Helping At-Risk Girls in Thailand Succeed

(Part one of a two-part series)

They come from all over Thailand, speaking many different dialects. Some are orphans, some from families destroyed by divorce. Others, members of the hill tribes huddled at Thailand’s northern borders, suffer from extreme destitution. Some have been abandoned to the streets. Often their parents are young and ill-equipped for raising a child. One young mother dropped off her preschool girls because her new boyfriend didn’t want them around.

One thing these girls have in common: they have learned to fight to survive.

Yet these at-risk girls are living in harmony together at Dhammajarinee Witthaya School, the first and only free Buddhist boarding school for Thai girls. The students consistently win top awards in every school competition imaginable from speaking English to Thai language skills to PowerPoint presentations. In fact, this year they have won more awards than any other school in their province.

At the heart of these students’ transformation from illiteracy to academic leadership, the teachers say, is the students’ daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique.

Acharn Yai, the Buddhist nun who spearheaded the founding of the school in 2003 with other nuns of her order, tells about a fourteen-year-old girl who was sentenced to prison, but the judge sent her to Dhammajarinee Witthaya School instead. “In the beginning she quarreled with everyone—with teachers, with friends. She was rebellious and not interested in studying,” says Acharn Yai. “After this girl learned TM, her behavior completely changed. She is much softer and more humble with other girls. Now she is a leader.”

One of the school’s teachers, Acharn Chakriya, remembers a girl who was sent by UNESCO as a last resort because she had been kicked out of every other school. “She was so big and combative that even the teachers were afraid of her,” says Acharn Chakriya with a laugh. “After she learned TM, she started helping the other students and made it her job to sweep the floor for the younger girls to sit on when they meditate. And just today she won the first prize in singing for the whole province! She said she meditated before the competition.”

Acharn Yai says that she sees this pattern over and over—the girls come in fighting, but with the TM program, the aggression goes away.

“The students become more calm and settled,” says Acharn Yai. “Their aggressive behavior decreases, their grades go up; they pay more attention to whatever we teach them. When they have inner happiness, they soak up whatever knowledge we give, unlike before. Because of their TM practice, the school is doing better and better.”

Before the school introduced the TM technique in 2008, it was much harder to teach the girls, says Acharn Chakriya. “The teachers never even tried to send the girls to competitions because the girls weren’t ready.”

The teachers also benefit, enjoying greater energy and better focus with TM. One teacher found relief from chronic headaches.

Besides learning the Transcendental Meditation technique, the girls take courses in Buddhist studies and an academic curriculum that allows them to pursue a higher education if they choose. Learning how to use the Internet, make PowerPoint presentations, and create basic computer programming is also an important part of the curriculum.

The students also receive vocational training in baking, growing organic vegetables, creating traditional Thai handicrafts, performing basic accounting, arranging flowers, crocheting, weaving baskets and creating Thai flower garlands. This training is critical for those not attending college, as it gives them a way to make a living when they graduate.

And in keeping with Buddhist principles, the students spend time every day performing service: keeping the buildings orderly and tending the beautiful gardens. So the day is full from dawn to dusk.

(to be continued . . . )

To make tax-deductible donations to support the classroom building project, please visit Seeds of Heaven. Click on “Donate” and find Dhammajarinee Witthaya Girls’ School, Thailand.

About the Author

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

More Posts by Linda