A Himalayan Village Uniting the Planet

As I sit here on the floor of a stone kitchen in the middle of a small village in the Himalayas drinking tea and discussing the sporadic weather, I can't help but wonder how I have found myself building a school with a Czech NGO, teaching yoga to children, and playing in the barley fields with dogs, yaks, donkeys, and horses. Being from America, a country that is so developed in infrastructure and wealth, it is exciting and humbling for me to experience places that are in such contrast to my homeland such as this small village of less than 200 Zanskaries. The Tibetan culture and Buddhist values coupled with the influence of northern India, Kargyak is somewhat of a small oasis in the vast and dangerous mountain range that is the Himalayas.

Although I have lived in exotic places such as China, Thailand, Laos, and Spain, I have never been a serious trekker, and somehow I found myself being convinced by a Frenchmen that taking a 10 day trek that passes above 5,000 meters through some treturous terrain and bad weather without a guide or horses was a good idea. My French friend and I had no plans of stopping anywhere more than a day, however, as serendipitous as it may seem, we continuously met Czech's along the way who were heading to this small village on some sort of humanitarian mission. We liked there attitudes and had a good intuition about them, and when we arrived here after five long days and saw the project with our own eyes, we decided to stay and participate.

Having a degree in politics and being a teacher myself for an NGO in America called Nature's Classroom, I have been interested in global development and international aid policy for some time. I have also been quite aware of the shortcomings of many aid programs and their adverse effects on local populations. From the United Nation's food program to third world debt incurred through the World Bank, from the USAID to wasteful NGO's, the world is ridden with programs created by the West with the intention of developing the East, but adversely causing serious damage. However, there is something to be said for 20 Czech Nationals, an American, and a Frenchmen hammering wood, moving stones made of mud, playing with children, and laughing over a cup of hot chai; the milk having come from the yak outside. Beyond all the ideals and discussions of politics, of what should or shouldn't be done, the allocation of resources, the arguments about war, the jokes about American global hegemony, nuclear weapons, Barack Obama, George Bush, and the global food crisis, there is a human element of direct experience that is hard to categorize or articulate.

Should we, a bunch of Westerners traveling through India be meddling in the lives of a village that is hundreds of years old, a culture that dates back thousands, and a people that have survived without a proper school for such a long time? The truth is I don't know. But What I do know is that on the human scale, on the day to day experience between us and the villagers, there is something beautiful happening. It is not the extinction of their culture, or an imposing of Western ideals; but rather, it is an interaction of human beings from across the planet, a sharing of good intentions and alternative perspectives. And through all the discussion, construction, and chai drinking, the one thing that seems crystal clear to me is what shines through the children.

It is the children who remind us that judgment, prejudice, and exclusivity are man made; and that humility, love, joy, compassion, and the celebration of life are not some future virtues or goals that we may someday attain, but rather they are the qualities that are innate in us as a species, something we are born with. I hope that in building this school the children will not be taught what to think but how to think. I hope that their innocence, sensitivity, and aliveness will not be covered up by a Western intellectual education, but rather, their reasoning and rationality, their creativity and vitality, will be enriched through inspiration and curiosity that a good school can provide. And perhaps one day when the school is finished, the Westerner's gone, and the children are all grown up, there will be the memory of that selfless connection between East and West, and another chapter of uniting this planet will unfold.

Author: David Gandelman, United States - New York

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