Meet the Teacher
An interview with Dalia — the school’s founder and principal teacher,
about the Golden Avatar School Project
What kind of environment do we find at the school?
We are a family of educators that love the children and value them and consider that they are important whereas otherwise if they are left on the street they find their solace in drug dealing, stealing, theft, whatever it may be, but now they have actually a sense that we are their family, and don’t just consider them to be a number, ‘student number 23, take your seat”, but we consider that each student is an individual and each student is a unique gift from God and that we create an environment in the school where each student feels that they are a unique part and a valuable part and that they play an essential role in that school.
How does Golden Avatar make an impact on the surrounding areas, the community and country?
If the school was not here providing education, than 51 thieves or drug dealers would be in the street. The difference between Golden Avatar kids and street kids, you can see, they are developing their character, building their life, and thus there is a big difference between the two types of kids. Like cleaning the society by root. The criminal is not born from the mother, society makes the criminal, how, by poverty, problems, and no love and affection.
How does your personal relationship with the students bring them to being productive members of society?
When the student comes at first we do counseling, if they are normal, gentle, humble, and likes to study we send them to classroom. Who are not like that I take them and talk with them. If a boy is 11 or 12 year old I say, “I am like your elder sister or mother,” sometime I take in lap and just talking peacefully to see what is inside him or her. I say, “forget everything,” there is one girl anmed Gauri, she has no father and no mother. She lives in her Auntie’s house and her aunt is not able to give her enough food so she has to go working as a prostitute, but she does not want to. She is needy and goes for food, then when I firs met her, everybody hated her and does not want to talk to her, even her Auntie. I asked her to forget everything, “that everyone hates you, remember one thing, God loves you, Krsna loves you that why you got a human body, and I love you also because you are like my sister.” I ask her, “do you like doing that thing?” and she says, “no, I want to be like other girls in my locality, her father has money, she goes to school, reads, nice dress, many friends.” I said, “look you don’t have mother but I am like your Ma”, I feel so sad for her and I said, “remember somebody loves you so much in this world, if everybody hates you remember me at least.” She started crying and I gave a chance for her crying, cleaning everything. Then I said, “look my Gurudeva gave me this blessing for distributing his love, what you see in me is just the love coming from Gurudeva, I am just giving you.” She is now in school, she is not good brain to study but she is very good member of school, she is helping in kitchen, cooking, maintain nicely, dancing nicely, when we go to sankirtana book distribution, hard working and no more this thing working. She is one of my responsibilities, I want to take her to my house but her Auntie does not let her, her Auntie is her guardian so I cannot take her to my home, but if in future we can provide some home for a few of them that would be good. This is one story of girl Gauri. Like this we are talking, I am talking with each individual student, I know everybody’s house, how they live, what they are doing, what is their inside. First go deeply inside and clean everything, the wrong thing, goes, goes , and put inside the good thing… slowly… slowly.
So you act as both personal counselor as well as teacher.
What are the main subjects that you personally teach the children in school besides your personal counseling?
I do History and Geography class and dance class.
What is the normal curriculum, what would be general program of a student?
First when they come to school in morning they worship Gurudeva, performing devotional songs and meditation for 30 minutes. Then they become calm and quiet peaceful and we start some story class, where they learn about the morals and values of life. At first we speak. We don’t start with the hard subjects like Mathematics. Something soft about morality and life. We start at 7:30 and by 8:30 we finish. Mathematic class 30 min, physics, chemistry, one by one, then 10 o’clock finish then again in the evening come. If we have some prasadam (blessed vegetarian food) we distribute it in morning but if we don’t have they go to their house, then again they come in evening and in evening like same thing we do arati-ceremony for Gurudeva, some devotional singing, then start again History, Geography, and other nice classes. We are not just telling the kids read it and memorize it, we are telling read it and understand it, feel it, what you understand, don’t just memorize… then you forget everything. But read it and try to understand and write it down in your own words. Don’t copy from the book. Maybe it’s wrong, maybe it’s good, but write it down. Every class we are doing like that. One boy Arjuna, not good brain but he makes science project all over Nadia, so we encourage him in that. At 7:30 pm we provide some nutritious prasadam (vegetarian food), and we continue.
Finally, we communicate every day; How you feel about school? What you think? What don’t you like? Even if it is something they don’t like about me. If I got angry and speak strongly, or if anyone is angry with me for that, tell it to me. Like that we make good conversation 20- 30 min, sometimes playing some games, like refreshing their brain. Too much study in the morning and evening from 6 to 9 can make them bored.
What was your upbringing like and how did it affect you in making it your life mission to help these children?
When I was a kid nobody helped me. I was in high school from 10 year old and I did not get economical help from family. I was good student and wanted to study. No money, no exercise book, nothing, at that time I got inspired, if in future I become good professional, than I will help at least one kid. At that time I did not think that I would become a teacher. Then it was inspired in me from that time when I was in school 12, 13 yr, by 15, 16 yr old I finished my high school study with good marks but my parents not able to help me. I suffered because no books to read. I would go to school and listen to teacher and write down what I understood. From that time no book , I felt those who have book, they have everything and they came first. One teacher told me to write down everything inside, so that’s how I became good and got good result. At that time I was very good dancer and I was representing my school for dancing as well as difference science project but I had no financial background or support. I thought in school if I could get education in dance or art it would be very nice, but in my school there was no such education for cultural things so when I got the chance to make a school my idea was not a simple ordinary school. Education is not something for carrying like a weight, education is a part of life, it will carry you to your goal, that is my vision, that is why mainly I give education for Life, for living.
How was your life mission affected by meeting Srila Gurudeva?
I met Srila Gurudeva six years before, and at that time Gurudeva also gave vision to me to make a school but it could not be completed. Gurudeva helped me a lot. When I was in the past with so much problems, lot of fighting and no peace in my life, fighting against society, fighting against poverty, fighting against death….each moment if I thought that I don’t love my life I would have died. So in that situation, at that time, Srila Gurudeva took all my problems and gave me all his blessings from the beginning day and made my life like big huge ocean with bright sun, cleaning my every pains from different situations. I cannot feel his going, I feel his blessing with me always. Last time when he was talking with me, he said, “Even I am not here”, I am so silly I did not understand, he said, “Even I am not here my blessing is always with you.” And he is here, his blessing, I don’t know so many things about bhakti, even I am born and brought up in brahmana family. My grandparents helped me a lot, help me to fight against the bad elements from the society. This is my inspiration how Gurudeva helped me, when I am not doing puja, kirtana, seva, he doesn’t reject me, he loves me, as I am, and gives me shelter at his lotus feet. He is my inspiration to love everybody.
What are the current limitations of the school in terms of curriculum and examinations and what is your projected growth?
In future I want to make not just a school, but an educational institute for Life, where each and every student when they finish their study at least they have something to give the society, to the people, to their parents and family… after finishing their education. By the grace of Gurudeva we could make a nice gurukula and educational institute.
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What facilities are needed for that?
We need first a building, with at least eight rooms with one office room, and playground. This is minimum requirement for government registration and pertains to being able to hold the state exams.
What would the student to teacher ratio be at that time?
How many students would you expect to have and how many teachers would you need to accommodate them?
My idea is, unlike there in government school where they study 80 students to one teacher which is not a good system, my idea is 20 student to one teacher. Like this, how many teachers we can provide, we’ll accept 20 kids more. More money coming in – more students coming.
Right now, how much does it cost for one student to attend the school?
One thousand rupees a month, for each student.
You personally select each student correct? What is the process and requirement? How do you decide who can become a part of the school?
This is a long system, first we take names from the government school, the rejected student list and addresses then we go visit their houses to see what happens there. Why they cannot study. Most of them because poverty cannot attend good in class. One kid was rejected because he cannot give attention, the government school rejected him thinking he is crazy but he is not crazy, he is a little bit afraid of the situation what happen with him so he just kept silent… too afraid to talk. Everyone thought he is silently becoming crazy, but now he is talking nicely, in Bangla and English. We go first to student house and inquire about their background and everything, then one day we invite them to school with the family. After finishing my school curriculum, they come, I talk with them. They have to be a good scholar, this is a boundary, otherwise I have to take 250 kids. First we take some memory test, some cannot respond anything, they are afraid too much, you can understand by their face what is going on inside. I understand immediately, I feel them out, whoever gets in the memory test a good mark, and when I feel somebody could be good in some other thing, we also recruit them to talk individually alone without parents. Then I see if some kids are coming too much proud for doing bad things, he can encourage another to do a bad thing, such a kid I do not give a chance. Even if I am talking with him spontaneously that this is bad, patiently 15 days of counseling, still he is like that, then I am talking with the parents to see what they are doing after going home. If they are changing we keep, but who does not want to be changed cannot change. That kind of kids we don’t take. It is a one month process, then we choose. We have to be very choosy because we have limited facility.
How are the teachers linked to the project, and how are they supported and encouraged to continue working with the school?
I know the head teacher for 10 or 11 years. I know he likes to help poor kids, his vision and my vision is the same. Whenever we need a new teacher we make some advertisement that we need a new teacher and people come with their qualification, grades, everything and we see the best qualified teacher by paper and then we call an interview and we talk with them. I want to know from them what they want to do by heart for this society as a teacher and what kind of education he can give the students. Teacher is one kind of guru…just giving academic education, this is not enough, it is how they behave with the kids,
how they can be attached with them. By talking with them I can understand them and I choose who is good. I took a yoga teacher, art teacher, they are enough qualified for their own ground and they have the special qualification, they love to do seva. That is the main qualification, they are not doing it for the money, they need money, of course everyone needs money, but for money they can go another place. This mind and attitude to do seva is essential. They should be a servant, not like a boss in school.
In our tradition we understand that all are servant. How do you encourage spiritual teachings and practices, and instill spiritual values in these children?
Actually we cannot give good spiritual teaching, I don’t know so much about puja, offering, I know something, that if someone meditate and chant Gurudeva name and maha mantra they will be calm, quiet, and purified, so from the heart…what they are doing with the heart, not doing mechanical… not doing just because I said to do, no “you feel, why you have to do.” It’s not forced to do, that is why we need a good spiritual teacher to give the bhakti path, some stories, we are doing but we are not enough qualified in this. I would be happy if any visitor could come to the school and do kirtana and tell stories, they like and enjoy that, they are hungry for that, they will eat these things.