Saturday, November 6, 2010

Notes From the Chauntra Team


Having a Punjabi girl in our group has proved to be useful on many occasions. Nikki, born and raised in Surrey, has strong family ties to the Punjab here in India. She speaks Punjabi fluently, and can also get by in Hindi. She has been our liaison on numerous occasions: when ordering with our "parahta breakfast man", our house mother, and many of the boys who wolf-whistle at us in the street. Nikki has also taught us how to make some amazing chai, and has turned out to be an even better teacher in the classroom (team-teaching with Chloe).

Diwali happened this past Friday, and Nikki was the authority on the holiday. She gave us all the "elementary school" run-down of it... Basically this beautiful lady named Sita was told by her husband, Ram, that she needed to stand within a circle drawn on the ground in order to be protected from evil. Ram then left her to go off to fight some evil dudes. Unfortunately for the both of them, Sita was tricked by some other evil dude (who was in love with her) into stepping outside of the circle. He then carried her off to his lair. When Ram comes home to find Sita missing, he learns from the village people of her abduction. He gathers his army and marches to meet the evil dude. He wins the battle, and returns Sita to their palace. The village people celebrate their return! In commemorating her return, Indians now celebrate "Diwali" by blowing up firecrackers and lighting candles! Of course they first do a puja (prayer) and then drink and engage in general merriment in the streets and their homes.

Travis, Chloe and Amanda spent Diwali in the nearby town of Palampur where they ate delicious aloo tikki, various sweets and tandoori chicken. They had coffee with an ex-Naval officer who explained that "true celebrators of Diwali (like himself) wait until _after_ Puja to start drinking and dancing". They then returned back to Chauntra to light off many a firecracker from the roof of their guest house!

Nikki, Ana, Heather and Maria went to Dharamsala for the occasion. They ate lots of sweets as well, and were invited into the house of some locals to witness their Diwali celebrations. They also went to a local Sikh temple, lit some candles outside and got some sweets there as well. They watched the firework spectacle and lit sparklers.

All in all, the 7 of us at Sambohta school in Chauntra had an amazing Diwali!!!"

"Tibet our Country"

Today we witnessed an amazing production put on by the 370 students at our school in Chauntra. "Tibet Our Country" is a 25-year-old tradition that was started by the "TCV" (Tibetan Children's Village) schools in order to preserve Tibetan culture and traditions in young people. What resulted in Chauntra was a type of "science fair" with the kids taking us through all of their projects... but instead of Science, we were shown Tibetan animals, costumes, food and crafts. We took lots of pictures, and the kids absolutely loved teaching us about their heritage. It was an educational experience not just for the kids, but for us Canadian student teachers as well!"

"Pajamas in India"

Earlier in the week Heather picked up her tailoring from the local tailor. Included in the clothing was a shirt she had bought up in Dharamsala earlier in the week. The shirt looks like a "wrap top" - crisscrossing in the front, and tying in a bow on the side. It closely resembles the traditional Tibetan woman's dress called a "Chupa" that is worn on a regular basis here. The wrap-shirt became an instant sensation in our group because they were very cheap, stylish, and fit anyone perfectly because of their "wrap" feature.

Heather wore her shirt the following day to school. In Heather's grade VI class, one of her students asked her if the shirt was part of her "Canadian uniform", to which she replied (in a rather shocked manner) that it wasn't. Confused, she went to the school's secretary to inquire about the shirt. Here's how the conversation played out:

Heather: "I'm just wondering, what is this type of shirt called?
Secretary: *Stares at her blankly*
Heather: "Is this.... like a chupa top?"
Secretary: "No ma'am"
Heather: "What is it called then?"
Secretary: "Jammie"
Heather: "You mean, like, pajamas?"
Secretary: "Yes ma'am"

And then they both laughed. Needless to say, our group now feels as though we've been walking around in our pajamas for the past couple weeks. Cheers to being a Westerner in India!"

Hope you enjoy!

- The Chauntra Crowd

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A typical day at Petoen School

Most of us rise and somewhat shine around 7AM everyday. We trundle around our rooms gathering lesson plans, school materials, tying chupas, and grabbing TP. We eat a delicious breakfast of paranthas, porridge, and most welcomed coffee in the kind owner’s kitchen, and then we walk the 15 minutes to school.
Around 8:45, assembly starts. The students line up in the yard by class number and sing a prayer and the Tibetan national anthem. On some days, there are skits, poems, or stories presented by some of the students. At 9, period one begins, and so they go until the end of period 8 at 4pm. There is a chai break, and a lunch break, where we are served the best Tibetan food ever (yay tingmo!).
We all teach different periods, and when we’re not teaching, we’re sitting in the lunchroom among the students and other teachers, working on lesson plans, and chatting. On Thursdays, we stay a bit later because that’s the day the students get time in the field up the road to play games after school. Last Thursday, we decided to take them, and with Jennica supplying balls and instruction, we taught them doctor dodgeball.
For those who aren’t aware, this is an incredibly strategic game when played well. Tactics such as the human shield, decoy doctors, and ball hoarding make significant differences in the outcome of a round. Our Tibetan students picked up on these immediately in the first game. And over the next 2 hours of rounds, the game only became more intense. Volleys of colourful balls were fired in unison at the doctors. Screams of joy could be heard from afar when the opposite doctor went down, this meant sure victory. Aim became more precise and the roll of a doctor a higher honor. Shouts for another game were constant after every win, and we played until sunset, when the light insisted we go back to the school for even the neon balls were becoming hard to see.
The real question now, however, is what do we teach them to play this Thursday?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Glimpse Into the Education Policy of Petoen School

By Jen, Jennica, Lindsie, Natasha, Chelsea, Grace

“Learning is the Search for Truth, and Teaching Provides a Space in Which Children Feel Welcome in their Search for Truth.”

Petoen School was the first to implement an education policy unlike any other in a Tibetan School of this area. This policy; called the Basic Education Policy of Tibet, has now expanded to several schools in the area and has shown to be very successful. The Policy has four basic aims by which it follows; Freedom, Altruism, Upholding Heritage and Innovation. One of the major concepts we as new student teachers really enjoyed about this philosophy is its holistic approach and how Petoen is not only an educational institution, here, the children are taught basic life values and skills such as spirituality, compassion, tolerance, love and non-violence, which shape children to be well rounded people in and outside the classroom. Part of the holistic approach is a removal of all competitive sports, and the implantation of daily morning yoga classes and prayer. In addition, the school has a “no text-book” policy where learning topics change with children’s interest and capabilities. The school strives to uphold traditional Tibetan language, values, culture and costumes but is also competitive to other educational policies and institutions around the world.

Another aspect of the school that amazed use was how much the teachers and students were able to do with such little resources. As a result of a lack of abundant resources compared to schools in Vancouver, each resource is used and reused creating little to no waste. During meals, students use the same metal plates each day which they wash themselves, with the only waste being scraps of food. Photo copies are shared among students and re-used over and over again and students use every inch of their work books making every entry count; there is no such thing as a draft. As well, there is an overwhelming respect for the resources they are given. Work books are used from cover to cover, textbooks are covered and recovered with protective covers to preserve them and the students show a genuine interest and care for their space and school resources. This was modeled when the students spontaneously began sweeping their classroom floor and organizing their books at the end of one of the lessons. They truly care about their learning environment and take pride in what little they have.

Finally, as new student teachers, the most inspiring aspect of the school is the students and teachers themselves. In general, we have never met teachers and administration so dedicated to their students. Many of which show up early to play with the students before the morning assembly and who show affection to each and every student. During class, they interact with the students in a manner that is compassionate and loving; the teachers really have a grasp on the idea that each student is an individual with different aspirations and goals which need to be addressed and nurtured. In addition, the students are so full of life it is intoxicating. I don’t think any of us have ever met a group of students from preschool age to thirteen years who really just love being kids; learning, playing and showing affection and love to everyone around them. Most of us have to peel each other away from the kids at the end of the day who are calling out our names and wishing us a good rest of the day as we leave the school grounds. Mati keeps joking that by the end, she will have to drag us away from the kids, little does she know, this is already the case; none of us are leaving (haha).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dushera! Marvelous Celebration or Extreme Mortal Peril?

After the conference was finished for the day, the majority of our group (Tibetan teachers as well as SFU students) decided to go into the city to attend a Dushera celebration.  The highlight of the Hindu celebration is the burning of massive paper/cracker statues of demonic figures; set alight via fireworks and representing the abolishment of evil spirits.  The ceremony had several vendors selling Indian food, jewellery and advertising local products and companies.  In addition, there was a section that had some little fair rides similar to what one might find at a local fair in Canada, with a miniature Ferris wheel, pirate ship ride, etc.  There were also performers who led the crowd, consisting primarily of young men, in a very animated dance to Bhangra music.
What made/will make the celebration unique from Canada and particularly memorable was the deliriously arranged fireworks show, where spinning wheels of fireworks would  occasionally come loose from their fastens and careen into the swarming crowd, who in turn would frantically lurch backwards with mad panic.  The fireworks that were shot into the air frequently went off haphazardly, either shooting just above the heads of individuals at the front of the masses or up into the sky directly above the crowd.   More than a few times burning embers would come drifting into the  crowd.  Each was met with frenzied steps backward and shrieking.  We can certainly say that we have never attended such an adrenalin charged fireworks performance!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

ITEM India 2010 – Blog entry #1

We have been in India exactly one week. We arrived in Delhi in the early afternoon of Oct 3, the opening day of the Commonwealth Games. We were met at the airport by Lobsang-la, from Sambhota Tibetan Schools Administration, and he has been helping us wonderfully since then.

The city was cleaner than Mati has ever seen it, and Delhi-ites were bursting with pride that they were hosting the commonwealth, and treated us with gracious hospitality. Admittedly though, workers were still busy applying the last splashes of paint to cover some of the rough bits. The city might not have appeared clean and orderly to those of the students who had not experienced the Delhi of “before”, but for Mati, Bal, and Nikki it was both discombobulating, and a relief. We did not get stuck in any complicated situations or traffic jams. We toured a few areas of New Delhi (Humayan’s Tomb, a Sufi temple, India Gate, Connaught Place, Lajpat Nagar Central Market) and Old Delhi (Jama Masjid and the narrow streets nearby, Chandni Chowk, and some went to the Red Fort Sound and Light show).

On Oct 6 we drove to Dharamsala. The weather here is lovely and the air is clean, although the daily mid-afternoon rain is extremely unusual. Normally October is dry and clear. It is wonderful here nonetheless. We’ve only been in Dharamsala a few days, but have already packed in a lot of activity (read the student’s descriptions below). Tomorrow (Monday) we will visit Chauntra School, then on Tuesday we’ll have language class with Dr. Chok, and visit both Model School (Petoen Labtra) and Sogar School. Wed we’ll visit a Thangka School, have another language class, and then head to Sarah College for our conference with our Tibetan partner teachers. As tends to happen here, time is flying.

The stories below are for your pleasure – photos will be posted soon (when we have time to do so).

Best wishes all! Mati

By Heather, Grace, Maria and Travis

We really like Delhi
Though it gets kind of smelly
The city is crazy
And the air is hazy
The streets are crowded
Temple tourists are shrouded
The food is spicy
It gets kinda dicey
Beware of a sore belly
It’s famous in Delhi
Get everything in the market
From kurtas to carpets.
But if the price is fixed
Your bargaining is nixed
When the rickshaws dance
Try not to pee your pants
When crossing the road
Use the Indian code
Go straight and steady
Or it could be deadly
Although the puppies are skinny
You’re bound to feel pity
Try not to pet
Or you’ll visit the vet
The metro took time
Though we didn’t mind
In India the norm
Is to be gracious and warm
To Delhi, we’ll return
At the end of the term

The Spirituality of Dharamsala

By Amanda Hemingway and Natasha Corewyn

Leaving the busy chaos of Delhi, we all braved the 12 hour journey upward to the spiritual mountains of Dharamsala, many of us hoping to experience even just a small amount of enlightenment during our time in the place the Dalai Lama himself resides. Immediately upon our arrival, many of us felt the lightness of the town; the lightness of the air, the lighthearted people, and the sounds of Tibetan music all to the back drop of the Himalayan Mountains.

Mati mentioned to us many times that Dharamsala has a sort of magic about it, unexplainable with words; but now arriving here many of us have expressed as a feeling of a continuous presence of spirituality and positive energy. This presence took form one night as a few of us walked home late after our first dinner. With a lack of street lights or any other source of illumination, well all linked arms and braved the dark hill downwards. We walked past many residences in which neighboring dogs would bark and howl making the walk even more eerie. Just before we were about to walk through the darkest part of the street, a white dog walked down from a house above the street and happily trotted in front of our group as we walked. Making our way down the hill, the dog would growl and bark at the neighboring dogs as if to tell them not to harm us. The dog led us all the way to our hotel and walked up the steps of our hotel even before our group had reached the destination. The dog looked back as we approached the hotel steps and walked with us until all of us had reached our doors. With everyone in their rooms, the dog gave us one last look as we stood at our door ways and proceeded down the steps and disappeared in the darkness.

The next morning we told Mati about our encounter with our friendly dog and she informed us that Lamas are believed to sometimes be reincarnated into dogs (if they were a little naughty in their past life J). This was our first experience with some of the wonders that inhabit this spiritual place and we all look forward to many more.

October 7, 2010
The Perfect Day

by katie collins and richelle bond (as part of team train wreck)

We woke up with our first view of the sun rising over the Himalayas.  Right out our bedroom window we overlook the most pristine mountains that reach the clouds, and seem to almost touch the sky.  We met up with the group and walked up the winding roads leading to the temple.  We stopped for Tibetan bread and momos.  With the bread, there is a choice of sweet or salty, and it is 5 rupees (about 12 cents).  It was still warm.  The momos are steamed and stuffed with veggies and green onion and are 10 rupees for four. 

We headed up to the temple, walking right past the residence of the monks, high lamas and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama himself.  With the help of our Tibetan friend Lobsang, we got in and were able to take a walk upstairs, where the Dalai Lama would be speaking.  The temple is perched on a hill, with a sweeping view of the area.  It is both breathtaking and spiritual. 
As we sat on the steps taking everything in, we were approached by a gentle and personable nun who asked us in the most kind and most non judgmental way whether we might be interested in taking the Buddhist pledge, or if not, whether we would like to pledge to become more passionate people.  We were given a sheet with the list of Buddhist pledges, and they all seemed like amazing goals and ways of living, but we all decided that we'd struggle with #13.  It said that you are not to be silly.  That would be a hard one.

At just past 8am, the Dalai Lama (and his bodyguards) came out from his quarters.  He went over to the fence near where Mati and some of our group were sitting.  We got really jealous because it looked like he was talking with them.  We later found out that he approached a blind man and put his hands on his eyes and said a blessing.  Then he walked right in front of us, and stopped to make a joke with a Tibetan man.  Then he was off and up the steps and into the upper temple.  Both Katie and I were in tears.  The Dalai Lama is just such a human and humble man.  He was all smiles and just appears to be the most caring and sweet soul.  It seemed like we had learned so much from him just from him passing by.  For someone in such an esteemed position, he doesn't walk around like he is better than anyone else.  He ‘has such an amazing gift of connecting with people and making them feel like he is happy to meet them on their level.
We heard him speak in Tibetan on the loud speaker and could see him on the television they had set up.  We struggled with our radios and couldn't quite tune in to the English translator, but that was beside the point.  It was such an honour to see the Dalai Lama and hear him speak in Dharamsala, his home in exile.

At 2pm, we went to the Universal yoga studio that is just across the street from our guesthouse and down about a hundred ancient stone steps.  The large studio has high ceilings and overlooks the mountains.  There were about 20 of us in the hatha vinyasa class, and the abilities ranged from very good to many beginners.  All of whom were made to feel welcome and comfortable by VJ the teacher, who is an authentic yogi.  VJ started yoga at the age of 13, and he has the agility and body of a 20 year old, but is probably over 60.  It was beautiful sun when we started the two hour class.  In the middle, monsoon rains started, but by the end it was beautiful sun again.  Katie and I both felt that we were exactly where we were supposed to be.  (Since this first class, we have  been taking his more advanced ashtanga class, and for our first times, we are both holding headstands for over 20 seconds.)

As we returned to our rooms and were relaxing and taking in the view, a monkey climbed right across the railing of our balcony.  And then another clambered along right after it.  Monkeys are one of my most favourite things in the world, and this was a perfect pinnacle to the most perfect day.

Resistance through literature
By Chelsea, Jenn, Bal

One of the most inspirational people we have met thus far on our trip is Ama Adhe. She was a part of the guerilla resistance to China’s invasion in the 1950’s, and was arrested for her association in 1959 by the Chinese government.
This courageous woman survived 27 years in a Chinese prison. She witnessed mass starvation, the murder and torture of loved ones, and was stripped away from her only children.  She spent the majority of her prison time with roughly 300 other women, who promised one another that if any of them survived that their story must be spread. She, unfortunately, was the only one of four to survive, and her main priority after returning to her home in eastern Tibet was to tell the Dalai Lama all that had happened to her. Upon arriving to India, she immediately told the Dalai Lama what had happened over a two hour conversation – which prompted the His Holiness to encourage her to write a book.
As we sat with Ama-la, we were all overwhelmed by the strong and resilient energy surrounding her. It was very clear that in telling her story, she was striving to convey her message of peaceful resistance, and spread knowledge of the situation in Tibet to the rest of the world. We all felt there was no seeking of pity, and that in fact any pity would be instantly rebuked. 
Her history was incredibly inspiring to all of us. She is such a strong person full of love and compassion for the world, despite what she has been through. She is truly a person we will hold dear to our hearts and keep close at mind as we venture into the world of teaching.

Sights of Fancy
By Linsie, Chloe, Jennica, Nikki

India has been a feast for the eyes in terms of colour, amazing sites and the vastly different landscapes we’ve come across. Starting in Delhi we rode on many forms of transportation taking in the hustle and buzz of the capital city zoom by. India is a country with a long history and sites all over the city tell the many stories. Dharamsala has been a shift from the city, being situated in the Himalayas and the colourful buildings along the mountain side. Here are a few of the fancy sights our eyes have feasted upon in our first week.

The landscapes of India are vastly different from one place to another. It was the most noticeable when we were traveling from Delhi to Dharamsala. The landscape in Delhi was jam packed and full of old decrepit, as well as new and beautiful buildings residing beside one another. After driving a few hours you are transported to another vastly different landscape. This region known as Punjab was a complete transformation. Punjab, a farm-based area, was full of rich colours such as the green from the growing sugar cane and the gold from the ripe wheat. Entering Dharamasala and Himachal Pradesh, one is taken aback by the beautiful and enchanting landscape. The mountainous region of Dharamsala is serene and full of many hues of green, brown and other earth tones. The peacefulness and spacious environment of Dharamsala was a complete contrast to the very busy and constricted Delhi, and the flatlands of Punjab.

Now let’s switch gears and talk about the fancy clothing. Lululemon spandex, Aritzia sweaters, Gap jeans and Keds… What do all of these have in common? They’re not found in India! Immediately upon filtering into Delhi, it was apparent that our black and grey Vancouver apparel wasn’t going to fly here. Men wore relatively conservative colours, but women on the backs of motorbikes, working in fields or walking through garbage-infested stressed were dressed head to toe in elaborately decorated “costumes”. Saris, flowing jeweled shirts, MC-Hammer pants and multi-coloured shawls were now the official fashion norm. With 14 of the 16 of our group being girls, and one intensive week of shopping, we’ve all managed to now fit in quite well.

Buddhism in Dharamsala
By Ana

The main temple in Upper Dharamsala is an important site for the Tibetan community here. It is the place where His Holiness the Dalai Lama lives, does his teachings and where monks study. Many people think monks are peaceful and quiet, but when it comes to the debating they also take part in at the temple, a different side of their characters is presented. They clap their hands and stomp their feet when they are on a roll with their debate. Monks and nuns can also participate (and lay people). The debating is largely about the philosophies they’ve studied.
Yesterday, our monk friend Phulchung took Bal and Ana on a kora inside the main temple. “Kora”, or “Circumambulation” is the act of walking around the main outer loop (or outer premises) of the temple. We got to learn about the different deities important in Buddhism. One particular deity depicted the Buddha in his fasting phase around the time he reached enlightenment. Later we lit some butter lamps. The nuns and monks pour butter into cups with wicks. Visitors can light candles and offer prayers and loving thoughts. A short time later, the wicks are put out and the candles poured back into a bucket where it they are continuously reused for future offerings. The idea is that the prayers offered in the lighting of the candles accumulate, making the prayers much more powerful and intense.
After, Phulchung took us on a kora around the grounds of the temple (linkor) to soak in the magnificent view of the mountains. The idea is to pray while you do kora. Along the way, we saw monks and laypeople alike doing kora. Some were quite elderly with canes, but walked their kora with such determination. In the trees were dozens of prayer flags. These prayer flags have five colours, each representing an element. The wind flowing through them disperses the prayers they contain.
The time spent with Phulchung was lovely and memorable. He told us that Buddhism, in his opinion, is more a philosophy than a religion. There is no proselytizing or conversion and it is open to all who wish to learn about it and adopt in their lives what they like from it. At the end, he showed us an alter he has of pictures of various religious figures such a Guru Nanak, Jesus Christ, Mecca, the Star of David, Shiva and Saraswati, as well as the Buddha. Below was a banner that said “different medicine for different diseases”.

Thursday, September 23, 2010