2017-03-22

Group shares plans for Sahaja Yoga boarding school

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Members of the DEVI International Boarding School Society, Tom Locke, Nicola Locke, Linda St. John, Gita Pattison, Mary Kuhn, and Marcel Kuhn gathered last week to discuss plans for a proposed boarding school in Mill Village.</p>

More details were announced last week regarding a non-profit society's proposal to turn the former Mill Village school into an international boarding school.

Queens County residents Marcel and Mary Kuhn are part of the DEVI International Boarding School Society, which stands for Dignity, Education, Values and Integration. They have plans to create a private boarding school for about 40 students in Grades 6-10. They'll be educated using the province's curriculum, but will also learn meditation and spiritual values based on the teachings of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, the founder of Sahaja Yoga, who died in 2011.

According to sahajayoga.org, the style of meditation "is a unique method of meditation based on an experience called Self Realization (Kundalini awakening) that can occur within each human being."

"What we're working toward is this is a boarding school, so this is home and that is the most important aspect of this is to create a safe and joyful, beautiful, comfortable, and relaxing school for the children," said Mary.

Tom Locke, one of the society's members, said most of the group has worked at a Sahaja Yoga school before and they were looking to set up a school for some time.

Locke said those who take part in Sahaja Yoga want their children involved as well, and that although children can meditate at home, members say they see a big difference when students get to meditate together.

"Everyone works together for the benefit of everybody in a school environment," said Linda St. John, a member of the society.

Marcel is an entrepreneur and Mary is a teacher, who works as a substitute with the South Shore Regional School Board. The pair have been offering Sahaja Yoga in Liverpool, Bridgewater, and Halifax for about a decade.

A couple years ago, they worked at a Sahaja Yoga based school in India but the couple departed after disagreements with the board. They said a "clash of cultures" ended their work there, although a petition was set up by parents aimed to bring them back.

"It had to do with not letting the numbers grow too big and having the tuition stay at an amount ... that wouldn't be restrictive to anyone," said Mary.

"That was one of the reasons we started [DEVI]," said Marcel.

Mary said she's happy to be doing this on the South Shore due to the quality of life, and she hopes residents of Mill Village are happy to see more children in the neighbourhood again.

The society will soon be looking for teachers and Mary said although she, and others who have already expressed interest in teaching, have bachelor's degrees in education, they are not required when it comes to private schools.

When asked where the funding is coming from for the school, Mary said there's no official governing body for the Sahaja Yoga movement and that funding for meditation spaces or schools, comes primarily from donations.

Marcel expects that the school will mainly be funded through students' tuition and through donations to the society. The hope is that if the Region of Queens Municipality approves the purchase of the former school, renovations will start immediately, with classes happening as early as September 2017.

The Kuhns say they already have interest from families in over 30 countries.

Since the Mill Village school shut down in 2014, the Region of Queens hasn't received any proposals for its use, except from DEVI International. There were preliminary talks a few years ago about turning it into a community hub, but the plans didn't move forward.

The municipality is in talks with the society to sell the building for one dollar.

A public hearing is set for March 28 just before the Region's 9 a.m. council meeting. The Municipal Government Act requires a public hearing if a municipality sells a property to a non-profit organization at more than $10,000 less than market value.

The 11,298-square-foot building sits on a property about 5.8 acres in size and is valued at $45,000 with the building, and $31,000 without it. The municipality spends nearly $10,000 each year on heating fuel, power and insurance.

With files from Michael Lee.

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