News from Tibet (May 2014)

Teaching English

By Shaya Laughlin

Tibet had always exercised a unique hold on my imagination as a kid. Locked away in its mountain fortress, I dreamed of discovering this mysterious place.  Last month, I had the opportunity to teach English at the “Emancipation of Wisdom School” in Golog. It is an experience I will never forget and always cherish in my heart, for the memories are what wild dreams are made of. After a week of travel from Australia, I was welcomed with open arms and treated by my fellow teachers like one of their own. On a cold Monday morning in spring, I walked into the snow-covered school yard where a hundred young boys greeted me with curious eyes. They observed my fair skin and brown hair while I watched with interest their colorful monk and Tibetan robes. Most of them had never seen a teenage western girl before – only in American action movies which they occasionally watched on a tiny television screen. When we crossed paths, they bowed as a sign of respect. For the next two weeks, I taught the young boys the basics of English while they listened attentively, eager to learn. “Where from?” asked a 12-year-old monk one afternoon after I had finished teaching his class the English alphabet. “Australia,” I answered, but he seemed confused. The boys are taught Tibetan, Chinese, English and mathematics but subjects like geography are not part of the curriculum. They have class from 8am and work diligently until 9pm – but none seem to mind the long hours. To them, knowledge is the key to a better future and most dream of traveling the world – something that is very hard for a Tibetan in the current political situation. At lunch time, they wash their face with a bucket of cold water or play soccer and basketball. “Teacher, come dance,” said an 8-year-old nomad, after lunch – rice and yak – one Tuesday. To the beat of a Tibetan guitar, the whole school started dancing in the yard. A magical sight. Moments like these made the adventure worth it. I could forget for an instant that my last shower had been a month ago or that my toes were cold. The school is poor and there are no showers, toilets, running water and the electricity is limited. But despite the harsh conditions, the students and teachers always have big smiles on their faces. They dance, play, laugh and learn together like one big family. I’ve never seen young boys so eager to study. Everyone sleeps at the school in dorms during the week and go home to their families on Saturday. I was one of nine teachers with four young men and four monks. The boys are like sons to them. The language barrier was tough but we managed through sign language and my few words of Tibetan and their few words of English. After two weeks of experiencing their daily life, I was sad to say goodbye. “See you later teacher,” screamed the boys from across the playground. “Come back soon?” asked the headmaster in Tibetan. “Yes sir,” I nodded, as he gently pressed his forehead against mine to say farewell.

The Child Fund

By Shaya Laughlin

Deep into the mountains and far from civilization, I could hear young boys reciting their Tibetan lessons.Their soft, gentle voices filled with determination could be heard afar from the snow-covered school yard. We had arrived to the “Motherland Pama School” in the Golog region where some children are supported by the Child Support Fund of Golog. As I peeked inside the classrooms, young monks and nomads were carefully writing in their books with great concentration. One hundred boys attend the school in the small village and the poorest 50 of them board weekly. Despite very harsh conditions, the young boys have catching smiles. The school was established nine years ago and has three classes from grade one to three. The three teachers do their best to transmit their knowledge to the young boys but they are seriously lacking resources. The headmaster explained that the school needs more money to buy equipment like books, pens and pencils. He mentioned that it is also hard to keep teachers in such a rural part of Tibet. “The isolation is hard because there is no road, shop, hotel restaurant,” he explained to the translator in Tibetan. “The transport is not easy and it takes a long drive to reach the school. “But if we want to grow as a school and provide for more students we need more teachers and cooks.” During class, most children can be heard coughing but the school cannot afford to have medicine for everyone. If it wasn’t for the Child Fund, 50 of the boys would be without shelter, food or a stable living environment. But more funding is needed to assure the future of the school and the young boys.

The Hospital

By Shaya Laughlin

Tibetans have never had it easy.  Their environment is harsh and, by necessity, Tibetans have become tough and resilient people. Despite what appears to be a continuous grim struggle against nature and rough conditions, they manage to keep a remarkable outlook on life. The Golog Support Foundation has concentrated on the Golog region to bring its people two hospitals – a necessity and comfort which locals are tremendously grateful for. The first one is situated in deep in nomadic land in the area of the Tatsok monastery. It takes a few hours by four-wheel-drive to reach. The doctors practice Tibetan and Chinese medicine for the patients from surrounding villages. One of them said that previously people died trying to reach the bigger hospital in either Dawu or Xining – often pregnant women. “We’re in a very isolated area and there’s no easy transport to this village,” he explained in Tibetan to the translator. “This hospital benefits locals and it is a lot cheaper.” The hospital started in 2010 in a nomadic tent, in 2011 a house was built and the doctor started practicing in 2012. Currently there are two doctors and two monks who receive about 50 patients a day. One patient tells me that it is an ideal situation for the village. “It’s very convenient and a lot cheaper,” he said. “The doctors also understand what we say because in Xining they don’t speak Tibetan. “It’s great for older people in the village like me or the monks at the monastery.” The doctors are accommodating and visit patients that are too ill to make the short trip to the hospital. If someone is really sick, they will take them to a bigger hospital by motorbike. They also treat patients with no money, but the doctor said more funding would be welcomed.  “We need more supplies like medicine and needles,” he said. Meanwhile, in the Gade County, a second hospital is under construction by the Golog Support Foundation. The new hospital is nearly completed but permission still needs to be granted by the Chinese government. Currently there are 10 rooms for patients and one office. Building started in 2010, and the building is being rented to a pharmacy and a cake shop until the go-ahead is received. One monk nurse, Teknor, explained that they want to build a second floor with more rooms