Hi! This wound up pretty long, so I’ve tried to categorize distinct parts of it below for your navigational convenience. Hope you find it useful! And please be in touch if I can be of any help in your investigative, adventure-sculpting process!!
My name is Sandy Wood. I’m a junior at Vassar College.
I first met Lobsang Phuntsok (the Buddhist monk who founded Jhamtse) because my mom was attending his teachings in Massachusetts. I went to India with him in the summer after graduating high school, and basically fell in love with all the kids and with Jhamtse’s entire mission and vision and spirit. I’ve gone back to visit and miscellaneously help out in the four summers since then, and have been active at home endeavoring to simultaneously raise money for JG and spread some of the same spirit of care and community that makes that place so vibrant in my own circles here.
What Jhamtse Gatsal Does and Why It is So Incredible, Inspiring, and Important
The difference in the lives of the kids after coming to Jhamtse Gatsal is radical. While there are a lot of really wonderful and valuable things about life in the villages, things to honor and preserve and learn from, there is also some pretty remarkable and heart-wrenching poverty, and a lot of resultant suffering from unnecessary and premature loss. Jhamtse Gatsal turns life around for the children selected to live there. They receive food, clean water, health care, and the chance to enjoy a childhood without responsibility for their daily survival.
Above and beyond the physical benefits of life at Jhamtse Gatsal, the community has a really striking and distinctive energy about it. The staff and students really are like a family, not just living and learning together but taking care of each other in a way I haven’t seen so pervasively in any other community. You can see it every moment, in how everyone chips in with the laundry or how the older ones tuck their younger siblings into bed. The intensity of the generosity and compassion taking root and flowering in these children, in an isolated community founded on these principles and lead by teachers dedicated to them, is how I know now that they absolutely are possible to teach, and every kid inherently imbued with their potential.
Another thing that’s become clear to me over the last few years of visiting the school and watching the children grow is how much Jhamtse Gatsal is not just about the children it most directly “serves.” It revolutionizes their lives, certainly, but in reality these children are not the end recipients of Jhamtse Gatsal’s work, but its vehicles. They’re the ones who are going to go back to their villages and be the change-bringers of their generation, whatever they determine that needed change to be. At Gatsal, they’re not only acquiring the tools to be able to do so, but also the motivation to want to. All their daily interactions are acute manifestations of the same internal compassion which has ever motivated any positive change in the world, on any scale.
One of the things that’s so special about Jhamtse is how tiny this organization is. To some potential visitors, this could be an obstacle: things aren’t really super streamlined or cookie-cut. But if you’re looking for an open, welcoming community to become a part of, then I think Jhamtse’s off-the-map, personal quality is one of its most exciting characteristics.
I’ve intersected with volunteers in the past bringing all kinds of things to the school, depending on their particular skills and passions and on the situation at Jhamtse at the time. I’ve traveled with high schoolers and adults who have helped teach, cook, play with the kids, and work in the office; college students and educational professionals who have collaborated with the teachers; a drama teacher who puts on plays with the children; nurses and doctors who have provided nutrition and sanitation workshops for the staff and kids, healthcare for the children, and who hope to reach out to the villages in the future; engineers who have done development projects on renewable energy and water purification; a couple involved in graphic design who did revolutionary things for our promotional material and website redesign; and many other enthusiastic individuals with multitudinous and varied talents, and the community is thrilled to welcome more such volunteers to enrich its work. If you show up with an open mind and the readiness to jump in, I’m sure you will find yourself wrapped up in intense and meaningful activity, whatever manifestation it takes.
Right now in particular we’re working on trying to regularize a program of volunteer teachers. One of the biggest challenges with this remote location is attracting and retaining teachers. The classrooms are dramatically understaffed and the teachers overworked. We’re hoping to establish a system whereby volunteers, regardless of teaching experience, can come and augment the teaching team with some form of continuity. Volunteers interested in staying for a number of months would be ideal for this work, and your presence would be so, so inexpressibly helpful and appreciated.
In summary, the children at Jhamtse are some of the kindest, most brilliant, bright-eyed and exuberantly generous kids I have ever met, even though they come from the materially nothingest of nothings. I have never felt so bursting-with-happy-dance content nor as intently purposeful as I do when I am on this particular mountain ridge. In every way, it is the most fulfilling and inspiring place I can imagine.
If you’re interested, I wholly encourage you to get in touch and find out more. We’re a really small, all volunteer organization; I know everyone on the Board in Massachusetts and the directors at Jhamtse Gatsal, and know that any of us would be more than thrilled to tell you more. Feel free to email me at sandybanana (at) gmail.com and I can ramble on to you for even longer about all of the wonderful. :) (Or, you know, actually answer whatever are your particular questions!)
Thanks for reading!