Counting Breaths

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The road towards Anjanisain follows the Ganges, from Rishikesh to Devaprayag. The bus is crowded, I’m told, because many of the others are being used by political parties for campaigning across Uttarakhand. The man sitting to my left is returning home from a few days of work in Dehradun, the man to my right from eleven months as a cook in Oman. As the bus winds its way upwards against the current, two thoughts occupy my mind. First, the view is stunning – the terraced hills with their colorful homes, the bluest sky I’ve seen in a long time, the Ganga flowing below and the mountains obstinate all around it. Second, are their villages of women in Uttarakhand?

Yes, Matt will explain when I arrive, one train, two buses and a shared taxi later. The villages are largely women and children. It’s not just markets that are pulling the men away. Many men will take a job in a city – Dehradun, Delhi, Dubai – over one that pays more here because of the status in it. If you’re laying bricks on the road in Anjanisain, your neighbors see you. You don’t need to tell them what you do in Delhi. Who lays the bricks, then? Probably migrants from other places, Nepal or Bihar.

M is Nepali and in seventh grade at APV, a school and mindful community in the Himalayas. He meditates when his classmates turn goofy, leads them in the singing of “Here Comes the Sun.” For Anand Ji, the school’s leader, education is not preparation for future jobs. The students at APV are succeeding according to traditional measures – multiplication, higher education, career – but this is not Anand Ji’s goal for them. Nor even, ulitmately, is the kind of intellectual curiosity that he and the other teachers foster through classes full of props and problems to be solved and joyful wonder, classes that are deeply contextualized in Uttarakhand and also remind me of progressive education I’ve seen and experienced in the United States.

The school’s motto is “knowledge is that which liberates” and “conscious evolution” is the goal, for students and teachers alike. Morning assembly is meditation, followed by music, and, by popular demand, a story. These practices, particularly the first two, are central.

I am warying of trying to put the philosophy into my own words. I am an eager and interested observer of and participant in life at APV for the five days I spend there, waking up at 4am to meditate, trying to stay mindful while learning how to make roti, teaching the students some games I know, even, inspite of myself, leading an improvisational dance. I am welcomed, I feel, unconditionally. Still, there is much I appreciate but don’t fully comprehend. The deepest and most essential things are like a foreign language of which I know only a few words. Like anyone learning through immersion, I understand more than I can speak, but even understanding is halting and uncertain.

Above this, there is much that speaks directly to me: the celebration of children as they are, the emphasis on conceptual understanding, the compassion with which older kids care for little kids and even little kids care for each other, how good it feels to breathe the air here, the way the sun warms us all after three days of rain. Partial as my understanding is, much of what I see is what I want for all students: the way Anand Ji teaches algebra, happiness that stands on its own, the chance to sing every day with what seems like all the confidence in the world.

In the kitchen
In the kitchen

 

With a student who reminded me of my younger self
With a student who reminded me of my younger self

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anastasia's interest in education originated from her deep appreciation of her own teachers and grew because of her belief in the importance of education to social change. For the past three years, she has taught high school history in Providence, Rhode Island. She has also had

a lifelong interest in South Asia, born out of her familial heritage on her father's side. In college, she spent a semester at St. Stephen's College in Delhi, conducted research on colonial education policies at the British Library, and wrote her thesis about the United Nations humanitarian involvement during the creation of Bangladesh. She also participated in initiatives aimed at improving educational opportunities and access to social services for underserved communities. Anastasia is honored and excited to join the Central Square Foundation as a Clinton Fellow.

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