Sathya Sai Schools in Mexico
SATHYA SAI SCHOOL IN CHIHUAHUA (founded 2002)
South of the border between Mexico and the United States lie the desert and extreme weather of Chihuahua, the largest Mexican state, with long dry miles between sparsely populated towns and villages. In this desert, Sathya Sai Baba wanted the first Sathya Sai School in Mexico! Nearly 20 years ago senior leaders of the SSIO in Mexico considered several possible locations in the country for their first school and wanted guidance from Sathya Sai Baba, or as they called him, Swami. Dr Luis Muñiz traveled to Prasanthi Nilayam, Sai Baba’s ashram in southern India. Dr. Muñiz carried a map of Mexico to show Sai Baba the possible locations they had in mind. An opportunity came when Dr. Muñiz was granted an interview by Sai Baba. As school officials tell it today, “To the surprise of all, Swami pointed at Chihuahua saying, ‘Here, my school, I want it here. Here you’ll have good teachers.’ It was the beginning of an adventure!”
To establish a school, volunteers mostly located in Mexico City to the south needed to travel more than 2,500 kilometres each trip to and from Chihuahua. The task was enormous and extremely difficult. The Sathya Sai School started with only 15 children in kindergarten, and year after year the school began to grow.
Life here can be harsh…
Originally the region of Chihuahua was occupied by the Tarahumaras, natives known for their long-distance running across the desert. Their culture, religion, and dress have been impacted by proximity to the USA, past migrations from Germany and Holland, and more current migrations from the south. About fifty percent of the population in Chihuahua is mestizo (mix of American Indian with European), thirty percent Caucasian, and the balance is indigenous. This brings an interesting and unique scenario. The primary religion in México is Catholicism, but in Chihuahua, because of the different ethnic groups there are Catholics, Mormons, Mennonites and Evangelicals. The social context is complex. Alcoholism and gambling is rampant. Despite higher educational and economic levels than many other areas of the Mexico, the rate of divorce in Chihuahua is the largest within the nation. Family fragmentation and domestic violence is the norm.
Gambling and violence among the families also affects the Sathya Sai School. The school, unfortunately also has abused children and mothers whose husbands were killed. The violence also affects children of the Tarahumaras and Tepehuanos native groups. The reduction in the number of births per family has been drastic, declining from four to two children very recently. The ageing of the population near the Sathya Sai School has limited the number of students. Now the school has only 36 children from Kindergarten to 6th grade.
…but the Sathya Sai School soothes
Despite this complex and difficult social situation, the Sathya Sai School is well respected among the community because of its high academic achievements. Five students have received scholarships from the Tecnologico de Monterrey, a private and very prestigious high school, because of their good character and academic excellence. The Secundaria 4, another well-known school is open to receiving any Sai student without any pre-requisite "as they are very well-prepared, and so responsible and peaceful, we want more of these children".
Painting is one of the classes offered at the Sathya Sai School for several years now. Water-color painting helps children to be calm, to reconnect with the peace within themselves, and to find solace from sometimes disturbing family situations. In June 2016 an exposition of their works was held in a local cultural facility.
The school offers also karate which is appreciated by students because of the discipline, focus on right conduct, and stress relief.
Children and parents provide a regular service to the public hospital by taking breakfast to the relatives of admitted patients. Public hospitals are free so the families bringing loved ones for medical treatment are mostly poor workers or unemployed people.
The school building is not owned by the Sathya Sai Organisation. Beginning in 2014 the supporting Institute of Sathya Sai Education started looking for a property to build a new school in a better location with more adequate space for the children. Property has now been found for the school in a poor zone of the city. The process is underway to obtain the necessary government licensing and funding for construction.
Environment of Love, Name of Truth
Sometimes a small incident reveals the true essence of a school. Every day meditation starts at school punctually at 8 am with all groups sitting together. One day a little girl named Fernanda arrived late. Not to disturb her classmates, the secretary asked Fernanda to wait till meditation was completed. Fernanda went to the office. After a while the secretary found Fernanda sitting on the floor meditating. Fernanda did not want to miss this important activity for her, and she wanted to do it at the same time as her friends! How beautiful! This is a wonderful example of the simplicity, purity and divine nature of children who choose meditation one of the activities they like the most!
Chihuahuan law does not allow a school name to include the name of a living person. Since its founding, the school has been called Centro Educare Rayenari (Education Centre Rayenari—the word that Tarahumaras use to refer to the Sun). On July 8, 2016, after almost two years of legal effort, the education ministry finally authorised the new name for the school. Beginning the next school term in August, the school will be known as Sathya Sai School of Chihuahua. Institute and School leaders are ecstatic and hope and pray that their wonderful school will continue to bring new hope and opportunities to the children of this troubled area.
SATHYA SAI SCHOOL IN CUERNAVACA (founded 2004)
The school is located in the centre of Mexico in the village of Santa María de Ahuacatitlán. The name is a combination of Spanish and pre-Hispanic words: Saint Mary of Ahuacatitlán (place of avocados). The weather is warm all year long so avocado trees grow everywhere. When the Spanish arrived the commander of the army Hernán Cortes stayed at Cuernavaca to prepare to attack the Aztecs located in Mexico City (Tenochtitlán) around 60 kilometres north. The natives living in Cuernavaca ran away to higher elevations, primarily to this place known as Santa María.
Until today Santa María keeps much of its culture, and its laws and rules are based on customs and traditions. For example, if you buy a house in Mexico City, a lawyer is needed to register the sale, notify the government, and submit taxes. But in Santa Maria if you buy any property you need to go to the Ayudantía, a council of elders who must give their approval to buy any house.
Most of the people work in agriculture or commerce, and they have very low level of education.
Poverty is extensive. Women are not usually educated having only a functional level of reading and writing. At junior high level almost 60% of boys and girls leave school, a vicious cycle that keeps families in poverty.
Cuernavaca is a region with modern hospitals and health services due to its proximity to Mexico City, and many wealthy families have their summer houses in Cuernavaca. However, most of the families of Santa María have no medical insurance and cannot afford to pay for transportation to the health centre to see a doctor.
The Sathya Sai School was founded by two teachers who are Sai devotees. After several years they donated the property to the Institute of Sathya Sai Education (ISSE). Subsequently, the ISSE has been expanding the building and increasing services offered by the school. In 2015 two classrooms were built, and during that academic year the school reached the maximum number of students―90. The next school year begins in August 2016, and at least the same number of students are expected, possibly more.
The school offers full time kindergarten and primary grades (1- 6). Every day during the evenings there are several optional activities such as parenting, homework workshops, classes for adults, and training for teachers. The process for governmental authorisation to expand to the Junior high level has begun, and it is estimated the expansion could occur in time for the 2017-18 school year.
The religious community is an equal mix of Catholic and Jehova Witnesses both living together in harmony at the Sathya Sai School. Students are encouraged to engage in community service. They deliver food to the elders of Santa María and also help clean the adjacent street. The Sathya Sai School is supported by family donations but chiefly by the Sathya Sai Institute patronage, as a great number of these families live in poverty.
Folklore dancing by students began in 2015 and is very popular and full of fun. Because most children are descendants of native families, learning traditional dances seemed to be a way to reclaim some of their traditions. A teacher knowledgeable in regional dancing was hired, practice began, and a successful programme was held. School officials say, “Sai Baba enjoyed and encouraged traditional performing arts programmes by his students, so we're trying to do the same.”
The Sathya Sai School performs much better academically than other schools in the region. The Sathya Sai School students are recognised by the Education Ministry for their high academic levels, very good behaviour, respect and honesty.
The ISSE works together with the SSIO to provide medical camps for the Cuernavaca Sathya Sai School families at least twice a year as many of them cannot afford health services. Family bonds are strong, and the Sathya Sai School is considered by the community as "their place". The whole community is invited to the school’s programmes and performances such as the closing festival for students. At the folklore dance programme, children danced not only for their parents and grandparents, but also for their neighbours!