Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Dorji Gets a New Jacket

A couple of months ago I was invited by my colleague, Madam Tashi, to visit the local temple here in Chamgang which has just started housing novice monks. She was suggesting that since our school is becoming increasingly well resourced, perhaps some of our fundraising money could be spent at the local lhakhang. There are nine boys, all under the age of ten, who have just started living there. 
Head Teacher, Lama and Young Monks

 I haven't had time to research and think too carefully about what's involved in placing girls and boys into monasteries and nunneries at such a young age - it strikes me as being a little bit young - but sometimes the families can't care well enough for the children themselves so the practice of placing them into a religious institution has become very widespread in Bhutan. 

The Lhakhang
The Dorm
 As it is a small local monastery, it survives on donations from the local community and gets no stipend from the central monk body (or so I'm told). As the monks get older they will be able to perform more and more services and more money will be given to the monastery in return. At the moment, however, the monastery is effectively working as a kind of proxy orphanage.  

When I went to visit the young monks looked pretty miserable. I'm not sure exactly why this is, whether it's because they're young and they miss their families or whether it's because the head teacher there is super strict with them and beats them for their misbehaviours and/or inability to learn. Corporal punishment, sadly, is still very common in both secular and monastic schooling. 

We were particularly curious about the plight of one small Indian boy, "Dorji", who had been brought to Bhutan to be someone's "babysitter" (read: house slave) but when that family couldn't get the right papers for him (and presumably his family in India couldn't keep him??), he was taken to Chamgang's monastery. He cut a pretty forlorn figure as the smallest of the boys, struggling to learn Dzongkha, uncertain about his future in Bhutan. 

When I asked the lama what they could most use, he said a hot water system so that they wouldn't have to keep making fires to heat stones to heat their water for bathing. He also said a fridge would help them keep vegetables fresh for longer in summer. I have to admit that the young monks' unhappiness had made me a bit wary about how much the lama and head teacher were keeping the monks' best interests at heart but I couldn't be sure so tried to give the benefit of the doubt.

Lama and Cat
 I was, however, still a bit suspect on the hot water system idea as I had a feeling that it would only be used for the lama and head teacher's showers because many people I have met here are crazy about saving money on electricity bills. However I reckoned it would take an almost superhuman level of resource mismanagement not to put a bunch of vegetables into a fridge, for the teachers and the students. I also suggested that sports equipment and library books could be useful for the students in their free time on Saturdays and Sundays and might help them to enjoy themselves a bit, to which he agreed.

Some dear friends in Australia who had generously donated $AUD500 to the school agreed to have their donation redirected to the goempa and the day after mum and dad left we finished doing the shopping with the help of our school vice principal, Madam Tandin: warm jackets for all the monks and two teachers, badminton rackets and shuttlecocks, footballs and volleyballs, a big stack of English and Dzongkha books and a brand new fridge in monk-ish maroon.

Shifting the Fridge

Dorji Gets a New Jacket
 The monastery committee insisted on a nice lunch for us which despite being super tasty, later gave Lucy and I some momentous food poisoning (ah, the irony). Most of the monks were still looking pretty unhappy when we went for the formal presentation of these gifts but they lit up when we busted out the badminton rackets for an impromptu game. They were also really happy that the book purchases included the comic version of Bhutan's first animated kid's movie, Ap Bokto, which is a currently a huge hit here. Perhaps a temporary job, but a job nonetheless. 

Receiving the Stuffs

Dorji Gets His Rafa On

Havin' a Hit
Happy Dorji