When we lived in Iowa City, we hosted a very small Sathya Sai center in our home in our University town. Despite our small numbers and high turnover, we were able to carry out a monthly meal service at a local soup kitchen as well as visits to a nearby rehabilitation center. Deep down in my heart, however, I yearned to volunteer with pre-school children.  I have always loved working with children and found immense satisfaction in their simple and innocent joys. I prayed fervently that the Lord would find a way for me to use my gift for nurturing children and developing their innate values and social skills that could help them throughout their lives.

In 1995, He answered my prayers! I was asked to set up a pre-school for the children of women survivors of domestic violence living in a transition shelter. I had to develop a regular curriculum as well as obtain suitable educational materials. Sathya Sai Baba had stressed that “Character is the most precious gift of education.” His Love for children and emphasis on developing their character is clearly manifested in the Sathya Sai Education in Human Values (SSEHV) curriculum. Presented with this wonderful opportunity to serve my beloved Sai and be His messenger, I decided to incorporate His human values into the curriculum, and modified the SSEHV materials to suit pre-school children. In addition, to ensure continuity for the children, I worked with the shelter to arrange for the children to be transported to the pre-school, even after their family had moved out of the transitional facility. 

In 1998, the temporary pre-school at the shelter was consolidated with “Home Ties”, which provided full-day daycare to help families who were busy seeking a job and trying to put food on the table. I felt Baba was expanding my opportunities to serve, as I found myself spending longer hours in the classroom with the children, always ensuring they were developing their inner values and had a joyous time.

Teaching Preschoolers Character Values

Through my volunteer experience and the network of people I met, I found myself taking on more responsibilities such as managing the community Toy Lending library. I felt  so grateful to Sai Baba for all the service opportunities, which allowed me to utilize my time in such a meaningful way and brought me such self-confidence and self-satisfaction. Finally, in 2002, I was approached by the Head-start Operation to implement a special program called Second Step in their preschool.

The program teaches empathy, problem solving, and anger management. Each weekly lesson is about half-an hour long and uses picture cards, storybooks and puppets to create a stimulating and fun learning environment.  The children loved the program as it was interactive and gave the students a chance to talk about dealing with various life situations, learn how to cope with anger, develop caring and empathy for others, and imbibe invaluable social skills that would help them throughout their adult life.  Initially, I taught the classes twice a week at two different sites, but as Head Start expanded its operation, I found myself visiting four to five sites, teaching three to four different classrooms at each site.

Sathya Sai Education in Human Values

The  Second Step curriculum provided me yet another avenue to incorporate and spread the values emphasized by the Sathya Sai Education in Human Values (SSEHV) program. For instance, when teaching about anger, I would use Baba's quote that “Anger is one letter short of danger”. In addition, I would also remind the children another of Baba's maxims: WATCH our Words, Actions, Thoughts, Character and Heart. I truly felt so blessed to have such a rich treasure trove of educational materials to draw upon from Sai Baba's SSEHV to supplement the curriculum I had. 

Personal lessons for the teacher!

Personally, I felt like I grew from these values-based lessons myself as I learned very practical tips for dealing with conflicts, for problem-solving as well as managing my own anger, tips I generously shared with my husband! I also learnt that sometimes, you had to accept that things may not go as you desire, especially in working with the agencies and the other adults, who may not always think the way you do about what is in the best interest of the children. It took a lot of patience and compromise. I have become wiser about remaining silent and “letting go” at times, aptly expressed in the prayer of serenity:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Most of all, I felt my life fulfilled as I watched the children express their delight and joy in seeing me. I felt gratified to be His instrument and that I was able, in some small way, spread His message, and help children blossom through these lessons in love.

Vanaja Chandran

Sathya Sai Center of Iowa City