Transforming Lives with Kindness: Akshay School’s Journey with the 16 Guidelines

Raquel Mason is the founder of ASOCIACION AKSHY an organisation that works for the eradication of extreme poverty and a more equitable society with projects near Bodhgaya, India. One of these projects is Akshay School. In October 2023, Raquel presented during the Growing Compassionate Hearts Conference organised by FDCW. She shared how FDCW’s 16 Guidelines for Life program has been successfully integrated into the school’s curriculum and daily life for more than 10 years. So spoke passionately about the positive impact the Guidelines are having on the children and the teachers.

After the Conference, Raquel sent us a video that some children at the school made about the 5th Guideline – Kindness. She hadn’t asked the children to make this video. They chose to create it for themselves, to explore what kindness means for them. You can watch it here

Raquel has arranged for The 16 Guidelines for Life book to be translated into Hindi and printed locally. 

Oi Loon Lee has served as the Chair of FDCW’s Board of Trustees for several years. She travelled to India to discover what effect the 16 Guidelines program is having on the children at Akshay School.

Oi Loon’s Reflection on Akshay School’s Success

Akshay School is a free school for children from the Dalit community, a severely disadvantaged and marginalised community at the bottom of the caste system in India. The school has infused the school curriculum with the 16 Guidelines. I was curious to see whether the 16 Guidelines had helped the children and had the chance to visit the School during December 2023.

I had collected some funds from family and friends to buy gifts for the school. Ranjan (the school administrator) met me the afternoon I arrived in Bodhgaya and took me to the local market to buy gifts for the children and school staff. We were able to get a stationery set, a box of pencils, exercise books and a pencil case for each child and a vacuum flask for each teacher. 

During our shopping trip, several young women approached Ranjan with smiles and curiosity. Ranjan introduced them as graduates of the sewing program organised by the school. The women were confident with pleasant manners and it was a delight to meet them and learn about the sewing program.

The next morning, Ranjan took me to visit the school, a single long 3 storied building, standing starkly among the harvested fields outside Bodhgaya. It was founded in 2008 and now has 240 students. The school gates opened to a different atmosphere from the dull, dry and barren fields. Inside, the school was brightly painted and clean.  

I was taken up to the top floor, open-walled but covered by a metal roof. This space serves as the assembly hall and activity area. The students, from the young ones to the teens, were orderly, quiet and well behaved as they waited.  

The principal, Mr Shiv Kumar, started the assembly by using a singing bowl to bring everyone to a deep stillness. Mr Shiv posed questions on the 8th Guideline Right Speech. The students from young to the older classes volunteered answers from their own experience. 

After the school assembly, I joined a class of older children to see how the 16 Guideline of Right Speech was developed by the teacher. Desks and chairs had been pushed back to allow the students to sit on the floor. There was participation from everyone and I felt this allowed them a chance to be heard. I learned how the children would put into practice the 16 Guidelines in various ways. For example, they had taken on the responsibility of caring for some aged, poor and lonely people in the village. 

I noted how different this school was from the ones in my home country of Malaysia. For one, all the shoes were lined outside each classroom very neatly. The walls displayed the children’s work samples and drawings everywhere. Their handwriting was in cursive and noticeably neat.  

There was a lot of emphasis on art. The children were all neatly dressed and the girls with carefully tied ribbons in their hair. In the computer room and library, the resources were neatly kept. The students answered in English respectfully to the questions I posed. I got the feeling that the students really felt proud and privileged to be in school.  

After a quick tea with the senior staff, I returned to the assembly hall to distribute the gifts to the children. Besides the stationery, I had also brought a small red and white candy cane for each child as a gift for the Christmas season. I wanted them to remember as they eat the candy that white was for a pure mind and red was for a warm heart. That would be the essence of the 16 Guidelines. How excited the little ones were to get their presents! Apparently, they had never got a set of stationery enough for a whole year all at once. There were smiles and giggles all around. The teachers were also happy to be appreciated. 

Akshay School does more than just provide schooling to the children. It also looks into their health. As their home diet would be lacking in nutrition, the school supplements their diet with some protein each day – a handful of chickpeas, or an egg or a banana or milk. This would be a snack for many of us but a life changer for this community.

Besides operating Akshay School, ASOCIACION AKSHY runs programs to help adults, especially the women, who traditionally would not have the chance to go to school. I visited the sewing workshop in the school grounds. A group of young women were learning tailoring. When they graduate, they could at least earn some money from tailoring at home. There are also other projects to help the students who graduate from Akshy School to continue their education in colleges. I learned too that workshops were organised to educate the parents on their rights, healthcare and domestic issues.

I believe that the seeds of kindness and mindfulness planted by Akshay School in each of the students will definitely ripen to benefit their whole community. As Raquel had pointed out during the Growing Compassionate Hearts Conference, this is the first generation of the Dalit community to have access not just to academic education but also emotional learning by practising the values of 16 Guidelines. Once they grow up, whether they go out in the world or choose to stay behind in their villages, their experience at the school is carried in their hearts. It means they will act more reasonably, with kindness and have more consideration in their interactions with others. 

It’s clear that these seeds planted in the children will have a positive effect, rippling out into the community for generations to come. 

What a great school, Raquel! 

FDCW extends heartfelt thanks to Oi Loon for sharing her experience and to Raquel Mason and ASOCIACION AKSHY for their incredible dedication and work in transforming the lives of children and the community in Bodhgaya. We rejoice in the positive impact of their efforts and look forward to seeing the continued growth and benefits of the 16 Guidelines program.

Foundation for Developing Compassion and Wisdom (FDCW)

At FDCW we are committed to a more compassionate, wiser world. We provide resourcescourses and training to develop qualities such as kindnesspatience and honesty – qualities which are essential for meeting the challenges of the world we all share.

The Foundation for Developing Compassion and Wisdom (FDCW) was established as a global charity based in London in 2005. Since then we have provided secular training, programmes and resources across many sectors of society – schools, universities, hospices, workplaces, healthcare, youth groups and community centres. Our courses have reached thousands of people across the world through our dedicated and growing network of facilitators in more than 20 countries.

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