Volunteer in Remote Ladakh
Himalayan Education Lifeline Programme Himalayan Education Lifeline Programme

Volunteer in Remote Ladakh

Overall Rating

10/ 10

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Two months at Spituk monastery school

Report on my two months in Ladakh from August 3 to September 24, 2016

Having been to Ladakh twice as a tourist and being interested in Buddhist culture I decided to go there again as a teacher for English at a monastery after my retirement from active teaching. HELP organization arranged for me to go to Spituk monastery school and I went there for 8 weeks. These weeks were a marvelous time for me in every respect.
The school is a newly built and well equipped place with 30 students from age 5 to 12, all of them novice monks from all over Ladakh. They live there and are provided with everything, so it is a very good chance for children from faraway places and for children from poorer families as there are no fees at all. There are 4 teachers, two monks and two lay teachers, who deal with classes 1 to 5 - which meant for me 5 lessons per day, classes 1 to 5 respectively, Monday to Saturday in most weeks. I was fully included in school life, participated in all activities from Dentist NGO`s visit to 4 days of Dalai Lama teachings with all the students. And there was more: The young incarnation of Bakula Rinpoche, who had been a student at this school, came for a visit, attended classes and we all went for a picnic, where many people came and paid respect to him.
All the teachers and Geshe at the school made me feel at home, from interesting conversations at school dinner and during break to helping me with my studies of Tibetan language and culture.
I greatly admire the students too. They learn 3 new languages (Hindi, Tibetan, English) with 3 different scripts from class 1, they are enthusiastic and emotionally open, they laugh and play. And their teachers show them how to live together with loving kindness and respect.
For me it was a challenge to teach these kids, as I was a teacher of senior students in a German grammar school. However, after 2 weeks I found my way even with the little ones, using drawing charts, language games and simple conversations. The kids helped me too, the gifted ones explaining in Ladakhi language to the others and helping the slower ones. My attempts at Ladakhi met with laughter and incomprehension!
During these 8 weeks I stayed with a local family, who provided for me and cared for me and gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about life in this country, from making momos and watching the never ending work in the fields and garden to explaining about winter provisions and Ladakhi customs. They took me on a mini trekking to a monastery which I had never heard of and which was absolutely wonderful. I hope to see them again next year.
Together with people I met, with a fellow teacher or alone I revisited almost all the monasteries I had seen as a tourist and several others – but this time with all the time I wanted to spend on reading explanations and taking photos. I learned to travel by shared taxi, rode a camel in Nubra valley (never again!), shared bread with a monk, who told me his World War 2 experiences, lived in private houses, as the guest houses had already shut down. And at the end of my 8 weeks I had the chance to participate in the Naropa festival at Hemis and the Ladakh festival at Leh, both of which were quite impressive.
When I was given a farewell ceremony by teachers and students at the end of my stay I felt happy about everything that I had been able to learn and experience, the love and help given to me by everyone and the openness and enthusiasm of the kids. And I was rather sad although looking forward to seeing my husband, sons and friends again.
HELP organisation did a wonderful job in every respect, from finding a place in a small monastery school, a loving family, giving me very good material and tips and encouraging me to go in spite of my age (67), which turned out to be no problem at all. Thanks for a wonderful time.

Renate Zilske