PROJECT: HEART OF HIMALAYA
DIRECTOR: SONAM DORJE
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The Lingshed area in Ladakh, India is nestled on the north side of the Himalaya near Tibet. The eight primary villages in the project area range from 13,000-14,000’ in elevation. In the winter, the only access to these villages is a dangerous 4-day trek along the frozen Chadar River. To gain a feel for the character of the area, you can watch a documentary that explores the most dangerous school commutes in the world. https://youtu.be/EEJpkEctSEA (If you don’t have time to watch the entire documentary, minutes 20-40 cover the crux of the journey). This is snow-leopard territory – a cold, stark, and unforgiving land.
Despite the very short growing season, subsistence farming is the primary livelihood of the villagers. Traditionally this is a currency-free culture where people work together to help each other – with their sowing, with their harvests, providing food for gatherings, working on community projects— each giving what they can to the community for free. They are classified as a “scheduled tribe” by the Indian government, which means they are among the least economically-developed of all people groups in India. Originally from Tibet, these villagers have maintained their Buddhist traditions and endure their struggles with patience and gentleness as they work cooperatively to survive in a harsh land.
Our partner in the Lingshed area is Sonam Dorje. He was born in one of the rural villages here, spending his days as a child tending sheep and goats and collecting their dung for cooking fuel. Desperate for an education, he ran away from home at age 11, making a hazardous 4-day journey to reach the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies in Choglamsar-Leh. There, with scholarship support, he studied diligently, graduated and then pursued higher education in computer studies. In the course of his schooling, he learned to speak six languages. But he never forgot the remote region where he was born and now devotes himself to improving the quality of life there. Sonam is full of energy, is incredibly hard-working, and is adept at mobilizing the people of these communities to achieve their goals.
Thanks to Sonam’s work, educational opportunities in these villages have greatly improved. Primary and middle school education has been centralized in the village of Lingshed, and a hostel was built so that children from other villages have a place to live during the school year. A hostel was also built for children who want to attend secondary school, college, and university in the town of Leh, which lies along the Indus River between the Himalaya and Karakoram Mountain ranges. Sonam’s ultimate goal is for the students, once educated, to return to their villages to help improve life there. So far, 40%-60% have returned to serve others.
Sonam is also intent on bringing healthcare to his people. The Amchi system of traditional Tibetan medicine is the most respected and self-sustaining in these communities, so he has promoted training of Amchi doctors to serve the villages. And since village women often won’t talk about feminine health issues to the male Amchi, he includes the training of women practitioners (rare prior to the 1980s). He has also expanded the Amchi training to include basic dental care, previously unavailable in these remote areas. For centuries, Amchi medicine, like other community work, has been provided free of charge, so the Amchi receive no payment for their services or for the medicines they provide. Most medicines can be collected and prepared from roots, leaves, flowers and other natural materials, but some must be purchased in markets at the practitioner’s expense, often an unsustainable burden.
Global Pearls will be supporting these locally inspired, designed and operated educational projects and efforts to expand traditional healthcare in this region.
To donate to India-Sonam click here.