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Tolstoy Farm was the first ashram initiated and organized by Mohandas Gandhi during his South African movement. At its creation in 1910 the ashram served as the headquarters of the campaign of satyagraha against discrimination against Indians in Transvaal, where it was located.
As the Farm grew, it was found necessary to make some provision for the education of its boys and girls. Gandhi did not think it necessary, to engage special teachers for the students of different religions. The qualified Indian teachers were scarce, and even when available, none were ready to go to a place twenty-one miles distant from Johannesburg on a small salary. For Gandhi, Tolstoy Farm was a family, in which he (Gandhi) acquired the position of the father.
It was quite difficult for him to do justice with all the young people present over there as they had been brought up in different conditions and environments. But Gandhi had always given the priority to the culture of the heart or the building of character, and for him moral training could be given to all alike, no matter how different their ages and their upbringing were. In addition to literary classes he started some classes with the help of Mr. Kallenbach and Sjt. Pragji Desai.
There were no 4. servants on the Farm, and all the work, from cooking down to scavenging, was done by the inmates. There were many fruit trees to be looked after, and enough gardening to be done. It was obligatory on all, young and old, who were not engaged in the kitchen, to give some time to gardening. The children had to dig pits, fell timber and lift loads. They took delight in the work, and so they did not generally need any other exercise or games.
Whenever Gandhi was strict, he would, by argument, convince them that it was not right to play with one’s work. The conviction, would however, be short-lived, the next moment they would again leave their work and go to play. There was scarcely any illness on the Farm, though it must be said that good air and water and regular hours of food were not a little responsible for this.
The vocational training
Gandhi was determined to teach every youngsters some useful manual vocation. For this purpose Mr. Kallenbach went to a Trappist monastery and returned having learnt shoe-making. Mr. Kallenbach had some experience of carpentry so the candidates had a small class in carpentry too.
Rules to be followed
On Tolstoy Farm it was a rule that the youngsters should not be asked to do what the teachers did not do, and therefore, when they were asked to do any work, there was always a teacher co-operating and actually working with them. The youngsters had never even dreamt that they would have to learn these things some day. For generally the only training that Indian child received in South Africa was in the three R’s.