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Saturday, June 3

Divine Summer Camp in Rishikesh

Last summer I received a gift from God –  an opportunity to teach the underprivileged children of Mother Miracle school in Rishikesh.  The programme included Vedanta, Mantras, Prayers, Yoga, fun with Nature etc. We called it the Divine Summer Camp.

Learning sanskrit shlokas, paying homage to great personalities, leaders, and saints via interactive movies; taking books home to read, exploring Indian customs and beliefs by watching, hearing and experiencing the Mystique of India, and story-telling about the Gita, Ramayan and Krishna were some of the highlights of both the morning and evening classes.

For the evening classes about 20 students of different ages came regularly. The children were alert, attentive, enthusiastic and eager to learn.  The evening class began with a 15-20 minute meditation. Afterwards, we learned Vedic prayers and mantras and the children learned to listen, recite, read and write in Sanskrit, Hindi and English, and made rapid progress. We had a story-reading session every day; we read the Mahabharata (written and illustrated by an eleven-year-old Samhita Arni). The children were eager to read; the goal here, in addition to introducing them to Indian epics, was to practice English reading and comprehension. 

The older kids learned the Gayatri Mantra by way of sravana (listening), reflection or inquiry and meditative analysis.  In the India Mystica series, we learned about some of the sacred trees and aspects of nature worship. Our story-telling class ended with reading the childhood stories of Krishna by Vanamali Devi. We watched movies on Ganesha, Vishnu, Shiva, Hanuman and a brilliant film by David Attenbrough on nature. Wai Lana, an Australian Yoga teacher, generously sent us a whole package on how to introduce children to yoga in a fun way: twelve each of the Little Yogi picture books, CDs with songs, card games and activities books.  Before we started with her books we paid homage to Sage Patanjali through stories and illustrations.

The morning classes were packed with fun. We did storytelling and quizzes on a variety of topics. For one week my friend Vidya from Delhi and her three-year-old daughter Lakshmi joined us. They brought Lakshmi’s story books; many of them were about children or life near the Ganga, myths and folktales about Ganga and nature. We also started a project called “Ma Ganga in Rishikesh”. In the first art class children drew their vision of Rishikesh; most of them drew the river, dense forests, birds, butterflies and elephants. The drawings however were varied; the perspectives used were really interesting and many had (use another word here instead of ‘interesting’ since you just used it.  Something like “most were very detailed”) details – using rafts, the bund, the rocks, one man swimming towards a child caught in the current. It was heartening to see what nature meant to the children.

We explored Rishikesh further by going on nature walks; the idea was to learn more about local trees, birds and butterflies.  In one story about plants in India, we read that neem is eaten with jaggery at festivals to taste both the sweet and bitter. In our first walk we carried jaggery and mixed it with neem- fresh from the trees.

As we walked, we encountered a man brushing his teeth in the river; the children gently persuaded him not to do so. The next step was to work out a plan for the children to educate pilgrims not to throw plastic litter in Ma Ganga

On Sunday, (June 29) we went on a 13 km (one way) uphill trek to Neelkanth Mahadev for a glimpse of nature’s beauty (see Photo Gallery). The children identified the following birds: Magpie Robin, Paradise Flycatcher, Bulbuls, Great Tit and Seven Sisters. On Sunday, July 6 we trekked to three beautiful waterfalls. Here our focus was more on butterflies. We identified the plain and striped tigers, lemon pansy, common mormon etc. We also visited the Hare Krishna temple where it was a pleasure to learn that the children had followed a similar summer camp programme as offered by Iskcon.

Our work on Ma Ganga continues. The representative of Sulab International Toilets has surveyed the area of toilets that needs to be cleaned up. Our children have made a poster asking people to keep Ma Ganga clean.  This has been put up at the restaurant at Ram Jhoola.

We ended our Divine Summer Camp at Mother Miracle School with a trek to Neergarh waterfall. This is about 3 km from Laxman Jhoola and another 2 km uphill. Accompanying us was Bobby, from Red Chilli Adventure co. who shared with us his personal experiences of trekking. He too was amazed to see how much the children had learned about trees, birds and butterflies etc. On our return we first stopped for a chai break at a dhaba. Here led by Rocky, the children sang chants from the Ananda Sangha group such as Door of my heart, Prabhu me tera, Listen to my Heart’s Song——. These had been taught by Eliza and Stan whom the children fondly remember. Thereafter lunch consisted of parathas eaten at our regular restaurant at Ram Jhoola.

Deepak, their teacher also participated with great enthusiasm and was able to narrate topics from Indian Mythology. We made some wonderful plans for them to visit Delhi to see museums and temples.

Warm thanks to Patrick and Shahla for giving me the opportunity to spend this wonderful time with the children.