Jane Marshall's firsthand report from the field
I recently returned from a month-long trip to Nepal. I was in Tsum valley to work on my newest book project, and also to visit our health centre and Kindergarten.
Even though I'm a writer and English-as-a-second-language teacher, I find it hard to find the words to describe my experiences in Lamagaun village. Truly, the best way to understand is to make the journey and place yourself within that beautiful place. I'll try my best...
The most important thing I'd like to share is about the strength of Tsum's mountain people. There is so much to learn from this culture. They are expert fire-makers, farmers, nomads, and hikers. It's a culture of joking and teasing, and I laughed harder than I had in recent memory. Sometimes charities portray rural people with upsetting photos. Here, I'd like to share photos of a culture and people who are thriving, yet need reliable access to basic medical care and education. In this way we are partnering our support -- not 'fixing' or even offering charity in a traditional way. Tsum's people have been self-reliant for all of recent history, yet with little government support due to its remote location. That's where we can help.
I traveled with Tanzin Gyaltsen Lama who is the treasurer and a major community organizer of our Nepal contingent. He is an excellent guide -- and his family home is located near the clinic. He is vested in his community and works tirelessly as a volunteer. If you want to travel to Tsum in a small group, or as part of a volunteer team, please reply to this email and Tanzin will arrange everything. In fact, he's in Tsum right now guiding our 'Compassion Trek 2019.'
Our project is growing based on community response. We will continue to make sustainable choices within Lamagaun -- opting for staying power over too much growth.
We now have 20 children enrolled in our Compassion Education pre-school/Kindergarten. I spent time observing in the classroom (and playing, too). The kids seem to be loving class, and attendance is fantastic. The children practice alphabets in English and Nepali. Their native language is a dialect of Tibetan. They have been learning manners, sharing, and how to play with each other.
Our Kindergarten is aimed at children ages 3 - 6 (ie. schooling before government school begins), though a few older kids are also attending in order to learn literacy and language.
Moona is our main teacher and hails from Nyak village. She is very kind and used to teach at a government school lower down the valley. Our 2 health workers also teach when they are between patients.
We invited all the parents to a school meeting to speak openly about education in upper Tsum. The notes below are from our meeting.
Parents told us:
- It's expensive to send their children to boarding school outside of Tsum
- They worry about sending their young children to Kathmandu. One parent said, "We worry about them when they are young because they will be far away, and then we worry that they won't come back when they are older."
- They also said they want a relationship with their kids, so they wish children could stay living at home and in the mountain culture
- Nearby government schools have an irregular quality of education and often staff don't show up
- They feel it's important to learn all 3 languages: Tibetan, Nepali, and English
- They feel that many charities start projects, but don't stay longterm
Our mandate is to provide services based on community direction and need. Our meeting allowed us to communicate and hear parents' wishes and any concerns.
I was really impressed and inspired by our current health team. Sujata (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) and Sachin (Health Assistant) make a great team. It is less lonely having 2 health workers, and each holds a different position. They have taken great initiative and are also traveling out into the community, providing monthly clinics at Rachen Nunnery and also hiking up to Mu Gompa.