Dharamsala is known as a “spiritual sanctuary” that welcomes all. It is a place where people of all walks of life live; monks, refugees, Tibetans, backpackers all together. Located in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, this is home to the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso and the Tibetan Government in exile. At first glance, it is hard not to notice the beautiful Tibetan prayer flags, spinning prayer wheels, and rocks carved with mantras all throughout the town. Nonetheless, we chose to live and volunteer in Dharamsala to support our Tibetan friends, refugees and ex-political prisoners.
Over 55 years of resistance and going strong
To illustrate, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has lived in exile for over 70 years. Since 1959, many thousands of Tibetan refugees escaped to India, leaving their families behind. Never to return. With only the clothes on their backs, some barley and a guide, it takes most refugees a month to walk through the Himalayas to get to Nepal. What keeps refugees motivated is to meet the Dalai Lama once they arrive in India. Unfortunately, many have risked their lives for the price of freedom. With loving hearts and deep empathy for all, we can only imagine.
What you can do to help Tibetan refugees living in India
Below are four reputable volunteer organizations:
Volunteer Tibet. An organization which offers impromptu placements for volunteers with English and Computer skills. Registration is as simple as dropping in and asking the office administrator what volunteer positions are available. Here, we both taught English to Tibetan refugges and Tibetan monks. To find the Volunteer Tibet office, just walk down the main road and look for their sign.
LHA. A non-profit that encourages community development and social interaction through its programs and volunteer opportunities. By all means, LHA accepts both skilled an unskilled volunteers. Alex taught students MS Office and how to use the internet. For more information, please visit LHA Charitable Trust
Rogpa. Located on Jogiwara Road in Mcleod Ganj. Surely, this NGO strives to aid Tibetan families with life skills, offers a childcare co-op for single parent families, and has a coffee shop that accepts clothing donations. Read what it was like for me to volunteer at ROGPA.
Gu Chu Sum Movement of Tibet. Provides English classes and support to Tibetan ex-political prisoners and refugees. Thankfully, students (and their families) are given a free place to stay for a year while receiving an education. Integrating with the Tibetan and Indian communities helps to foster a sense of belonging as well as strong support networks.
Alex volunteered in a safe house helping former political prisoners with English conversational skills. Alex stated in a conversation that he “did not feel like a teacher.” In fact, it was a place where he came to hang out with friends. Read about the Gu Chu Sum Movement to learn more.
Being in the Presence of Two Noble Peace Prize Recipients
After living in Dharamsala for three weeks, we accepted the fact we may not meet his Holiness. Then, one day word spread that the Dalai Lama was in town. We could hardly believe it, the Universe answered our prayers! In fact, we celebrated His Holiness’ return with another surprise. A belated birthday lecture with another great Nobel Peace Prize recipient named the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu recited a lecture on self-awareness and conducted prayers for the Tibetan people and the world.
We Came as Backpackers and Left as Friends
To summarize, volunteering in Dharamsala changed our lives and is an experience we will never forget. Giving back to the Tibetan community was the least we could do as supporters of freedom for all. We hope our stories of volunteering highlight the need for international support towards Tibet and refugees in general.
Always, our hope is His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all Tibetans will return to Tibet very soon. Lastly, that Tibet gains the autonomy it deserves.
“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.” – Dalai Lama
Darlynne founded Live Love Backpack to inspire others to make a positive difference in the world through traveling, volunteering, and self-awareness. Darlynne has traveled to over 76 countries. Family adventures include backpacking off the beaten path, hiking in Ontario and creating happy memories.