Thursday, November 09, 2006

A day in the life of... Clear Vision’s education officer

Munisha from Clearvision (Manchester, UK) has sent us this account of 'a day in her life'; it originally appeared in the Order journal Shabda and is reprinted with permission.

People often mention how particularly inspired they are by Clear Vision’s educational work, making the Dharma accessible to young people. Maybe you’d like an insight into my typical day as education officer. Maybe you’d even like to sponsor our work financially!

9.30: Arrive at the Manchester Buddhist Centre and climb three flights of stairs to the Clear Vision eyrie: a large airy room walled in Victorian brick.

Make tea, chant Refuges and Precepts and report in with Hayley, who works part-time on finance, stock and despatch to schools.

I look at the emails. Yveline from New York: do we have any Buddhist stories on DVD for her four year-old? Yes! Staffordshire education authority’s Religious Education (RE) advisor wants a Staffordshire Buddhist to speak at a school. I put her on to someone I know from the Network of Buddhist Organisations (NBO), a UK umbrella group. Someone from Cambridgeshire is asking if I’ll come and train some RE teachers. Yes, indeed. A Buddhist RE specialist emails with a review of our latest DVD on Pilgrimage. She thinks it’s great. Hooray. Something to quote in our next catalogue. And there’s an email from the Department for Education and Skills, updating me on the revision of RE for 12-14 year-olds in England and Wales. I look after the NBO’s Education Advisory Group, which sends Buddhist reps to government consultations.

Think a bit more about my latest idea: a CD of meditative “stilling” exercises for children. Surveys repeatedly show that their behaviour and concentration improve with regular stilling. Teachers would surely give their eye teeth for such a thing.

10.30: a teacher rings from north Wales, wanting to book a visit to the MBC for her Welsh-speaking pupils studying Buddhism at A level (public exams at age 18). She comes every year and I wish we had a Welsh speaker available; it is such hard work for them, mentally translating everything we say, never mind trying to understand the Dharma.

10.45: pick up kesa and go down the three flights of stairs. There are 35 little 8 year-olds in reception. I show them photos of the conversion of the centre and ask why anyone might want to work in a dirty, smelly, damp, cold, dilapidated Victorian cotton warehouse for two years for no money. Long pause. One little hand goes up. “To make a more beautiful world?” Exactly. We decide to be detectives solving the mystery of the Buddhist Centre. We’ve got our imaginary magnifying glasses, and we’re looking for clues. Look at the size of that teapot! What does that tell you? “Erm, Buddhists like tea?” Well, yes... anyway. People come here to learn, every night of the week, but you can’t learn all the time, so they take tea breaks. A bit like playtime.

12.15: back in the office, after 7 minutes of refreshing “stilling” with the children. (Nobody, including the children, can believe they sat still that long. One of the parents says she actually forgot the children were there.) Upekshapriya, video-editor, cameraman, film-maker and IT support guru is dealing with an email from a teacher who wants permission to copy his old VHS cassettes onto a DVD because VHS players aren’t made any more. (The technology has moved on fast: a year ago teachers were using cassettes, and this year we’ve not just transferred to DVD but added PowerPoint presentations too. Adding these to our older products will take some time, however.) The teacher’s idea means loss of revenue for us, but the school doesn’t have money to buy a new DVD pack, and he is unusual among our customers only in that he has the ethical awareness to ask us. Negotiate what he can afford. Explain that we are just as broke as he is, so have to balance his need against ours.

Ironic, this, as three recent reviews say we are “the leading providers of teaching materials for Buddhism”, and make “some of the best resources available for Buddhism”, “setting a standard for other faiths to follow”. But there it is: we have let Aparajita, (treasurer and marketing) go and manage the MBC Christmas shop, partly to save his support for a few months and partly to earn a proportion of the shop profits.

The fact is, we simply can’t exist solely on sales any more, but this is no justification for letting us close down. Nobody else is doing the work we do.

After lunch, some consultancy for a company making an interactive game for the BBC. Kids go on a virtual journey. Encountering ethical dilemmas, they meet people (such as a Buddhist monk) whose views they canvas. The script includes Thich Nhat Hanh’s assertion that “We can always be happy.” Now, I do know what he means, but it needs explanation, for which there is no room. For the sake of distressed teenagers everywhere I insist they drop it, or balance it with Sangharakshita’s statement, “We can’t always be happy, but we can always be kind.”

And an hour on the application for a grant from the Faith Communities’ Capacity Building Fund. This Home Office money helps faith groups develop their capacity to encourage social cohesion, serve the wider community better or reach out to each other. I want some (only £28,000) so we can make a new DVD with interactive materials, looking at citizenship, rights, responsibilities, social cohesion etc, from a Buddhist perspective. The Buddha, Ashoka and Dr Ambedkar are just some of my proposed sources.

We normally make stuff for schools. This time, we’d be making stuff for Buddhist teenagers, and consult other Buddhists. A big step forward: there is virtually nothing for Buddhist teenagers; and other Buddhists sometimes resent our cornering the market in school materials. But can they support three full-timers to offer educationally acclaimed materials and teacher-training on a turnover of 60,000 pounds a year?

Anyway, I’ve no complaints. I’ve been here eight years and still think this is the job I was born for. Besides, I now get a tour of our wonderful mediaeval Cathedral, 10 minutes’ walk away, where the Education Officer and I have cooked up a joint project called “The Place of Peace”.

5.00: Feel a bit tired. Catch bus home for a nice cup of tea.

Anyone else want to give us a slice of their life?

Munisha (munisha[at]


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