Letter from Lha Volunteers: Putting a Face on Tibet

By Ken, Todd, & Ash (USA)

 As the three of us were meeting with our students for the last time, we were very aware and grateful for the powerful gifts that they had given us. We—Ashish, Ken and Todd—are all from San Francisco, California. Ashish was born of Indian parents but raised in the US. Todd is a computer guy with an appetite for adventure and new experiences. One of us, Ken, has been a Buddhist for almost 40 years.

Before we arrived, we had more than a few assumptions about what we would experience. We had all heard about the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader—no group of refugees could have a better spokesperson—but he’s just one person, and there are now several generations of Tibetans who were born in India as well as those who continue to make it across the border from Tibet.
We knew about the Chinese occupation of the Tibetan homeland. We even read, and heard second-hand, heroic accounts of refugees escaping, walking at night with no torches across the highest mountains in the world. Now that we have spent three months in McLeod Ganj, we have begun to put faces of real people into the stories that drew us here. We met Tinzin, a nun who walked 47 days over the Himalayas. She always greeted us with an engaging smile—which we loved—and when we experienced the way she treated her nun sisters, our respect and admiration grew.
We had heard that one of the first tasks the refugees undertook in India was to provide for the care and education of future generations that would have to live in exile. Jigme, a young monk from Bir, is a Tibetan born in India and a TCV graduate who is learning English as his third language. He always said his prayers, did his homework thoroughly and still had time to polish his Karan skills and play basketball. We’ll miss his enthusiastic “Hi’s” as we walked down Jogiwara on our way home.
One of us had Asian Buddhist teachers back in the US, and he really appreciated the time and effort that they took to bring the Buddhadharma to people in the West who were hungry for it. What he discovered working with Tibetans was that enthusiasm for the Dharma was not just for monks and nuns. Lobsang, another student, has excellent grammatical command of English, and is working on fluency and pronunciation. He totally threw himself into each lesson, and one book he chose for his lessons was by H.H. the Dalai Lama himself.
Unlike the Tibetans here, none of us ever had to find a job or start a business in a country where expectations were very different from the country where we started life. We, unlike some of our students, never had to learn a language way beyond the age when learning a language is effortless. We were happy to help them work for the well-being of their families.
Our Tibetan and Nepalese students were very generous when we couldn’t pronounce their names correctly. Mr. Ladakh is our nickname for a young Tibetan monk from Jammu and Kashmir. We will always remember him as well as so many of the people we met and worked with. A big “thank you” to all our students as well as the wonderful staff at Lha!