After 2 amazing days at Shree Swaminarayan English Medium School, Salvav, India, our adventure continued. We learned more about this organization, its schools, its campus, and its mission. From what we have gathered the 8 acre campus is home to:
- A grades 9-12 boarding school for 70 young ladies (provided free of charge)
- A Pharmacy college with Bachelors and Masters programs
- A combination of state & nationally accredited, tuition based schools, grades nursery through 12
We got to meet the boarding school students on our first night here. Remember the singing? These women live on campus and are provided an education, food, and housing at no cost to them other than a commitment to grow intellectually and spiritually. Every day at 7:00 AM and 6:45 PM we gather with them and some of the swamis for prayers, song and spiritual discourse.
On Monday we took a road trip to some of the off campus or tribal sector schools the organization maintains. Again Laurie and I were treated like dignitaries which can be a little unsettling, even for me. Classroom after classroom, school after school, we were not only impressed with the high level of education being provided but the level of what the students had learned already. We observed 3 and 4 year olds, preschool level, demonstrating cursive writing. Cursive is thought to be more difficult to learn than printing and was usually held for 3rd grade level in the U.S. Correct, it’s not used anymore these days but watching a 3 year old display better penmanship than I ever had was a little humbling. It displayed something challenging had been taught, and learned, by very young students. It’s also art. Why is art important? Because it promotes things like creativity, motor skills, self confidence, visual learning, decision making, perseverance and focus. Now the reason for the cursive make sense. It’s not to have great handwriting it’s more a fundamental building block for future learning and success.
The students weren’t the only ones who impressed us. All of the teachers and principals at the schools were clearly proud to show off their school, curriculum, student’s abilities and more. Some explained in detail what was being taught and how and why, and then had the students interact with us. At some schools the students sang very long and elaborate songs for us. Clearly they had put a lot of hard work into it. Another thing I noticed was the good behavior of all of the students and their level respect to the teachers and to us. These kids may be the first generation in their families to receive this kind of education and opportunity. Children in rural, tribal areas are almost always turned toward family work at a very young age and thus leave school during their elementary education.
At every stop we were given the opportunity to share snacks with the children. After our tour and their showcasing their talents the kids lined up and received a treat from Laurie and I, courtesy of the swamis. One by one they came up, looked us in the eyes, got their treat and said thank you. There were no attitudes, no talking back, no disrespect for the teachers, no disruptions – just genuine respect and gratitude. These children have a life ahead of them that their parents did not – all because somebody took the initiative and offer them an opportunity to learn.
We spent Tuesday visiting a much larger school and spent a few hours visiting classrooms while being guided by the principal, an intense and passionate man. Once he found out I was a Yoga instructor and owned a Yoga studio he kept turning the conversation to the importance of Yoga in one’s life. At the end of our visit he ended up showing us his favorite Yoga pose, Peacock Pose or Mayurasana, right in his office.
The next day we ended up touring the Pharmacy College right on campus where we are staying. Having a pharmacy college seemed a little unusual to me but after the tour it made perfect sense. India produces the majority of generic drugs imported into the U.S. And Vapi, the area that we’re staying in, has dozens and dozens of pharma companies and factories. This school consistently produces a super majority of the top 10 students in the state. We visited classrooms, labs, and other facilities at the college and talked with some extremely bright young people who were very passionate about their coursework and the path they were on.
We even got to see a pill making machine (my terminology) in action. Once the process was explained in great detail a bunch of student showed up and demonstrated the process for us. Not only did they manufacture some sample pills right before our eyes, but they also tested the strength of them (pill hardness) and tested the ability of the pill to dissolve in your stomach (not sure of the term). We learned a lot about pharmacy and pharmacists and were really impressed with this college.
The past 5 days of our trip spent here represent the best 5 days of our trip so far – no offense to anywhere else we’ve been. To get off the beaten path and visit a place where no foreigners have stayed has been a gift. We are treated like royalty but also get to experience, day after day, the real India. You will not find this kind of experience in any guidebook or travel brochures. A chance meeting in Webster, N.H. with a swami has led to a once in a lifetime, life changing experience. I’m not sure how it’s changed my life yet but I can feel it.
The educational work that this pace is doing here on campus and in the tribal areas is great. The work they’re doing offering the marriage ceremonies to the poor is great. Both are admirable. In the next blog post I’ll share some of the other work that they’re doing in the communities here.