How your support is helping to fund educational centers for the children living in some of the highest altitude settlements in the World.
For Thondup Tsering, home is an encampment of rough woolen tents huddled together on an arid, windswept plane surrounded by towering mountain peaks nearly 17,000 feet above sea level. He belongs to a nomadic tribe known as the Korzokpas who live by grazing their herds of goats and yaks on the high altitude pasturelands of the Chantang Plateau, part of the Indian Himalayas close to the border with Chinese occupied Tibet.
The nomadic life is one of almost unimaginable hardship. In the summer months the nomads trek with their herds up to the high altitude pastures; in the winter retreating down to the lower slopes to escape temperatures that go down to minus 50 degrees. In all, the community of 700 men women and children move camp 14 times a year, making it extremely difficult for the children to receive an education.
Until a few years ago there was a government school five km away in the nearby town of Korzok but in winter the whole area is completely snow bound and shut off from the rest of the world. Eventually the school was forced to close down because the Government couldn’t find teachers willing to work in such extreme conditions. Now the older children go to a boarding school more than 60 kms away, while the younger children travel with their parents helping tend the livestock as they move from place to place in an annual cycle, across an area covering more than 60 square kms.
About two years ago, a Delhi based organization called Pragya started working with several of these nomadic communities, to provide primary education for the younger children - the result, mobile learning centres: simple primary schools staffed by members of the nomadic communities, that provide basic education for the children as they migrate with their parents from place to place.
The learning centers are housed in large canvas tents and are equipped with books, wall charts, blackboards and educational toys and games that can all be folded up, stowed away and carried on the back of yaks to the next grazing ground. The whole school collapses down into heavy duty red plastic crates which are also used by the children as desks. During the summer months classes go on up to 17,000 feet making this perhaps the highest school anywhere in the world.
Thondup Tsering is the main teacher in this mobile school. He has lived with this community all his life and is passionate to ensure that the children get as good a start as possible, helping safeguard the future of this community and their traditional nomadic lifestyle.
“These children are our future. Its crucial they get an education; that they can read and write a little bit and have at least basic numeracy . Otherwise they’ll spend the rest of their lives being exploited by traders from other communities, and end up picking up other people’s garbage.”
The classes run for two hours every morning giving the children enough time to help their parents with milking and shearing the animals in the early morning and late afternoons. The children love the classes because the centre is equipped with a range of toys and games designed to enable them to learn through playing- brightly colored jigsaws, board-games, puzzles, counting boards, skittles, plastic cricket bats, footballs- the school boxes are like treasure chests to children who would normally not have access to any toys at all.
“I love teaching here. It’s wonderful to see the children playing with these toys; you can see how keen they are to learn! I feel a great sense of satisfaction that I’m able to contribute to the future of my community in this way. I only wish it was possible for me to do more.”
But Thondup is realistic about the future for his people. The nomadic lifestyle has been going on here for thousands of years-maintaining a delicate balance with this most extraordinary of environments and passing on traditional Buddhist values from generation to generation- but now it is slowly dying out as more and more people drift to the cities in search of a more stable income and more tolerant living environment.
“It may be that our nomadic culture will not survive for more than another generation. But without an education what will be the alternative for these children? We are giving them an education so that at least they will have some opportunities. The future belongs to them; they should be able to make a free choice about how they want to live.”