Volunteer ROGPA: Promoting Peace Through Tibetan Art

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Tibet teachers Dharamsala

Back in 2012, I volunteered with a non-profit organization called “Rogpa.” I taught English and creative arts to children (from single parent households).  The curriculum had an emphasis on peace building and preserving the Tibetan culture since most of their guardians escaped Tibet to settle in India.

One of the aims at Rogpa is to learn what “peace” is from a young age through drawing, sculpting, painting, storytelling and music. The premise was to teach values of cooperation, tolerance and compassion for all living beings.

What isRogpa?’

  • In Tibetan, Rogpa means “trusted helper or friend.”
  • Tibet Rogpa is an NGO focused on preserving Tibetan culture, independence, and assists Tibetan families in exile through empowerment and co-operation.
  • Many unpaid volunteer positions available such taking care of infants, teaching Tibetan peace arts and/or working in the cafe.

The power of a smile

Even though there was a language barrier at first, I was happy to communicate through smiles, hugs and even tickles.  Likewise, there was also a Tibetan teacher, (let’s call her Daisy to protect her privacy) who translated for the students.  Equally important, I learned some key Tibetan words such as “Ma-che,” (means, No, don’t do that!), “Ma-de” (means sit down), “De-show (means come here), “Gou-da” (means wait) and “Ssa” (means eat), I was good to go!

Rogpa, Free Tibet, Children, volunteer, Dalai Lama, Tibet, peace, arts, compassion  Group hug to all the Tibetan kids at the Rogpa Peace Arts Program.
Volunteer ROGPA Tibet
Little hands mixing a big batch of flour and water for today’s sculptures.
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Our students love to cook and share what they make. Creations of momos, cookies, and even an octopus above.

Children do know best

One thing I learned from young children is the virtue of patience.  My second day in the classroom, I basically lost my voice. With 16 kids running around out of control, I found myself repeating “stop” to the kids in a loud tone. I had no professional teaching experience especially to those who spoke a completely different language. In light of that incident, I took many deep breaths and made a promise to do my best and not stress over the little stuff. The next day, I came ready with a megaphone (just kidding!)
After observing the students for a week, I had a general idea what type of temperament each student had. As a matter of fact, there were days when I felt I had eyes at the back of my head. When things weren’t going according to plan, I chose to respond with empathy, understanding and kindness.
Rogpa, Free Tibet, Children, volunteer, Dalai Lama, Tibet, peace, arts, compassion
Before every meal, the children say a prayer of thanks for all of life’s blessings.
Rogpa, Free Tibet, Children, volunteer, Dalai Lama, Tibet, peace, arts, compassion
Every day, the children eat a hot lunch usually made of organic rice, beans and vegetables. Rogpa makes a strong effort to prepare healthy and balanced meals.

Take a deep breath and let it go

“Ma-che, Ma-che!” (Don’t do that). I honestly said those words at least twenty times a day in class (I kid you not).   At the time, I learned it was a common phrase to say to Tibetan children to get them to stop what they are doing. Fortunately, most of the students listened and co-operated with one another. In retrospect, now that I have a toddler, I find myself in deja vu mode, as it is a phrase used in our household except, this time I usually pair it up with a reason why “not to do that.” I’m not perfect and every day I’m learning the lessons of motherhood.
Rogpa, Free Tibet, Children, volunteer, Dalai Lama, Tibet, peace, arts, compassion
Sometimes, the students act like cats and dogs but at the end of the day, they’re friends again.
Ojim in the midst of making an authentic Tibetan dish for his friend. Can you guess what it is?
Rogpa, Free Tibet, Children, volunteer, Dalai Lama, Tibet, peace, arts, compassion
A show of hands of how much Pema loves the making peace art projects at ROGPA.

Before there were unicorns and mermaids

 Surprisingly, many students didn’t know how to say “pencil,” “paper” or even “toilet” in English. But almost ALL of them knew what a “cupcake,” or “ice cream” was and asked for it during snack time.  It is interesting to note, the similarities between kids all over the globe mainly when it comes to sweets.  In North America, lots of kids (even toddlers) know what an ice cream, cupcake or lollipop is but they may not know how to say thank you.

Rogpa, Free Tibet, Children, volunteer, Dalai Lama, Tibet, peace, arts, compassion

A traditional Tibetan children’s book about friendship and peace.

Rogpa, Free Tibet, Children, volunteer, Dalai Lama, Tibet, peace, arts, compassion

There are thirty basic letters in the Tibetan alphabet. This printed form of the alphabet is known as the “uchen script.”

What peace means to children

When we asked the students what the meaning of peace was, most replied “to live in a happy world.” Through Tibetan art and music, the students shared the many ways they practice “peace” in their lives such as:

  • Making art and sharing it with others
  • Keeping our world safe
  • Having something healthy to eat
  • Being kind to oneself and others

I was the student, the children were my teachers

“Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend — or a meaningful day.” ~Dalai Lama

Volunteering at Rogpa was a very humbling experience and living in Dharamsala was a spiritual place we called “home”.  I have the utmost respect and admiration to all the teachers, parents, and caregivers because keeping the “peace” at home and in school is definitely an art.  Physically, I was teaching the students something new everyday. All things considered, I was also learning something new about myself and the world in return. You could say, I too, was a humble student.

The United Nations declared Sept 21 The International Day of Peace.  This years theme is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.”  There are several ways the younger generation can act as leaders and peace-makers; through volunteering, welcoming refugees in their community and making new friends.

Please visit ROGPA for volunteer opportunities and to find out how to make a positive difference for the children of Tibet.

What are some other ways to promote peace in your lives, communities and at work? Please share in the comments section. Thanks.

Rogpa, Free Tibet, Children, volunteer, Dalai Lama, Tibet, peace, arts, compassionDaisy, our Tibetan teacher taking a moment to play with some of the kids during recess.

Last updated: June 23, 2017

Author: Darlynne

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.

19 Replies to “Volunteer ROGPA: Promoting Peace Through Tibetan Art”

  1. Free Tibet! The kids are so cute. I want to volunteer in India some day. Got any tips?

    1. Hey Matcha, India is a great place to explore and volunteering is always a good way to get to know the people, community and ways to help out. There are lots of different volunteer opportunities all over India such as building houses, caring for orphans, and even teaching English. Dharamsala is located in Northern India and if you happen to make it there, there are lots of organizations that could use a helping hand. My blog describes just a few volunteer organizations but once in town, it’s easy to network and find more listings. Good luck!

      1. I’ll look into it. Thanks.

  2. I’ve heard about Dharamsala before. How does one even get there? It’s fantastic you both had a chance to volunteer and give back. I know how much the Tibetan people have suffered so much.

    1. There are several ways to get to Dharamsala and Mcleod Ganj. The easiest way for us was by bus from Delhi. We took an overnight bus to Mceod Ganj and arrived at 4am. Since it was snowing (and slippery) our bus could not make it to the top. So we had to climb up the mountain by foot! It was an epic adventure to do this snowy climb in India of all places.

      There is also a train from Delhi that takes around 7 hours. The day and sleeper trains operate frequently. Once you arrive to Pathankot station, you would have to hire a taxi to get to Mcleod which takes over 2 hours.

      I believe there is also a flight that take 40 mins.

      1. I dream to make it here one day. Good to know there are several transportation options. Appreciate it.

  3. Wow! This looks like such a rewarding experience. Dharamshala seemed so far off the beaten track, but you’ve brought it more into the main stream, and now it’s something that I might even do:) Thanks for posting!

    1. Hi Brian, one of the best experiences abroad that’s for sure! I really miss teaching overseas. Reminds me of our time in South Korea. Hope you get the chance to make it to Dharamsala one day! You would love it.

      1. Yes indeed. Many thanks Darlynne.

    2. Brian Cohen says: Reply

      How was the food there?

      1. Nice to hear from you Brian. In India, the food is always spicy and flavourful – just the way we like it! In Dharamsala there are lots of Tibetan restaurants that serve yummy momos (dumplings) and hubby’s favourite thukpa (soup). Oh, and all the usual backpacker fare. 😛

  4. Sounds like a place that has it all. How about hiking and tracking opportunities? Is this a good place to do it? How do I find a good local guide?

    1. Hey Vegi,
      There are several hiking groups and tours in Dharamasala. We usually just find the guides when we get to town by talking to other backpackers and sharing information. If you want to book in advance, you can google Dharamasala hiking and I’m sure you will find lots of options however, we like to meet our guides before we decide to do treks with them. Also, most times we have found that finding a local guide while we are in town, also gives us flexibility to plan the route and negotiate for fair prices. Good luck.

  5. Live by the golden rule. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

    1. Exactly!

  6. This is a humble place to volunteer, nurturing our future generation about the importance of peace, kindness and compassion. All fundamental sacred values of humanity.

    1. Hope you have the chance to visit one day 🙂

  7. One last comment, children are our future and we have to teach them to take care of our planet and others. I hope the Tibetan children never forget about meeting you and what they learned about peace. Peace is the only way.

    1. I know one things for sure Esme, I will never forget them.<3

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