The Kind & Wise Way
By Silvie Walraven
From February 2012 till December 2013 I worked as a volunteer teacher at The Early Learning Centre (ELC) Elementary School in Thimphu, capital of the Land of the Thunder Dragon: Bhutan. Having done the five-day Ready, Set, Happy - 16 Guidelines course in Italy in 2008 and the two-day Seven Steps to Knowledge, Strength and Compassion course in The Netherlands in 2010, I was inspired to develop a programme for young children based on these principles while living in Bhutan.
Bhutan is a country where Buddhism is firmly rooted and part and parcel of everyday life for most of its 700,000 inhabitants. The education system, however, is based on a traditional Western education system, with a lot of emphasis on competition, academic achievements, ranking of students and schools, rote learning and strict discipline.
Gross National Happiness index
Furthermore, with the arrival of international flights, internet and TV in the early 90s, materialistic values and consumerism have also landed in this previously secluded country.
In recent years, the Royal Government of Bhutan has made Gross National Happiness (GNH) their leading vision for the country. The Four Pillars of GNH are: 1) Sustainable and Equitable Socio- Economic Development, 2) Conservation of the Environment, 3) Preservation and Promotion of Culture, and 4) Good Governance.
The government has come up with an elaborate list of domains and indicators that help to develop policies and strategies to work towards the realisation of the Four Pillars in all sectors of society. GNH is a beautiful and vast vision, but it is not an easy and straightforward task to accomplish in practice. It is a work-in-progress, with committed people in various fields defining priorities and finding ways to implement the vision.
Since the inception of Education for GNH in 2010, The Early Learning Centre (ELC) has taken many initiatives to work towards this noble vision. Within the school, they developed the Project Helping Hands for Health and Happiness (ProH4), which organises fundraisers for good causes, such as the Bhutan Kidney Foundation. This led to a partnership in which kidney patients benefit through the money raised for their treatment, and ELC students and teachers benefit by getting to know the patients, learning about their hardships, being able to relieve their suffering, as well as learning about the underlying causes of kidney failure and how to prevent this.
Design for change - a good match for Universal Education
Other initiatives include the Design for Change (DFC) Bhutan Programme, a Global Partner of the international DFC movement (www.dfcworld.com), which guides children through a 4-step process to develop social projects in which they can ‘Be the Change They Wish to See in the World’. This programme has been brought to about 20 schools nationwide (and worldwide to schools in 30+ countries), where children are actively involved in solving some of the problems they face in their schools and communities.
The DFC programme can actually be seen as a practical way of engaging in the Seventh Step of Compassion in Action from the Creating Compassionate Cultures framework. Even though these two approaches were developed completely separately from each other (DFC originated at Riverside School, Ahmedabad, India), I think DFC is a great match with Universal Education. As I see it, Universal Education is mostly about the inner work, the inner developing of compassion and wisdom, while DFC is more about the practical action, based on a sense of compassion and feeling of responsibility. Having seen the work of ELC, I wanted to come up with a programme that would give more depth to the aspect of inner development.
Students already practiced ‘Brain Brushing’, a short mindfulness exercise at the beginning and end of each school day. They also sang songs like ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ and there were the above-mentioned ProH4 and DFC programmes, so a lot has already been done to provide a much more holistic education than usual in Bhutan.
Using Universal Education as a basis to develop a new approach
Besides being the DFC Coordinator for ELC and Bhutan, I developed a 10-week lesson programme for Grade 3 students at ELC to give more depth to the existing activities, based on a selection of the 16 Guidelines for a Happy Life, The Ready, Set, Happy manual and insights from Creating Compassionate Cultures.
Twice every week I came into two Grade 3 classes for one-hour lessons, comprising short meditations, creative activities, games, songs, stories and role-pays. Kicking off with the YouTube video ‘Kindness Boomerang’ from Life Vest Inside, the lessons were organised around a selection of the Guidelines. As an example: for Respect and Humility I used the story ‘The Six Blind Men and the Elephant’ and we looked at and talked about optical illusions. We also analysed the unending number of people and animals that were involved in bringing chocolate biscuits to us: wheat farmers, chickens for eggs, bakers, factory workers, truck drivers, bees and other insects, engineers to develop factory machines etc. etc. This activity fitted well in the Guidelines of Humility and Gratitude. Like this, we went through the Guidelines with a wide variety of activities, culminating in a performance for the rest of the school, based on the story of ‘The Six Blind Men and the Elephant’ and the song ‘You Are a Star’, which is about how everyone is a star, just the way you are.
Results: the children liked it, but a lot of content to fit into this format!
The children generally responded very well to the programme, as it was a nice mixture of fun activities, and very different from the more traditional lessons. Several children reported how they used some of the visualisation techniques when facing difficulties, such as when getting into a fight with siblings. However, such a programme is difficult to fit into every class in this format, as two hours a week is quite a lot to squeeze in. For Grade Three at ELC it was easy to fit in due to their shorter curriculum compared with higher grades. For a programme like this to have more effect, it should be adapted so that lessons are shorter, or only once week, spread out over a longer period of time.
At the moment, my successor as DFC Coordinator at ELC, Ivor Hanson, has taken on the Kind & Wise Way programme as well, implementing it in his own way, adapting it according to the circumstances. In this way, the wisdom and inspiration of UE is strengthening the implementation of the wide vision of ELC and its energetic and committed Principal Madam Deki Choden, towards Universal Happiness through holistic education. From this year onwards ELC has upgraded to being a high school as well, as it is Madam Deki’s wish to be able to continue to nurture her students for a longer period of time, so they become true ambassadors of change when they grow up.
Back in the The Netherlands Kind & Wise Way continues to grow
At the moment, having been back in The Netherlands for one year, I have started facilitating Kind & Wise workshops for children here and will offer both Mindfulness and Design for Change programmes to schools as well. I am very much enjoying participating in the one-year CCC online training course, as well as becoming a certified Mindfulness Children’s Trainer through Mindful Schools in the USA and I am due to start the 16G training trajectory as well.
I am also working on the Dutch translation of CCC’s Pam Cayton’s book ‘Compassion in Education’. I am very grateful for all these wonderful opportunities to enhance my skills to work with children in order to help them to become more compassionate, wise and happy human beings.
For more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or have a look at my website www.sem-onderwijsvoorhethart.nl, which however for the time being is only in Dutch. Madam Deki Choden can be reached at email@example.com for information of ELC’s work.