Growing up enlightened in a Uganda orphanage
March 5, 2016
This story starts darkly.
At first, we felt surrounded by despair. The organizers of the orphanage in Uganda had invited Leanne, my wife, and me to a celebration. Their adult supporters had assembled in a barn-like theater.
At the back, and spilling outside, were children, everywhere. You knew because you saw them, not because there was any childish energy. They were just there. Because they had to be. Not because they had any delight in it. At the same time, they were not anxious to leave. It seemed there was nowhere to go. No expectation, no joy.
The group had its own cultural dance troupe of young adults. They performed traditional dances and played traditional instruments. That was interesting. In another atmosphere it might have been absorbing. But the weight of the children’s presence was heavy.
Dances and skits about AIDS
The children themselves came on stage and presented well-rehearsed songs, dances and skits. All were about AIDS. All serious, all expressing the grim reality of AIDS orphans — the disease that took their families away might well be lurking in their bodies too, and there was no escaping it.
This occasion was a long, painful way from our experience as parents at a school in well-to-do America. There, the children and parents celebrated with joy in all the children’s achievements in school.
In that darkness in Uganda, our one consolation was that we we had some light to offer. We knew we could bring real joy to the children, and to everyone. The only issue was how to convince the adults to accept it…
Five years later… dancing with joy and abandon
Five years later, we find ourselves once more the guests of honor at a celebration of this group in Uganda. This time, the children are singing and dancing with joy and abandon. It is spontaneous and infectious. This time there is no need for a professional dance group to raise our spirits. The leaders’ speeches express their happiness. They point to all the progress they are seeing in the children and in the whole environment.
The orphanage has started a school. It is a simple place under a metal shelter with partial walls that barely keep out the rain. But it is calm and happy there. The children play and do not fight, even in the line for food. And, unusually for a rural primary school in Uganda, the children all pass their exams. Some are already in secondary school.
What has happened?
This is a story repeated thousands of times by now in different schools and communities around the world. First the adults, then the children, started the Transcendental Meditation program. This simple, systematic method of quieting the mind twice a day allowed each of them to begin to live with more calmness and balance.
children under ten now enjoyed a walking meditation technique. They would walk quietly in line around the school yard twice day. The school became so quiet that the neighbors wondered if it had closed or moved away!
Innate creativity and joy
As stresses and tensions have been released from peoples’ lives, the whole community has begun to rise above its problems and to enjoy life more and more. The innate creativity in everyone is now released more and more into growth, health and progress.
HIV/AIDS naturally remains an issue for many of the children and for the whole community. There are still challenges in health and in wealth, for many. The challenges seem to be less overwhelming now that there is more positivity and less stress and fear in each mind and in the whole community.
The organization itself has now begun to think less about survival and more about self-sufficiency. It now grows some of its own food, although it still needs support each month. In addition to money for food, they need salaries for teachers and for permanent buildings for the primary school. And there is a pressing need for school fees for the older children at secondary school – where they are shining at the top of every class.
These fortunate children in Uganda, who had such troubles in their younger years, can see a brighter future. They are more and more self-assured. Through their meditation they are growing in knowledge and experience of their Self. They are growing up enlightened.
Story and photos by Graham Defreitas
First published on the blog Early Rays of Smile