Reflections on Volunteering

Reflections on VolunteeringVolunteer job at Lha: English Teachers and Grant writing. We arrived in McLeod-Ganj in the middle of the night.  Having just finished a year living in Taiwan, we were completely unprepared for the cold.  We stood at the bus stop shivering, in what we had previously thought were winter coats.  It was pitch black.  The only light came from a small gasoline-powered stove that the bus driver was using to prepare his meal.  At this point, we were a little overwhelmed, and had no idea what to expect.

A few minutes later a taxi pulled up, and out stepped one of the most cheerful people we have ever met.  “Hello!” Rabsel shouted, smiling brightly.  He helped us collect our luggage and, in spite of our protests, single-handedly carried our largest and most unnecessarily heavy suitcase.  This was our first experience with the kindness and helpfulness of the Lha staff.  We’d soon learn that this was characteristic of the organization.

While at Lha we were assigned the Elementary English class.  Most of our students were brand new to English, and some had never before had the opportunity for a formal education.  Both of us had experience teaching English in the United States, and in other countries. We’ve always enjoyed teaching, and were borderline over-excited to teach this class.  Now that we’ve taught the class for over two months I feel that this excitement was warranted. The students are extremely intelligent, dedicated, and some of the warmest people we’ve ever met.  It is a teacher’s dream! We enjoy walking in every day to their warm greetings and seeing their bright smiles.  They also have an amazing sense of humor.  English language classes can often be goofy, and they enjoy the humor – especially when Alfredo acts out 21 different verbs, or when I attempt artistic renderings. Sometimes when I think about all of the challenges that my students have faced it’s hard to believe that they are as positive as they are, and take such delight in life.  While we’re teaching them English, they’re teaching us about the importance of sharing happiness and kindness with others.

While volunteering with Lha I’ve also had the opportunity to serve as a grant analyst and proposal writer.  I love to write, and in the United States I especially enjoyed grant writing.  Lha has many amazing projects, all deserving of funding.  So far I’ve written proposals for the Lha Clean Water Project and for Contact Magazine.  The Lha Clean Water Project installs top-of-the-line filtration systems, providing a much needed source of free, clean drinking water.  Contact Magazine (which you’re reading!) is an awesome source of news regarding Tibetan issues. It’s fun to write proposals for such fantastic projects, and it is a privilege to work with Executive Director Ngawang Rabgyal.  He is so supportive and helpful in providing me with all of the information I need.  It is exciting for me to think that simply through writing that I can help provide funding for such vital resources.  I’m also excited that after returning to the United States I can continue writing grant proposals for Lha.

When we arrived in McLeod-Ganj we didn’t really know what to expect.  Now that our time here is almost finished we are sad to go.  We’ll miss the beauty of the mountains, the bright smiles of our students, and the wonderful staff at Lha.  We’ll even miss the monkeys (but not the scary one that lives near our guest house).  It sounds incredibly cliché, but there is something special about this town, and this organization.  It is a place that we hope to return to in the future.