ZERA: Lessons of Light
19 Jul, 2017 | Julie Gaynes
Photo: Alvaro Manzano
ZERA: Lessons of Light
The state of public education in Bolivia is slowly improving despite slippery oversight and limited funding. Even massive reform from money-lending institutions won’t transform Bolivia into the generative, egalitarian nation it aims to be. Agents of change in education insist that true promise comes from within. Give a child a coin, and she’ll fill her stomach. Teach a child the tools for self-discovery, and she’ll tip stagnation.
The Integral Approach
Sharoll sits next to Tani in a well-lit office in San Miguel. Tani, age seven, has just drawn a rainbow flowing from her heart. Within the rainbow, sandwiched between the words ‘happiness’ and ‘love’, Tani has written ‘anger’ and ‘sadness’. Sharoll Osnat Fernandez Siñani, educator and director of ZERA, asks why. She helps Tani articulate her feelings and the two decide that the ‘light’ flowing through the prism of her heart refracts into grander light that projects onto others and leaves no room for negativity. Tani covers up her unwanted emotions with coloured markers and felt stickers. She glams up the rest of her symbolic diagram with neon glitter.
This is where spirituality comes in. ZERA, which means ‘seed’ in Hebrew, uses the globally acclaimed curriculum, Spirituality For Kids (SFK), as one of the sources for its programmes to implement tools for introspection through interactive methods for Bolivian youth.
Bolivia has long boasted a wealth of natural resources and cultural diversity, but has never been at the forefront of artistic, economic, or technological development. ZERA teaches students that they have the power to change the future, that there is no ‘light’ in bowing to former power relationships. Instead, there is a ‘seed’ worth fostering in every person, regardless of status or origin.
‘People are insecure everywhere, including Bolivia,’ says Sharoll, helping nine-year-old Maxi apply glue to the perimeters of his silhouette. ‘We need to teach children to look inside themselves, help them realise that they are already good and whole.’
Since its early work in women's prisons three years ago, ZERA has reached over 1,000 children. It conducts workshops in the city and countryside, weaving together expressive disciplines—art, dance, games, media, reading and writing—to ensure active engagement among its participants. The objective of the sessions are to provide Bolivian children of all backgrounds with the instruments necessary for a self-determining future.
According to ZERA’s philosophy, the instruments are empowering tools rather than imposed values. They are: Appreciation, Sharing, Effort, Wishes, Responsibility, Consciousness, Perseverance, Certainty, Unity and Love.
Sharoll nods at the paradox that selflessness might lead to personal benefits. ‘Actually, technical problems can be resolved quickly in education with the right administration, but what's essential is working in the community. Even with little resources, but with willingness to work with others, we can get what we want.’
It's a tough grab at gratification, but the kids get it. They learn that, ‘like a macaroni necklace', everyone is connected. Despite the fact that everyone has a different story, all people seek fulfillment.
Most of ZERA's lessons are expressed through the motif of light. Through these ‘classes of light’ children learn that their happiness is shared. In internalising this metaphor, participants of ZERA's programmes have been reported to enjoy improved relations with their peers, teachers, parents and greater community.
‘We're trying to raise conscious people,’ Sharoll tells me, ‘who are willing to sacrifice for others in ways that are unglamorous, and moreover continued daily. All of us, with our quirks and nuances, have something unique to give to the world.’
In the future, ZERA hopes to work with the global network Teach for All in its development of Teach for Bolivia, to ensure excellent education and inspiration across the nation.
For more info:
Facebook: ZERA Educación Integral