Guest Post By: Maegan Merrifield
We returned to the hotel for breakfast after our overwhelming morning at the Ganges River and headed out to Sarnath. Sarnath is one of four Buddhist holy sites, a deer park where Buddha delivered his first message. It’s a peaceful place with quiet visitors making their way through old ruins and a museum displaying beautiful works from as far back as the 3rd Century BCE.
Buddha’s teachings of equality were revolutionary in caste system India. Followers do not worship the Buddha statues, but use them as reminders of his teachings. Each part of Buddha symbolizes something e.g.: the curls on his head represent all of the many thoughts in his mind. One interpretation I really connected with, must be the therapist in me, is the elongated ears of Buddha remind us to listen more and speak less.
Next we piled back into the van and drove a few blocks to a crowded residential area. We stood in a small, hot alley batting flies from our sweaty faces as we waited. Out from an old, narrow, three story building came Rajan, an ordinary looking Indian woman who took our hands and beamed “I’m so happy you came to visit my school.” Rajan is the founder and operator of Buddha’s Smile School (buddhas-smile-school.org), a school for some of the poorest and most disadvantaged children in the world. Their parents are on the street, prostitutes, homeless.
As we walked through the school, Rajan kept saying about the children “I put love deep into their hearts.” Class after class “I put love deep into their hearts.” Small ones coming up to her with their work, rewarded with a candy from her bag “I put love deep into their hearts”. Every time she said it I fought against tears burning behind my eyes. That was it for her – love.
In India today, 95% of all marriages are arranged. When Rajan got married, over 20 years ago, that percentage was higher. She has what is called a “love marriage” – she married a man she loved and with that received no inheritance, had no dowry, and was completely cut off from her family. Yet despite these obstacles she earned her degree in Education, teaching in private schools and for government officials’ children. She became known as the women who could motivate children and teach those who did not want to learn. When they moved to Varanasi for her husband’s entrepreneurial business venture, Rajan describes the start of Buddha’s Smile School as the children finding her. “I never imagined I would have this many children around me all of the time. I don’t know why I was chosen to do this, but I was, and I am so grateful.” Her determination to change the trajectory of these kids’ lives is evident in everything that happens at the school, “I want to give these children dreams, so they can be more than where they came from.”
The children stay at Buddha’s Smile School for as long as they need to. They are put into classes based on abilities not age. The school goes to grade 5, and once the kids are done Rajan herself creates their school records complete with ages and birthdays as “they have no birth certificates”. But it doesn’t end there, BSS provides scholarships for each of its children until they graduate high school.
220 children are fed, educated, and have love put deep into their hearts everyday.