Leonie van Iersel is a Dutch teacher who came to Peru with a dream: to create the first holistic school in our country, where not only the cognitive aspect would be important, but also the spiritual and moral well-being of the children. Although the building is not yet done, she is already working with the children of Manchay.
The dream started three years ago in Nicaragua. Dutch-born teacher Leonie van Iersel was on a holiday in this beautiful Central American country when the following existentialist questions suddenly came to her: Is there a purpose in human life? If so, what was hers? Leonie spent her holiday pondering these questions. By the time she was back home, the young teacher had already thought out a whole “plan,” but shortly after, she became very ill and spent four months under the effects of morphine. “If I die now, this is all I will ever have done with my life,” she thought.
That same year in April, she arrived in Peru to start working on that same plan she had thought out in Nicaragua. At the heart of this plan was her belief that every single person can do something to help make this a better world. Leonie wanted to do precisely that in this faraway South American country, which she had heard so much about from her mother's Peruvian friend. This is how she arrived in Peru to teach at a Dutch school, but she soon became aware of the huge gap that existed between the rich and the poor in this country. This reality hit her so hard, that three weeks later she had started volunteering for a religious organization and at a primary school. While she was teaching English to the children of the Manchay hills, they in turn were teaching her the Spanish words for things, food, and colors.
One day, one of the children asked her what sport she practiced and she answered that she had always practiced yoga. At once came the question from the children: “Can you teach us how to practice yoga?“
This is how Leonie started giving yoga lessons during school to the children of this area, in the outskirts of the city. After a few days, she started to notice the changes that the children were experiencing after the yoga sessions. They were not only calmer, but they were also getting along better with each other and feeling more confident. In short, they were happier. The plan she had conceived in Nicaragua was starting to come true.
But, that was just the start. Van Iersel wants to build the first holistic school in Peru and she wants to do that in Manchay. In this kind of school, children would not only have the traditional subjects like language or math as they would in any other school, but they would also be taught about health, the environment, nutrition, etc. And there would be yoga, too, of course.
“We want this to be a school that will empower the children, a place where they can feel safe, where they are taught values and learn to help each other; a place where they are given the chance to reach their full potential and find a way out of poverty,” she says.
Making good progress
In the last couple of months, many other teachers (and not just yoga teachers) have joined Leonie’s project, which she has named Con Pazion, “because we want it to bring peace to the children (“paz” in Spanish) and to teach them about passion and empathy” (“compasión” in Spanish).
This year, the volunteers at Con Pazion will help the children of Manchay with their homework, coach them to make their own organic garden so that they can grow their own vegetables and give them empowerment and yoga classes. Leonie hopes that her dream of having their own building for the holistic school will come true next year. The first of many, as she dreamed a while back when she was in Nicaragua.
This involves an integral and creative view of education, an education for life that goes beyond the cognitive aspect and that, without underestimating this, focuses on the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects as well, in order to form integral human beings.
A holistic education is a humanist pedagogical philosophy that centers around the student and is interested in his/her training and development as a person in connection to himself/herself, to others in his/her society and to the planet.
If you want to join Con Pazion, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.