Rinchen always wanted to be an entrepreneur. His rough childhood riddled with poverty and hardships did not permit him to dream. Maybe he would have faded into oblivion forever, like many children belonging to the Monpa tribe in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, had it not been for one man. Lobsang Phuntsok, a former monk who renounced his ascetic ways to design a bright future for the Monpa children, welcomed Rinchen into the beautiful children’s community ‘Jhamtse Gatsal’. Fast forward a decade, Rinchen is now a social entrepreneur who wants to introduce vermicomposting to his tribe. “We will train farmers starting with our parents and relatives to use vermicompost in their farms. Then we will try to slowly spread this to the rest of the villages,” informs Rinchen.
Rinchen’s story is one among the many heartwarming and inspiring real-life stories scripted every day within the Jhamtse Gatsal community. Translated from Tibetan as the ‘Garden of Love and Compassion’, a home and a community for Monpa children coming from diverse backgrounds of poverty and adversity, was started in 2006 by Phuntsok. 13 years hence, Jhamtse Gatsal is supported not just by one man, but by many around the world who believe in his vision. A vision that one day the world will live as one Jhamtse (loving and compassionate) community.
If you brush off Jhamtse Gatsal as just another community and school offering a bunch of extra-curricular activities, you are mistaken. This first-of-its-kind community has helped to alter the entire social landscape of a region, while preserving the ancient cultural heritage and introducing the necessary global concepts. Jhamtse Gatsal envisions to help each and every child grow up into a beautiful human being, not just rescue them and ensure their educational degree.
Support the cause you care for. Browse All Campaigns
Founder Lobsang Phuntsok hails from a family where he was raised by his grandparents. He had a troublesome childhood and was admitted to a monastery in South India so that he could become a human being, as his grandfather told him when he was leaving home. While practising to be a monk, Phuntsok was exposed to the profound tenets of Buddhism, whereafter the idea of creating Jhamtse Gatsal sprouted in his mind. A home where every adult and child is amidst love, care and compassion; and learns the core values of humanity.
A home where every child grows up amidst love, care and compassion; and learn the core values of humanity. He strongly wanted every child to enjoy a happy childhood.
A ‘lazy’ student who perfected a model of JCB-Backhoe
Jhamtse Gatsal believes that real learning is a continuous loop of Experience-Reflection-Application. Their motto is clearly evident from the endless exemplary initiatives they undertake every day.
Among the Monpa tribe exists the practice of Lakpar, where all the people of the village come together for the construction of a new house or to harvest someone’s field. Lakpar fellowship is an initiative undertaken by Jhamtse Gatsal in order to create a space for students to showcase their talents and ‘experience’ education rather than merely sit in a classroom and read facts from a textbook.
This year, the fellowship discovered students coming up with incredible scientific innovations from the simplest everyday object. 9th grader Tsering Gombu was quite unpopular with everyone for being lazy, apathetic and nonchalant. But the Lakpar fellowship brought out a completely different side of Gombu, who would spend hours working on a miniature hydraulic JCB backhoe.
In the Lakpar context, another 9th grader Yeshi deserves special mention. She is formulating an all-natural toothpaste and plans to distribute it among the villagers, to introduce them to organic products and a sustainable lifestyle.
Towards a zero-waste community
Project Earth is a student-led initiative undertaken by the students of grades 6 to 12 in Jhamtse Gatsal, to achieve the target of a zero-waste community. On the last Saturday of every month, all the members of the Community gather, divide into groups and undertake a deep-cleaning of all of the surrounding areas.
The waste collected is segregated and either recycled or disposed of. Using the 4R method — recover, reuse, reduce and recycle, Project Earth aims to bring a considerable reduction in the waste which used to be burnt by the villagers. The team of youngsters also conduct several community-engagement sessions to make the community members aware of materialism, consumerism and its impact on the world’s natural resources.
A school with its own newspaper
The growing community of Jhamtse Gatsal runs an intra-school newspaper ‘The Voice’, where every student gets the chance to narrate their memories, experiences and opinion about anything and everything – ranging from world politics, career guidance to personal stories. The Voice is also an excellent avenue to build crucial 21st-century skills in students in a place that is cut off from the world. Children learn to hone their writing skills, interviewing skills, communication skills, teamwork, time management, the delegation of duties, editing, design and layout skills; which helps them later in life.
An attempt to revive a dying culture
If one steps into a music or art class at Jhamtse Gatsal, they are bound to be astounded. The school focuses on preserving the dying culture of the region. Children at Jhamtse Gatsal, from a very young age, grow up to appreciate, perform and practice their traditional instruments and dances. Tashi, a Grade 2 student never liked singing or dancing. However, on the occasion of His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s birthday, Tashi performed a traditional Tibetan dance to everybody’s awe.
Gombu of Grade 9 found his calling and took a decision to exit the traditional schooling in order to pursue his interest in traditional Thangka art.
The children here are also taught Monpa and Tibetan language – Bhoti, which is now being revived at Jhamtse Gatsal.
You can’t test a fish by its ability to climb a tree
Jhamtse Gatsal believes that every child does not study in the same way and each child has a unique talent whose potential needs to be tapped into. The academic curriculum at the school differs drastically from the rote-learning education prevalent in the rest of the nation. Practices like design thinking, differentiation, multiple intelligences, presentations, student-teachers, mind mapping and reciprocal reading are encouraged.
A slot that has been introduced recently into the schedule is “Reflection time,” which is 30 minutes at the end of the day where children sit with their class teachers and either have discussions based on an issue, discuss their strengths and weaknesses, read philosophical books or reflect on their own behaviour during the day.
Fostering diverse thinking has led the first batch of Jhamtse students to graduate and take admission in colleges in diverse fields- ranging from psychology to culinary arts to journalism, aside from the usual science and humanities courses.
Aside from all these, the youngsters at Jhamtse Gatsal grow their own food in a completely organic manner.
organic manner. They perform all the daily tasks on their own, be it cleaning the premises or serving meals. Beyond the confines of their own integrated community, they also perform a lot of social work for the adjoining villages, which help to develop their inner conscience of empathy and compassion.
Jhamtse Gatsal has also begun the construction of eco-friendly houses made of mud, cob and straw. Jhamtse Gatsal currently has two cob houses, and more on the way. Rainwater harvesting systems in place ensure continuous water supply and a means of harnessing the heavy downpour during the monsoon seasons. While harnessing clean and renewable energy the community meets 80% of its lighting requirements through solar energy. Bio-septic systems were also installed to effectively manage wastewater. Jhamtse Gatsal envisions being a sustainable community, independent of the outer world.
To know more about Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community, watch the Emmy award-winning documentary – Tashi and the Monk.
A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.
My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.
About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss.
My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.
However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.
Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.
As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.
Support the cause you care for. Browse All Campaigns
Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed.
This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.
What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation.
Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.
Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds.
Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma?
First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.
Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB?
The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment.
Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.
A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.