Standing in Solidarity

Rohini with her student Karma
Rohini with her student Karma

Volunteer job at Lha: Writer for Contact and English Tutor

One of the toughest decisions I made in my life was to quit my first job. I was a journalist at a well respected English daily for two years and enviable as it may have seemed to people who knew me, it wasn’t exactly what made me jump out of bed every morning. Luckily for me, Lha and the experience of Tibetan culture changed that. Within a month of quitting my job, I found myself high up in the gorgeous state of Himachal Pradesh, teaching English to a wonderful 29-year-old called Karma (who loved the story of Little Red Riding Hood and Clifford the big red dog!), asking nuns how they feel about being bald and receiving intriguing answers and spending an hour every evening talking to people from Tibet about their notions of home, belonging and family.
Despite words being what I’m supposed to be good at, it’s a little hard to sum up the experience of Lha as a volunteer. Moreso, to me, volunteering always implied some kind of social service that seemed one-sided. My month of Lha was as much about receiving and learning as giving and teaching.
It amazed me to find that for some of the young people living in Dharamsala, who have never been to Tibet nor escaped from it, the idea of freedom was exactly the same as the angry refugee who walked for days to enter India. I discovered facts that previously seemed like fiction but that could be nothing but the truth after hearing the voices and looking into the eyes of the storyteller.
There were tough days, when the group I sat with refused to acknowledge my being an Indian woman who genuinely wanted to know their stories and help them express themselves. But those were quickly replaced by days when I got positive feedback, when I saw a curiosity being sparked in my student or when the monk I was having chai with laughed loudly at some silly joke I attempted and revealed his humane side.
Possibly the one regret would be to have never read or heard the poems of the Urdu poet in my class. Then again, I managed to convince a monk and nun to play out a movie scene as a monk meeting a monkey in the jungle, which counts for something.
The occasional talks with Rabsel about the state of affairs, discussing college days and the present Tibetan scenario with the most amazing librarian Jigme, pretending to know product photography with Tenzin at the Fair trade store downstairs and helping Ngawang with some social media problems or running Prof Rinpoche’s account, each one was as special as the other. Not to mention my lovely editor (she’s still my boss and recently assigned me a really interesting story to work on about the Chinese president’s visit to India) Dukthen, who has been a pleasure to know and work under. 2 years in a newspaper and I hardly felt like I was making a difference and 2 days at Lha and I could already see the change.
Each day at Lha was a special one, be it for some fascinating interaction with one of the new volunteers or getting an opportunity to stand in solidarity with Tibet and hold their flag during the Indian Independence Day celebrations at the town square.
It may not have been home for too long a time but I’m truly grateful to the entire team at Lha for allowing me to experience everything I did with the intensity that I did. Tibet deserves to be free and from wherever I am in the future, I will support you in every way possible. Thank you for this amazing opportunity. I hope you didn’t get sick of me because I’m going to be back very soon 🙂

By Rohini Kejriwal