My goodness, what can I possibly say about my experience at Shree Mangal Dvip that could adequately capture what I felt and feel inside? I felt welcomed. I felt loved and appreciated. I felt a kindness that seems to be harder and harder to find these days. There's a light inside the students of SMD— an insatiable curiosity, a positivity and compassion, and it moved me. I feel changed somehow.
Shree Mangal Dvip is a school founded by The Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche to provide Himalayan children with an education, housing, medical and dental care that they would otherwise not have access to in their remote mountain villages. Many of the villages are without roads, electricity, sanitation, schools and hospitals— and with Nepal being the poorest nation in Asia, recently ravaged by a civil war, many of the children were accepted on a life-or-death basis. The children are Buddhist, most of them culturally Tibetan— minorities, considered lower on the Hindu caste system. One of the main goals of SMD is to preserve the culture, language and Buddhist way of life of the Himalayas. The school integrates monks, nuns and laychildren, most of whom board at the school and have not seen their family in a very, very long time. One young student told me she hadn't seen her parents in five years. Roads are not always passable, and most of the children's villages are a further week to two weeks trek.
Shree Mangal Dvip runs entirely on donations. The school is bursting at the seams with a terribly long waiting list of deserving kids. I can't tell you how bright these children are— their dedication to learning and to each other is inspiring. Older children are often seen playing with and helping out the wee ones— their sense of responsibility is incredible. I don't know about you, but when I was a child, I got to a point where I just wanted to be around older kids, and found the younger ones a nuisance (and I naturally, was a nuisance to the big kids myself!). The students really look after each other— and the seniors! Oh the seniors, my heart has a special place for them. I have never met a more responsible and caring bunch of teenagers. Twenty-three teenage boys and girls live in a flat together with no furniture except their beds and a long, low table on the floor for dining. The seniors learn how to earn a living by working at the school, they learn to budget by paying the rent and utilities for their flat (owned by the school), and help one another by chipping in to purchase supplies, cook dinner and clean.
In addition to working in the library cataloguing and repairing books, I taught after-school art classes to a bunch of extremely gifted and hard-working students. I was so impressed by their enthusiasm for drawing and desire to learn. I couldn't believe how far they had come in such a short time— and they have little to work with in terms of supplies— what they could do with a plain old pencil and an A4 sheet of copy paper!
Ladies and Gents, I now present to you The After School Artists, working hard on their portraits of each other:
Needless to say, I plan on returning. The experience I had at SMD was one of those pivotal life-changing, life-brightening moments that pass far too quickly but are remembered for a lifetime. There are a number of ways you can help— visit the school's website and click on the How You Can Help section. SMD also has a wishlist on Amazon, where you can purchase books for the library.
To the students and staff of Shree Mangal Dvip, thank you, thank you, thank you. You all have a home in my heart.