Prior to my arrival in Bhutan, I reached out to the Early Learning Center, in Mothitang, to organize some volunteer work for the girls and myself. Having spent two years teaching English in Japan, volunteering in ELC’s English Literacy class was a no-brainer. However, when principle Madam Kueron discovered my current passion, YoPlay, my true role in Bhutan revealed itself.
Founded by Madam Deki, ELC is a very progressive school (grades K-12) that puts as much emphasis on kindness and respect as it does on academics. Every class period begins and ends with 2 minutes of quiet meditation (they call it brain brushing) because the teachers believe an upset, angry or distracted child can not be expected to learn. Therefore learning is preceded by prepping the mind. Imagine my enthusiasm when they asked if YoPlay could take the place of their performing arts class for the month. Turns out, that class was lacking a teacher during our time here. Serendipity.
Of course it was a mix of excitement and trepidation I felt as I started my first day of YoPlay-Bhutan. Their school culture is so different from our own; worry about how my program would translate sat like a rock in my stomach. Their day begins with morning assembly. Rows and columns of children in the courtyard, standing in near military formation. The National anthem is sung, prayers are said, announcements are made and achievements are recognized (acts of kindness, recycling efforts, gifts to the school). The whole thing can last up to an hour. And then there is the cold! Unlike our schools, Bhutanese schools have no central heating, shivering children are taken outside to “warm up” in the sun. Even answering questions is different in Bhutanese schools. Here children stand up when speaking, and must address their teacher as Sir or Madam. These and a thousand other little differences.
Worry, anxious prepping, nervous introductions…
And it’s was all for not. For all our differences, we are still so much alike. It is a fact that despite country or creed, children can not form themselves up into a circle. Partner poses will always illicit rowdiness requiring shushing and stern looks. And all children, no matter where they are from, love to pretend (a bonus for my guided meditations). Basically we’re all the same; born in Bhutan or Texas, kids are kids. If there is a tree they’ll try and climb it, if there is a puddle they’ll find a way to get wet.
After a month of classes I can say YoPlay-Bhutan soared! The children, so kind and appreciative, would swarm my girls during snack time. Each vying for the opportunity to share their Bhutanese snacks with the foreign visitors. The instructors requested a teacher training that was enthusiastically attended one Saturday. And even after my departure, the school surprised me by posting a yoga video for international children’s yoga day.
Stella often likes to say she has 108 hearts. And she’ll name each one, “My daddy-heart, my mommy-heart, my puppy-heart, my ice cream-heart…”. As the children of ELC sang us farewell at our final morning assembly, my tears and cracked voice were evidence of my very own, new Bhutan-Heart.