These are the values we hold most dear at Brosis.
In conjunction with the beautification of the school and premises, I've also been meeting with the students regularly to share related lessons so that there is a mutual exchange, so that the changes to the school aren't received as a handout.
That shifted into a new gear a few weeks ago when I started specifically teaching the Brosis values—sharing the value of the value with a related exercise (e.g., we all went tree hugging for the Love for Nature value). Normally, I don't publish about my lessons but the one we covered the other day for Service to Humanity, was particularly powerful and might even have benefit for you.
I started by giving the following formula: Service to humanity is service to God or Nature. Service to Nature is service to self.
By looking out for others, helping somebody in need, generally having a disposition of not looking to get or take, automatically ensures that your needs will be taken care of. This is of particular importance when you are living in a community, as the children do, with dire financial challenges.
I reminded them of the sacrifice their mothers made. Carrying them for 9 months and literally risking life during childbirth. Then, caring for them, feeding them and so on.
All the teachers at the school are sacrificing on the students' behalf as well, earning so little (about $1/day) for over 40 hours of work/week, so little that they could be classified as volunteers. I asked each teacher to share why they do what they do and all of them said to help the children have better futures.
We've gone over this before, I also included the fact that Mother Nature gives to the kids ceaselesslly—oxygen, food, water and, in a sense, bears them as a burden on the planet.
You could sense they were getting it, even through the translation. As I was invoking all of this, a palpable presence of love was in the room and I realized how abundantly these children, who have so little, have been provided for. Of course, this is true for all of us.
This talk was leading up to an exercise, or more like an experiment, that I carried with me from India.
That is a water bottle that has been painted and has a small opening in the top so you can deposit money. My friend, Jyotsana, invented this project and calls it Akshaya Patra, meaning inexhaustible vessel.
Idea is deceptively simple. You collect money over a period of time not for any specific cause or for any specific purpose, just as a loving gift and knowing that one day when it is filled, it will be given randomly to somebody else. The bottle gets filled with love and money.
Imagine if somebody told you they had spent the past 6 months filling that bottle with money just because and felt moved to give it to you. How would that affect you? What would it inspire? That's the power of this experiment.
Let's remember that my kids are all poorest of the poor and live in a slum—typically, they are in the position of having to ask for money to get by. The idea of introducing this to them, on the one hand, doesn't make any sense.
But it really does, especially when you define true poverty, as I did, as feeling like you have nothing left to give. I reminded the kids that you can always give somebody the gift of your presence, e.g., talking to somebody who looks like they need a friend. I shared about the two four times I've nearly been robbed (literally) here in Nairobi, saying that those individuals are truly poor, feeling like they need to steal from a stranger. They deserve more love than retribution.
I introduced this phrase and had the students repeat it out loud a few times, I always have enough to give.
These words seemed to really land.
I asked one to be the leader of the project, to remind his classmates about contributing to the bottle each week. Even if it's 1 Kenyan Shilling, doesn't matter. You give the gift as a personal sacrifice bearing in mind all the sacrifices made on your behalf and because the act brings joy knowing the joy that will be created later on. Even if it takes an entire term at school or year, doesn't matter. It's about the process.
To wrap, I put some coins in the bottle and handed it over to Timothy (above). Then, just about everybody without asking, enthusiastically put money in the bottle as well. It was amazing.
And notice the smiles! :)
In all honesty, I don't know if they will continue with this—that's not the judge of the success of the program. The point is that we invoked the spirit of the value of service to humanity, we planted those seeds, and now we let them germinate in whoever, however they want.