At Khyentse Foundation’s inception, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche shared a long-term goal of establishing international, non-denominational schools for children with curricula based on Buddhist principles. In June 2003, Siddhartha’s School welcomed its first students to Vajradhara Gonpa, Rinpoche’s retreat centre near Kyogle, Northern New South Wales, for monthly “Children’s Days”. This pilot project is the seed that could blossom into realizing Rinpoche’s vision. Supported by Khyentse Foundation, Siddhartha’s School Children’s Days are coordinated by gonpa resident Eva Thomas, who has experience as a preschool teacher in Germany, and Ari Danapati who is currently enrolled at Southern Cross University in Lismore earning a Bachelor of Primary Education, which will surely be put to good use as the school grows. “The programme is based on Buddhist principles such as loving kindness, courage, and compassion, combined with the recognition that these qualities belong to all of humanity regardless of race, religion or class,” says Ari. “At the moment we are making up activities and games that foster these qualities”. Activities include meditation, outdoor recreation led by Sergio Jacomy, drama and music with gonpa resident Shakti Bourke, setting up simple shrines, a children’s style tea ceremony using cookies and juice and other games culled from a teaching manual published by Shambhala.
In August, the children had the pleasure of meeting with Aenpo Rinpoche who was teaching at the gonpa. “So far our primary focus has been to build friendships and respect within the group,” says Eva. “We hope to help develop gentleness, awareness, care for others and self confidence in the children”. Students’ ages range between four and twelve. Attendance varies between ten and twenty students but that number is expected to rise when adverts reach local schools. The frequency of the Children’s Days is also expected to increase to fortnightly or weekly, as per demand. WHAT’S NEXT? In November the coordinators met to further develop the curriculum. “We’d like to start working with particular themes that stretch over a period of time,” says Eva. “For example Rinpoche suggested we focus on the Jataka Tales”. Khyentse Foundation has a five-year mission to raise seed money that will enable the creation of a fully functioning school by year 2008. Ari is hopeful. “We hope to be part of Rinpoche’s vision to establish the Dharma in the West”.