July was a month of destinations for our team at La Puerta Abierta. While Isa and Isaias were in Mexico, Juanita and I traveled to India and collaborated with APV School in the Himalayas.
I am the mother of two daughters and I remember wondering while I was expecting my second child, if my heart would stretch sufficiently to love two little ones. It did. I often think of La Puerta Abierta as my first born, and APV School as my second.
Many months ago a friend asked me to put into words the uniqueness of my first trip to APV School in India. He had received a general flyer about the program, but still wondered what made my trip authentic.
He asked, “What would you say was the main takeaway that you got from going last year? Among all of the professional/personal development activities you could do in the world, what makes/made this one special in your mind?”
I still haven’t responded…not for lack of enthusiasm or time. I’ve struggled with finding the words to capture with integrity, the magnitude of spirit, learning, sharing, exploring and feeling experienced during my three-week retreat.
This quiet morning I find myself nearly a month post my second trip to India, memories of my most recent experience to the Himalayas floating through my mind like a chain of snap shots. I can nearly smell the ginger, cardamom, and star anise of the old Delhi spice markets. My nose feels a faint itch when I think of the sea of chiles that I passed evoking tiny sneezes from my nose.
I can feel 8-year-old Pria from APV at my side, singing gently during morning assembly, and a smile wide on her face as she hums, “I am happy to be born on the green earth.”
I can see the glory of the Himalayas from my bedroom window, clouds occasionally forming small halos over their peeks. And speaking of my bedroom window, I remember the smiling buffalo that lives across the street, named with love, Fuffulo. Her bells woke me each morning with a melodic tink-tink-tink.
An image floats into my mind of Puja, the 19-year-old APV teacher who I worked with, side by side. She’s a recent graduate from APV School and is now in her second year of teaching. From Puja, I learned a new grace of working spontaneously with students. I observed her teach lessons in a community setting with children sitting on the floor in an intimate circle, engaged in lessons, which required very few resources. I also think fondly of day #6 of my literacy training with her, when she confidently shared a book with her students, a new skill which she had been practicing throughout the week.
Did I mention the glory filled mornings at APV when I was wakened by a gentle tap at my door and greeted by the chai-guy who routinely brought me a steaming cup of tea to lull me out of bed for morning yoga? And the yoga…. I’ve never felt quite so tall, open, balanced and healthy as I have at APV.
The snapshots are plenty…there is no shortage of memories, but if I had to choose one main “take away” it would be this:
EXCHANGE–In an era when we often hear about the downfalls and struggles of educational institutions, APV shines with hope and inspiration for an alternative method of educating children holistically, with a focus on meditation, mindfulness, nature appreciation, and spontaneity. I have been motivated by observing, participating, and exchanging ideas with both the APV staff and other educators from around the world who have been present on the retreat. Likewise, sharing my skills as an early childhood educator with local teachers and children has been gratifying, meaningful, and heartfelt.
As for the second question, “What makes this particular trip special when there appears to b a plethora of personal/professional development activities to choose from in the world?” A single phrase answer has challenged me for months. I believe the word AUTHENTICITY captures my experience. We are truly fortunate when we find our own, unique, authentic “retreat,” which differs for all of us. As an educator, traveler, and an individual who appreciates nature, music, creativity, mindfulness, yoga, exploration and culture, the APV experience caters to my “retreat.”
Oh, and I don’t know of any other retreats which encourage participants to walk barefoot in rice patties and help a group of local women plant little baby rice sprouts in their village fields…this is most special.