The next classroom was outside, because sometimes tribal children are so used to being outside they cannot focus in an indoor classroom setting. The class we visited outside was a Hindi class. First, they sang a song for us: “Hamko Manke Shakti Dena.”
They were then allowed to come talk to any of us. I think the ones who came to me were really confused as to why I didn’t speak Kannada, because I look Indian. However, they were extremely expressive and quite naughty. Allie and Sarah sang songs and danced with them, and I took pictures of them. Every time I looked up more kids were adding to the frame. They asked me about my parents, and brothers and sisters and kept asking for more pictures. I think to me, children are the embodiment of Krishna because they are so pure, but mischievous. They each are beautiful characters with different personalities. It was so easy to become attached to these kids that leaving them was actually difficult. As we walked away from the outdoor classroom campus waved outside the windows until we were gone. It is important to note that these children would not have another form of education if the Swami Viveka Tribal school did not exist.
The next stop was the Ayurveda clinic. The clinic had a yoga room, massage room, and lab. They make all of the medicines using natural ingredients that are grown on the campus. Apparently the government pulled support from the movement, so that the state would take more responsibility, but I am unsure if that is working. The movement, it seems, only has the best intentions and now the least financial support.
We ate at the canteen and the food was the most flavorful food I have ever tasted. Before eating we were allowed to purchase Ayurvedic medicines like Kashaya tea powder (good for colds), oils for hair and pain and other powders for other uses, and after eating we left for the Viveka School of Excellence in Sargor which was a 1st – 10th and Pre-University school. It was Wednesday so the students were allowed to wear what they wanted and not their uniforms. As a result, there were jeweled anarkalis and vivid dupattas adorning outfits. The school had a chemistry, biology, physics, and computer lab in addition to yoga room and library. We played in the “Science Exploratory Park” which was the most intense learning playground I have ever seen. Every structure had a description relating to science, and questions to think about while using it. There were over 30 structures to play with. Honestly, if I had gone to school there I would have learned so much by doing and questioning. I would also never not want to go to school.
The kids were let out of school by some middle-school looking boys banging on drums and blowing horns. They all lined up for some announcements, and then the Indian national anthem played, and they were dismissed by the horn and drum duo. Piles of little ones stuffed into autos and belted bye to us as they sped away and we made our way to the hospital– a short visit. We saw their community-based radio which raises awareness about health and social issues, and saw the different wards and labs.
I can’t help but wonder if everything is too good to be true? But then I think about the issue between equity and equality. These students are being catered to so that they can still fit into their rural backgrounds, but also get an education. They are being taught to how they can understand.
Our professor here told us that when he sees his class roster before a term begins, he imagines everyone as lotuses that will collectively grow together. Fittingly, the day I wrote this was Guru Poornima, which only makes me more thankful for the exceptional and dedicated teachers I have had. Seeing this passion in the Swami Vivekananda movement is not only inspiring, but refreshing to know that there are movements which are so good-hearted in the world.
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