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Dharamsala, India. Collecting stories of the Tibetan Children's Village

Written on: Friday July 27th, 2007

Dharamsala, India. Friday, October 19, 2006. Its early morning here, the sun is just rising beyond the snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas. Our small town is cobbled on the side of one such peak. Monkeys play on the rooftops here and cows saunter down the street like tired cowboys looking for a cold beer. I am on a hunt myself, trying to find the café I visited a couple days ago, the one that serves fresh pots of ginger lemon honey tea with massive banana pancakes.


It?s Day Seven of our trip here in India, my first international trip with Bridges to Understanding. We have 10 volunteers with us, working with Tibetan teachers and students here, helping them learn how to share their lives and stories with others around the world, using simple communication technology tools. And what a story these Tibetans have to tell, living in a foreign country with less than refugee status. ?We have been here for more than 40 years, and every year I have to go down to the Indian office and wait in line to apply to stay here another year?, one Tibetan waiter told me. The Miss Tibet pageant happened 3 days ago, and its primary focus was to publicize widely the plight of Tibetans. (Click on this Christian Science Monitor to read further http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1017/p07s02-wosc.html). It?s one more reason why I am glad this is one of the key international sites where Bridges is working and promoting cross-cultural understanding through the schools.


We have been having a blast working with a dozen Tibetan children, enthusiastically engaged in learning the art of photography and storytelling. This week they interviewed Shaman elders and Tribal leaders from 13 indigenous cultures around the world, capturing their stories and wisdom about peace-making and the power of intention and prayer. Questions have ranged from ?How do you know if praying makes a difference?? to ?how did you get the peyote past customs?? Carol Hart, one of the founding producers of Sesame Street, is here producing a documentary on these 13 Indigenous Grandmothers and said to me yesterday, ?I have been following this story of the Indigenous Grandmothers for 2 years, and the footage we have of these children talking with the elders is some of the most moving moments we have witnessed.?


In addition to working intensively with a dozen students in our digital storytelling workshop, we have been training teachers at the Tibetan Children?s Village school in how to create international classroom partnerships where students can learn directly with each other.


Yesterday, over 120 Tibetan students began learning partnerships with classrooms back in Washington State. They wrote messages about early Tibetan history and sent them electronically, took photos of themselves and their school, and even recorded audio messages and Tibetan songs, all of which are now waiting in the inbox of the classroom teachers in Washington this morning, to be opened and listened to by students there. 7 Tibetan teachers experienced their first live video conference call this week and spoke for 40 minutes with Bridges staff member Jennifer back in Seattle, defining the kind of learning project they wanted to do with their class and the type of teacher they wanted to partner with. I see here so clearly how we now have, for the first time in history, all the tools we need to powerfully communicate anywhere in the world. What we really need now are the tools to better understand each other.


And, there is no better place in the world to learn about developing empathy and understanding than in the community where the Dali Lhama resides.


He is in town this week, and on Monday, will be at the Tibetan Children?s Village school where they will celebrate their 46th anniversary as a school. I was walking on the school playfield with the principal earlier this week and she told us that ?the Dali Lhama never misses our anniversary celebration. He says he works every day of the year except one, and that is the day he comes to our anniversary celebration. No press conferences, no interviews, just playing with the children?. I have been so impressed by the extraordinary graciousness of the Tibetan school staff and students here. You see it in how they share food, share cameras, and how they always are there with an offer to help. The Vice principal tells me there are the usual student arguments he must intervene in during the week (hey, let?s not forget we are talking about middle-school students here!), but there is definitely a spirit of empathy and respect that pervades this place. It does feel like an honor to be able to work here, and the volunteers who are with us helping the students have echoed the same sentiments at various times during the week.


While all this may sound pretty great, the trip has not been without its mishaps. Three people have gotten pretty sick and have tethered themselves to the nearest bathrooms for a day or two and one of our volunteers was on a lovely day hike high in the Himalaya?s tripped and fell off the trail, stopped only by a very teeny ledge six feet below, thanks to his quick-thinking head-plant in the dirt to stop his fall.


I myself have been quite healthy, but did manage to get dropped off by a taxi in the wrong town. That wasn?t so bad, but I also got dropped off by a plane in the wrong town (this one happened to be on the disputed Pakistan-India border). Not good. But after I convinced the 9 airport security army guys that I was just running to catch my plane out on the tarmac, that my batteries in my camera and tape recorder were not bombs, and that my backpack banjo case did not, in fact, harbor a weapon of mass destruction, I was allowed to catch the waiting plane I had exited but 25 minutes before.


There is much more to tell, but my banana pancake is being dog-eyed now by that monkey on the roof, so I want to remove that temptation from him and get back to work. See you all back in Seattle.



Nicks café patio, Dharamsala India