Before moving to Ananda Village in 1972, I had taught for one year at a public school and earned a teaching credential. During those pioneering days of Ananda, even this very limited teaching experience attracted attention. Arriving at the Village on a Friday, I was enthusiastically greeted by certain community members who asked if I would be willing to start a school… on the following Monday!
There was a pressing need for the school. One of the keys to the success of a world brotherhood colony is finding solid, workable ways to integrate children into the community. There were then seven children between the ages of five and eight who had nothing to do during the day and were getting into mischief. The parents had come to Ananda for spiritual reasons and wanted a suitable alternative to public school.
So with Swami Kriyananda’s blessing and support, the school got underway. Soon we were able to move into our permanent schoolhouse on top of a hill overlooking the “downtown” area of the Village. The schoolhouse was newly built but unfinished. The only access was via a deeply rutted, badly maintained tractor trail.
During one recess the children became excited watching a car drive up the tractor road, something we’d never seen anyone attempt before. It turned out to be an official from the State Fire Marshall’s office on an inspection visit.
The man who got out of the car had a rather serious expression on his face. After a perfunctory greeting, he walked around the building, clipboard in hand, taking official-looking notes. When he finally spoke, it was to tell me that we would need to provide access for a fire truck to reach our building via a paved road that connected with the public road about a mile away.
I was shocked. “Do you have any idea how much that might cost?” I asked.
He said, “Well, somewhere around $300,000, including the grading and pavement. I’ll be back in three weeks. If you haven’t made substantial progress by then, we’ll have to close your school down.”
As his car bumped away, I reflected on our current operating budget of $75 a month, including salaries. Being asked to come up with $300,000 was like trying to pay off the national debt.
My next thought was to offer the problem up to my Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. I said, “Master, this is something you’re going to have to take care of, because there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.”
A huge obstacle had been placed in our way. If it was to be removed, the solution would have to come from God. Not wanting to waste energy worrying, I went about doing what I could to keep the school moving ahead.
About three weeks later another car came driving up the hill. As I walked somewhat hesitantly out to greet it, I saw that it was driven by a different man. He too was from the State Fire Marshall’s office, but had a much friendlier expression on his face. He explained that the previous official had recently decided to switch to the Arson Inspection Division. I reflected that this new line of work would be much more appropriate for him.
As the new man looked around, I waited nervously for him to ask about the paved road. Finally he looked up and said, “Let’s see, now the issue here is fire safety. The main thing is to make sure the children don’t get trapped in a burning building.” Looking around with a smile on his face he said, “Up here that shouldn’t be much of a problem with all this open space around the school. What you need is a good fire warning system.”
“Yes,” I agreed, thinking that now he was going to ask for some expensive sprinkler system that would still be way beyond anything we could afford. “I was thinking,” he continued, “that what you need is a good whistle. Yes, that would do the trick.”
I was stunned. “A whistle?” I stammered. “Yeah, sure, that’s something we could do.”
“Okay,” he said handing me a paper to sign. “This is your promise that you’ll take care of the situation.” I gratefully signed the paper, making a mental note to set aside $1.25 from this month’s budget.
People have asked me if I thought this was a miracle. I do, because it was such an unlikely solution to a problem that I had no way of solving. A major difficulty had been resolved in a very unusual way. It seemed a divine blessing on the Village as the first world brotherhood colony, as well as a confirmation that the time was right for getting the schools underway.
Michael Nitai Deranja is a Lightbearer and Ananda Village resident. He currently serves as Director of the Living Wisdom High School at Ananda Village.