Jhamtse Gatsal Children's Community
About jhamtse gatsal
Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community was founded by a former monk, Gen Lobsang Phuntsok la. Gen Lobsang la was born in the Himalayan foothills of northeast India. He grew up at a monastery in the south of India, and came to Concord, Massachusetts, U.S. in about 2000, where he began teaching Buddhist sangha (groups) and raising support for his vision of Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community, a home and school for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in his home district. Jhamtse Gatsal opened in the summer of 2006, with 35 kids. Now it is home to 87 children, Classes (grades) PreK-12, and additionally supports fifteen graduates of the community in their college studies. When planned expansion increases capacity, the school will be able to accept additional children from Classes Pre-K to 12th grade.
To clarify some terms you might hear: the school is located in the town of Lumla (by car, about half an hour away from Lumla’s center; an hour or two by foot), in the district of Tawang (which is also the name of the district’s main city, located about two hours away by car), in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, in mountainous northeastern India.
Children live in one of four house families of about 22 students each, each with an amala (house mother). The children wake up around 5:00 in the morning, sweep the floors and make their beds, and alternate daily between morning prayer and a morning jog at 5:30, followed by breakfast at 6:30 or 7:00. Classes run from 8:00-4:00, with an hour and a half break at 12:30 for lunch and recess. In the afternoon they enjoy extracurriculars of traditional music and dance, creative arts, and sports. They have prayer again in the evenings before dinner, eat around 6:30, and return to their houses to spend time with their families, do homework, and rest after a long day.
Students speak Monpa as their first language, and learn Hindi, English, Tibetan (“Bhoti”), math, social studies, and science in school. The school integrates experiential learning into the curriculum, creating time for the students to participate in activities like gardening, construction, carpentry, kitchen work, and other community projects as the opportunity arises.
Monpa is the local tribe of the Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh, India. It is most comparable to Tibetan culture, and the Monpa language uses the same Tibetan sounds and alphabet, but is unique with its own identity and distinct traditions in song, dance, handicrafts, and dress.
Occupations in the region
Agriculture is a major form of sustenance in the region. Most parents of Jhamtse Gatsal’s children farm to feed their families. Many families don’t have a form of currency income, although a lot of people from the region, particularly women, work for BRO, the government’s Border Roads Organization. This occupation comprises hard manual labor in the hot sun, cold, or pouring rain, moving large rocks and pounding them into gravel to build and repair roads. Repair work is especially available in the summer monsoon months, during which roadblocks due to landslides are a common occurrence.
Students and staff eat three meals a day, prepared by the dedicated kitchen staff in the family kitchen. Generally, they have roti (flat bread) for breakfast with a lentil soup dish (daal) or beans, and a warm glass of milk. For lunch and dinner, rice and daal will be accompanied by paneer, a locally made cheese, or an egg and some combination of vegetables (potatoes, chickpeas, onion, beans, peppers, eggplant, okra, gourd, pumpkin, cabbage or greens) much of it from their organic garden or greenhouses. Dinner may also be a traditional local dish thukpa, a Tibetan vegetable noodle soup, tingmo, Tibetan steamed rolls or, on special occasions, momo, Tibetan dumplings. Morning snack time is always fresh fruit and hot milk mixed with Horlicks, a malted milk drink with added protein. The food is of excellent quality, and prepared with careful attention paid to sanitation practices, variety and nutritional balance.
Sports and Hobbies
The kids are creative and resourceful, and love to play all kinds of games. They engage in imaginative play, explore around the grassy fields on the outskirts of the campus. They play a lot of volleyball and badminton, soccer, and cricket. They also play “five stones,” a jacks-like game played with pebbles (with a complex and precise series of tasks one has to accomplish to score points.) The girls love braiding each other’s hair (and they are talented at it!) Several are talented photographers. The kids love looking through books from the library, they are excited at the chance to go for a walk down the road, and some students hang out with their amalas and enjoy helping with the laundry, their organic garden, or other chores and projects.
Do children get to see their families?
Children have the chance to go home every winter for a 2-week break during the celebration of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, and for a two-week vacation after half-year examinations in September. They visit their families to keep connected with them and also maintain ties to their villages. This decision can vary from child to child based on their home situations and personal preferences, and children have final say about where they will spend each vacation, meaning that typically a handful of younger students opt to remain on campus throughout the holiday. Additionally, often the oldest children stay at school during some or all of their break to help with projects around the community.