here's the diary we went home to SFU
FYI – a few people have asked how we’ve been writing these e-mail diary
installments. They are a collective group effort. We decide on topic areas
or events we’d like to include in the e-mail, and then we break into
smaller groups with each group focusing on one topic
India Field School e-mail Diary – 4th Installment:
November 7, 2007
It’s been three weeks since our last e-mail, but that’s not due to a lack
of things to say. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! We’ve been so busy that
this is the first time in weeks we’ve had time sit down together to write
about our experiences. So, this is a long one!
Since we last wrote we’ve spent 9 days in Dharamsala (8 hour drive from
Chandigarh), two days in Manali (8 hour drive from Dharamsala and 10 hour
drive from Chandigarh), and many hours on the road. Within that time we
also had some free days, and our group members took full advantage of it by
breaking into smaller groups for a variety of different activities.
Some of the events are described below but many wonderful experiences are
not because we didn’t want to clutter your e-mail folder with a novel
length report. We’re all still in a state of shock when we reflect on how
much we’ve done and all the wonderful people we’ve met in the past few
We want to say a HUGE “Thank You!” to Wangdu (Tibetan Volunteers for Social
Service), Chung Tsering (Tibetan Department of Education), and Ven. Tenzin
Phulchung (Nechung Monastery) for all their work coordinating our
activities in Dharamsala, and for the many ways in which they took care of
us. The trip certainly would not have been such a rich learning experience
without their help and their friendship.
In Manali we want to thank Sunita of SHARE for taking the time to show us
the project sites. She is an absolute dynamo with wonderful stubbornness
and tenacity. Her work and that of SHARE has clearly made a huge difference
to the health and welfare of the local villagers.
And last but definitely not least, we are grateful to the drivers who
maneuvered the jeeps through the shockingly narrow and twisty roads that
skirt the edge of the Himalayas. Their skill and professionalism is
amazing. We loved our road trip, but we were also happy and relieved to
have made it home safely to Chandigarh. For that we thank our drivers.
In Dharamsala we learned a lot and there are many learning experiences we
encountered. A special memory and relationship was with a 13 year old boy
named Sanjay. He came from a poor background and is helping to support his
family by working as a street-side shoe-shine boy and shoe repairman.
Bobby, Nathan, and Ashok spent the whole day with him and our class invited
Sanjay to have dinner with us on our last day. Although not everyone got
the chance to talk and learn with Sanjay, his presence and compassionate,
caring, happy nature was inspirational to us all. Hopefully Sanjay will
return to school as we encouraged him to, and we would love to see him
We also enjoyed The Tibetan Children’s Village and as a group were
delighted to see the preparation and hard work shown by the performers
during the Anniversary Celebration. The whole experience was cool and
educational. The Tibetan and Indian relationship appears to be strong, as
was evident through Tibet’s appreciation and thankfulness towards India in
the celebration. A formation of over 600 Tibetan students spelled out the
words “THANK YOU INDIA” on the exhibition ground.
On our 3rd day in Dharamsala we had the wonderful opportunity of meeting a
lovely old woman named Ama Adhe. She is a Tibetan refugee living in India
and a torture survivor. Through a translator we were able to hear her
amazing and heart wrenching story of survival in a Chinese prison. The
title “Ama” means mother and everyone in the community calls her this as
she now spends her days caring for newly arrived Tibetan refugee children.
She is an inspirational woman who made us appreciate our lives and opened
our eyes to a whole new perspective on life and world issues.
Gu Chu Sum English tuition
During our time in Dharamsala we had the opportunity to volunteer with Gu
Chu Sum (www.guchusum.org), an organization of ex-political prisoners from
Tibet, most of which are Buddhist monks and nuns. This experience was
probably one of the most meaningful for many of our group members, as an
hour of English conversation was also a deep cross cultural learning
They shared their memories of Tibet and their experiences under the Chinese
occupation of their home country. All of these individuals escaped by
walking one month or so through the harsh conditions of the Himalayas to
find a safe home in India. The strength and positivity of these amazing
individuals was an inspiration for us. This was a service learning
experience that was no doubt a reciprocal one as we could provide our
knowledge of English, and they could provide us with a unique
human-political connection we may not find in Canada.
On one of our days in Dharamsala we visited several Tibetan educational
institutions. Our first stop was a school for older students (aged 18 to
30) who are new arrivals from Tibet. These students live and study at the
school. The boys’ basketball team there is the Dharamsala champion. We were
lucky enough to get a display of their magnificent skills. The boys in our
group spent some time working on basketball skills with the team, while the
rest of us got a tour of the beautiful school, which included art,
tailoring, and English classes.
Next, we visited the new Tibetan Model School (just over 2 years old). This
school is unique in that it is trying out a new educational philosophy that
more specifically meets the needs of Tibetan students. Classes are taught
only in Tibetan up until class 4 when English language class is introduced.
This is done in an attempt to preserve the Tibetan language and culture in
the exile community. Another unique feature of this school is the class
size. Most classes consist of 15 students and one teacher. At the school
there was an innovative composting project where waste from the kitchen was
composted then used to fertilize the kitchen garden. We had a delicious
lunch with the students and teachers.
After this, we continued on to Sarah School (Tibetan University) and
learned much about Tibetan Buddhism from the Principal of the school,
Geshi-la. It was very interesting to have the chance to ask questions about
this religion. Following this discussion we went inside where we spoke with
Mr. Tsering Phuntsog about the Tibetan education system in exile. Our last
stop of the day was a quick visit to the room where BBC science documentary
videos were being translated into Tibetan language.
While in Dharamsala, Balraj, Bobby, Pooja, Mati, Channdika, and Reema got a
rare opportunity to meet the Karmapa Lama, a very high lama in the Tibetan
Buddhist community. We were expecting a short talk on Buddhism to all 30
attendees but instead the six of us were given a private audience with the
Karmapa Lama. After we received his blessing he asked us if we had any
questions for him, but in our dumbfounded state we had nothing to say. Mati
went on to explain that we were students from Canada on a field school,
making up for our lack of words.
More Buddhist Blessings
On the way home from visiting a school in Bir (a small Tibetan refugee
settlement 2 hours drive from Dharamsala), Mati, Channdika, Pooja, Reema,
and Balraj were lucky enough to attend the end of a 10 day prayer at the
local monastery. We were blessed by another high lama and some other junior
lamas with chang (Tibetan barley beer), candy, cookies, and “Tsog”, an
offering cake made of the traditional Tibetan food “tsampa” (barley flour),
butter, and sugar. Tsog is known amongst some of us as being a cure for
Balraj, Bobby, and Ashok were on their way to an English session at Gu Chu
Sum one evening when they bumped into their friends Tsewang and Tenzin,
students from Gu Chu Sum. Tsewang and Tenzin were carrying Tibetan flags
and making their way to a Peace Rally. They invited Bal, Bobby, and Ashok
to go with them. On that night, after leading the Peace Rally, three
activists were born.
Near the end of our time in Dharamsala four of us (Nathan, YooSun, Jess,
and Amber) chose to trek up into the Himalayas to a site named Triund,
nestled beneath towering rocky peaks. We were fortunate enough to witness a
beautiful sunset before snuggling into our sleeping bags to sleep out
beneath the brightest moon in 9 years. We managed to wake up minutes before
the amazing sunrise that peeked up over the Himalayan peaks before we
slowly made our way back down to Dharamsala and the rest of the Field
School Group. It was an amazing experience that the four of us were
gratefully appreciative to have experienced.
In Manali, we were able to meet up with an NGO named SHARE that has been
supported by the TRAS (www.tras.ca) organization based in Vancouver. We
were able to visit multiple project sites in which SHARE was involved, such
as developing worm composting sites in villages, toilet projects, as well
as immunization programs in schools. The rest of our time in Manali was
left for much needed relaxation and recuperation after our busy time in
On our free day in Manali, Mati, Bobby, Nate, Amber and Jess took a trip up
to Rohtang pass, which is at 4,000 meters above sea level. We all piled
into one of the cars with our lovely driver Sengye. The road up was very
twisty and many parts were under construction. It was sad to see crews on
the side of the road working with tar without any protective gear. Further
up the road was washed out by a mudslide and we had to wait while a
bulldozer smoothed the road back over. A little while later we reached a
tiny town and stopped for lunch and to take pictures of the valley below.
When we continued up towards the pass after lunch we came upon a
paragliding outfit where we stopped to watch a person take off. A man from
the outfit asked us if we wanted to go paragliding. Without thinking,
Bobby, Nate and Amber responded “Yes!” The views from the air spectacular!
We could see pretty much back to Manali while the Himalayas were in the
Our next stop was the top of the pass and it was freezing cold. Our driver
told us that when Tibetan people reach the top of a pass they yell, “Soooo,
sooo, sooooo, kyi kyi, so so, lha gya-lo!!” We did the same while throwing
sand up in the air (because we didn’t have the traditional tsampa flour).
After a warming cup of chai we made our way back to Manali to have some
dinner. It was a great afternoon!!
This past weekend ten of us went to Manikaran for Caitlin’s 22nd Birthday.
We left on Friday morning and drove through the winding hills. Many of us
were carsick. We arrived at night and realized that Manikaran was a lot
cooler than Chandigarh. We really enjoyed this small hill town because it
reminded us of home with the sweet smell of trees and the sound of the
river. The night was so cold we were able to see our breath in our room
because there was no heating. On Saturday we warmed up in the hot springs
near the towns’ temple. In the afternoon we roamed a nearby town and went
shopping. Funny enough you could buy any souvenir from Amritsar in this
small hill town!! The trip was short but it was nice to get away and relax
A Village Weekend
The first weekend in November while most of the students went to Manikaran,
Ashok and Bobby went to Bobby’s family’s village near Adampur. They met
Bobby’s two cousin sisters for the first time and even though raakhi day
had long past, they had raakhi’s tied. The village experience was very warm
and humbling as they saw family and friends that Bobby hasn’t seen in 16
years (since he was 3 years old). The lifestyle and relationships in the
village were extremely different to what they were used to, and they had an
Working towards comprehending it all
We have less two weeks remaining in Chandigarh, and much of that time will
be spent focused on completing our course assignments and projects. This
includes reflecting upon all that we have experienced and learned here in
India, though we have no doubt that the reflection and learning will
continue for many years to come.
We also have a few more sessions to attend at Panjab University, completion
of a photography project with Sikhya School, and we need to spend more
quality time with our home-stay families. They have all welcomed us so
warmly and so completely that we truly do feel like family. This coming
weekend is the Diwali festival, and we are very excited about enjoying this
very important and FUN time with our homestay families.
After we leave Chandigarh we will go on a tour of Jaipur, Bharatpur bird
sanctuary, and Agra. We’ll be sad to leave our homestay families, but we
know that the tour will be fascinating (and we’re happy that there will be
no assignments!). On the last day of our program in Delhi we have planned
to have one more visit with the children at Maitreya home, and then a
closing feast for our group. Then most of us will head off backpacking to
explore more corners of India.
We plan to send one more e-mail before we head off in our separate
directions, so, stay tuned!!!!!!
Best wishes all, and HAPPY DIWALI!!!!!!
From the Participants of India Field School 2007:
Jessica, Reema, YooSun, Amber, Kristen, Caitlin, Pooja, Channdika, Katie,
Meghan, Nathan, Bobby, Ashok, Balraj, and Mati (Director)