The 3HO Boarding Schools Explained

One of Yogi Bhajan’s edicts to his followers was (and still is) what he called “distance therapy”, which entailed sending children away to extended summer camps and to India for boarding school. The schools 3HO children attended were:

  • Guru Nanak Fifth Centenary School (GNFC) located in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, 1981 – 1988
  • Guru Ram Das Academy (GRD) located in Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand, 1989 – 1993
  • 4S, located in Amritsar, Punjab in the early 90’s before MPA was completed
  • Miri Piri Adacemy (MPA) located in Amritsar, Punjab, mid 90’s – present

There was also a period in which groups of 3HO children were schooled here in the U.S:

  • Amritsar Academy located in Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • New Mexico Military Institute, Roswell, New Mexico (unaffiliated with 3HO, but accepted a number of 3HO students for a brief period in the early 90’s, and made exceptions for 3HO dress and uniform to allow the turban and uncut hair and beard).

I attended GNFC, GRD & NMMI.

GNFC was a traditional Sikh boarding school that had a British influence, and had separate campuses for girls and boys, Shangri-La and Vincent Hill respectively. The majority of the students were Indian Sikhs, with some Thai Namdhari Sikhs, and the American 3HO Sikhs. The majority of faculty and staff were Indian, and there were about a half-dozen American “guardians” with us (incuding the notorious Nanak Dev Singh). Of those, three were actual teachers while the rest were just assigned to watch over us. One of the guardians was appointed head-nurse by GNFC, and was in charge of the infirmary.

In 1988 a conflict arose between the 3HO organizers of the India “program” (called Sikh Dharma Foreign Education, or SDFE) and GNFC. It is possible that SDFE was withholding payment from GNFC, and that GNFC asked us not to return. SDFE told the students, however that GNFC was scamming us on the cost of textbooks.  In 1989 SDFE began plans for a co-ed school in Dehra Dun, called GRD Academy.  It was to be structured around ideals of Yogi Bhajan’s 3HO vision. SDFE maintained that it had always been the goal to form a school in their own ideals (or as they said “to have a school of our own”).

GRD Academy was backed by Raja Singh who was a wealthy capitalist from Delhi. The school was constructed from the ground up on a small patch of property in Rajpur, Dehradun.  Once construction began, we were sent there, and we attended class and lived in the dorms throughout this construction. Food supply was often short, and class was often haphazardly organized. Some of the “guardians” who were with us at GNFC stayed along for GRD and played more important roles in the shaping of the school, and many more young adults were brought in from the US, some of whom had attended GNFC and graduated from there. Our Principal, Mr. Waryam, was recruited from GNFC as well. Waryam had a dependency on alcohol, and his moods swung from utter disdain (or checked out), to pure cruelty and vindictiveness. He was not an effective school leader.

There were two guardians with US Military backgrounds, and they were brought in to teach us military style drills, something that Yogi Bhajan was particularly fond of at the time. For some reason, the Indian students at GRD were exempt from the military training. The 3HO children were to remain at GRD only for a couple of years, and I really don’t know why it didn’t work out, because I was back home by then, attending a new experiment for 3HO youth, the New Mexico Military Institute, which also did not last much more than three years. Also in the time of the last years of GNFC and GRD, a state-side school in Albuquerque, NM was founded, called Amritsar Academy, and where Nanak Dev continued his tenur after leaving GNFC in 1986.  This school shut down sometime in the early nineties.

When Punjab became more peaceful and opened up to visitors, SDFE took on the task of moving all the 3HO children to another new, privately owned, and purely 3HO school environment, and that is what Miri Piri Academy is today. MPA is owned by Sikh Dharma-3HO. I never attended MPA, and never visited either. It appears to be more focused on Sikhism and Sikh Culture, and less focused on academics. I know that it still operates the same way that SDFE organized sending guides over: very low pay, in exchange for room and board. They recruit individuals with no knowledge about childcare, or experience with teaching. They plunk these people in positions of authority over many children, and have no business being there. Some teachers or guides at MPA simply graduated from GNFC, GRD or MPA, and went straight into these positions, with no training or higher education, and certainly no education about childhood development or education. I’m unaware of the statistics for graduates of MPA who pursue higher education. My guess is that it’s relatively similar to my own generation. The majority of youth who pursue higher education ultimately gain critical thinking skills and independent thought, and pursue their own lives outside the realm of 3HO.

As children we were beaten and slapped by the Indian teachers and guides at GNFC, and were also made to do lots of bizarre corporal punishments, that had lots to do with awkward, painful positioning and endurance . At GRD Academy, beatings from teachers was less normalized, but still took place. There was exessive corporal punishment which was often inflicted by the American guides. Amritsar Academy in the US had it’s own “seva” style, or “karma-yoga” type discipline. MPA is co-ed and employs discipline in a similar manner to GRD and Amritsar Academy.

Since keeping this blog for over a decade, I have listened to stories about excessive bullying at MPA, of sexual abuse on children from American 3HO “guides”, and sexual abuse on children from staff members of these schools. Much of the punishments and harms were so normalized that they went unreported, yet there is sufficient evidence now that even when incidents were reported, they were ignored.