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Olga Rosenberg and Blanca García are two Mitras from Cuernavaca who have been running a project for underprivileged Mexican children and telling them stories as well as introducing meditation.
Earthquake in Cuernavaca
In September 2017 an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter Scale struck in Mexico, with its epicentre in Cuernavaca. This devastated the local community, with houses being damaged and schools destroyed. It had a particularly destructive impact on lower income families.
Olga and Blanca, both involved in the Cuernavaca Buddhist Centre and parents themselves, wanted to help. Olga is Civil Ceremony celebrant (overseeing weddings and baby-naming ceremonies) with two children who are four and seven and Blanca is a lecturer in Cuernavaca University, also with two children of eight and fourteen years of age. They originally had been in dialogue with each other about setting up a meditation class for children in the Cuernavaca Buddhist Centre, however, when that did not work out due to lack of numbers, they decided to help the children who had been affected by the earthquake. Their initial idea was to go the shelters where those children were living and give them an opportunity to develop awareness.
Linking in with the organisation, Caminando Unidos, which helps children in need, they began their story-telling project in February this year.
Meditation and Story-Telling
Olga and Blanca started this endeavour with no expectations but were surprised that the children they worked with - approximately eight to ten children between the ages of eight and twelve - were very excited about the project. Most had never heard of meditation and were curious to know more.
The typical format of a session starts with some body stretches (as they begin after breakfast) and involves a short meditation - Metta Bhavana, Mindfulness of Breathing or visualisation, all adapted to be suitable for young children. They noticed over the months of working with the children that their attention span developed so that, by the end, there were able to stay engaged with the practice for ten minutes at a time. When the children find it hard to meditate Olga and Blanca encourage them to try to sit still “with joy”.
After the meditation, one of the Mitras tells a story. Either a Buddhist story (such as that of Kisagotami or Angulimala) or a story with values of love and compassion. The Mexico Buddhist Centre have helped them by sharing resources from a children’s group they run in their Centre. Olga has also begun sharing some stories that she has written with the children. The story-telling is followed by a chance for reflection and then the children are invited to respond in a creative manner: either through painting, listening to music or some other artistic means. The session finishes with a simplified version of the transference of merit.
The Caminando Unidos teachers have reported that they have seen positive changes in the children: they are calmer and are better able to concentrate on their school work. One of the moments that have given Olga and Blanca great heart is hearing (through the Caminando Unidos’ ’guide’ Fernando who supports them during their sessions) that one or two of the children have started meditating outside of the sessions - a clear indication that they understand the benefits of meditation for themselves.
The project has taken a break for the summer months after running for five months, with a one hour session with the children each week. Olga and Blanca plan to resume the project in September and hope, with the help of others in the Sangha, that, in the future, they might be able to work with older children too - between 12 and 17 years - who would also benefit.
Many of the children involved in the project are Catholic so the aim is simply to introduce meditation and illustrate universal values through the stories. Olga hopes that this project might inspire others to do something similar. Both firmly believe that helping children in this way benefits society as a whole by enabling them to get in touch with their emotions, thoughts and their minds.
Watch a video about the project (in Spanish)
If you know any Buddhist stories or resources that would be suitable for children do get in touch with Olga (olgacuellar [at] gmail.com) or Blanca (ines [at] ibt.unam.mx).