Fostering spirituality in SSE students during the pandemic
While COVID-19 concerns grew throughout the U.S. and a national emergency was declared on March 13, 2020, the SSIO USA Education wing transitioned to virtual Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) programing while students sheltered-in-place.
USA National Education Coordinator, Ms. Aparna Murali, along with SSE coordinators, participated in online training sessions on teaching virtual classes. Now, months later, 100% of SSE classes are conducted online. Most regions also offer several virtual activities such as yoga, arts and crafts and story-telling sessions. Older SSE students have taken a leadership role in delivering online SSE lessons and organizing virtual activities for their younger peers. Teachers have reported positive feedback as children, being more tech savvy than adults, have enthusiastically embraced this new medium of delivery.
With Aradhana Day canceled, a seven-week, a three-pronged national SSE initiative was implemented, designed to foster SSE students’ spiritual connection with God, family, and community while they shelter-in-place. A fourth initiative spun off from the third and all four are listed below.
Sai Bhagavatham (His Stories). This first initiative was designed to foster a deep connection to God through listening to inspiring stories of Sathya Sai Baba as told by His devotees. Every week, SSE students and their families had the wonderful opportunity to listen to a dynamic speaker who shared their life experiences with Sathya Sai Baba, and the spiritual wisdom they gained from their interactions with Him. More than 500 devices logged into each virtual session, while others who missed the session could listen to a recording. By popular demand, the Sai Bhagavatham series was extended to the end of May. Ms. Murali believed that the overwhelming positive response to Sai Bhagavatham reflect a deep hunger for spiritual sustenance and a connection with God during this challenging time. For all of the recordings, please visit Sai Bhagavatham.
Gayatri Mantra Chanting. A second national initiative, chanting the Gayatri Mantra nine times each day, was designed to foster SSE students’ individual spiritual practice and engage their families in chanting this powerful mantra. Families were encouraged to chant together either on their own or by dialing into the daily SSIO-sponsored national call. Many children reported that the discipline helped them to be calmer and more focused, and deepened their faith that chanting the Gayatri regularly can make a difference in reducing suffering in the world, such as that inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
God Cares Cards. The third national initiative was designed to nurture SSE students’ spiritual connection with others. The national SSE team designed seven pictures with a simple but powerful message that "God cares". Students are given these electronic pictures along with instructions to tag others individually on these pictures, as a way to show their concern and love for them.
Stay-at-Home Seva (Service) Challenge. The fourth national initiative grew from the God Cares Cards project. In sharing their positive thoughts and prayers through the God Cares Cards, students began to find creative ways to express their gratitude to essential workers and those on the frontline of the pandemic.
A heartwarming incident involved a seven-year-old SSE student who took to heart Sai Bhagavatham speaker Geetha Ram’s direction to “be handsome on the inside”. He wrote a touching letter of appreciation to the trash collection team which services his home:
Ms. Murali remarked that we often hear that it takes a village to raise child. She explained, “It has become clear, over the weeks, that the process is actually the reverse: children are raising the nation. Children are leading the way through the darkness.”