This Thursday afternoon Kendal and I are planning on leading a local waste pick up with the students at the Gamru Village School! I have been so excited about this as this is one of the activities we initially hoped to do with the students! We’ve planned to arrive mid-morning Thursday with gloves and bags, review final details with the principal Meenakshi, and then begin the pick-up. Today I asked Raja, who is from the Gamru Village area, where we can purchase gloves and bags, and where we can place the waste bags once the pick-up is completed. He then brought to my attention a number of logistics: We’ll need a first aid kit and a car parked nearby in case of emergencies. We’ll also need to send any students directly to the hospital if they get a cut. He asked me where exactly the pick-up would be taking place, and if I had considered feces in the waste and dangerous objects such as glass and needles.
These are all things I did not think of. When Meenakshi confirmed the waste pick-up date with us last week, we asked if we could purchase the bags and gloves, and that was that. Why didn’t I think of asking more questions? Did I assume that because the Gamru School has done waste pick-ups before that I didn’t have to? Is it okay to assume that the pick-up will be directly in the vicinity of the Gamru Village School? Why have I not thought about potentially dangerous objects? What will we do if a student encounters feces or gets a cut?
A perception of waste I have heard and have perceived in Dharamsala is: “As long as I don’t see it”. However, along with the potential perception of “as long as I don’t see it”, is a lack of waste facilities. Where are we actually going to dispose of this waste? I believe that my lack of inquiry into this event is partly due to my familiarity with the waste management system at home in Canada. Blue, clear and green bins are placed all around the City. Most homes are equipped with adequate plumbing, waste bins and information on how to sort our waste into these bins. The municipal waste processing facilities are just on the outskirts of town and is open to the public. I have not truly thought about waste awareness and a cleaner environment as a privilege, but at home, free of charge, I am equipped with all of the resources and information to be able to properly dispose of my waste, and know where it goes. This is not the case for the Gamru community and this waste pick-up. The objective of a waste pick-up for these students, from my perspective, is to be aware of their environmental surroundings and how minimizing waste is a positive contribution to their environment. Within the curriculum the students are taught to keep their environments clean. However, if there are no legitimate waste facilities nearby nor accessible information about waste, and the waste is simply being displaced, is this really creating a positive environmental awareness for the students?
In the first several days of living and working in Dharamsala I have felt rather stuck in this bubble of disorientation. A classmate pointed out the importance of moving beyond this “paralysis” into the positives that are within and can be created within my surroundings and my placement. I have realized how important this is. While I think it is incredibly important to be critical of one’s surroundings, I think this critical eye has acted as a bit of a blinder to the possibilities around and within me. With this, I have begun to feel more settled and accomplished by communicating more with the principal of the Gamru Village School and asking for help from the other teachers. As well as outside of my placement in which Saturday several of us hiked Triund Mountain, and Sunday several of us attended His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teaching at Gyuto Monastery in lower Dharamsala.
Before grabbing a cab to the teaching, many people filled the main square of Mcleod Ganj to see his Holiness drive by. People were waiting eagerly gazing up and down Temple Road. When His Holiness drove by we all only saw him for a brief moment but it was a truly heartwarming couple of seconds as he appeared so humble with his head down and his hands held in prayer. It was a wonderful beginning to the day.
Arriving at the Monastery was a spectacular sight. The Temple inside was perfectly in line with the mountains in the background and Tibetan and Buddhist flags filled the Monastery. When we arrived, Gyuto monks had prepared food for the hundreds of people attending the teaching… what an amazing task. The event was incredibly organized with provided food and water, young monks walking around with garbages and other monks selling Buddhist texts. It was rather humbling seeing such working togetherness.
The teaching was such a neat experience however it was also a bit of an uncomfortable one. It was plus 40 degree weather and many of us had issues with the radios we were using for translation. I was rather aware of our position being there. We were group of noticeably privileged Caucasians taking up space but would this space mean more to someone else? Is it appropriate for us to be taking up this space? I was also a bit unclear about etiquette. Many people, many of them Tibetan, around me seemed comfortable sitting in the same position for 4 hours, while I had trouble keeping still let alone keeping my back straight. I was a bit uncomfortable with the fact that I was in the presence of one of the most influential people on this planet speaking about dependence and selflessness and I sometimes found myself thinking about my own comfort… This reiterated to me my privilege position but it also really encouraged to learn more about Tibetan and Buddhist culture and religion. I am so happy and grateful for this experience. Once we returned to Mcleod Ganj 4 of us had dinner on a rooftop patio watching the sunset appear behind the mountains, discussing and reflecting on the day behind us.
I am volunteering at the Gamru Village School in lower Dharamsala which is a school that is completely funded by donations and provides an education to over 170 students from the region. Please follow this link to learn about the opportunities provided by this school for these students that from my perspective makes the Gamru School a special place: http://gamruschool.com/. I feel extremely grateful for this experience with both the Gamru School and the course, however, I am feeling very conflicted. While I expected this, I did not expect the amount of discomfort and disorientation I feel within my placement.
Kendal and I will be teaching until 1230 ever day and periodically until 230, and I did not anticipate this. Our first day, Thursday, we were introduced to some of the teachers and observed some of their teaching. Rather early on the first morning, we were unexpectedly asked to teach until 1230. We were asked to teach singulars and plurals and the water cycle. While these may not be difficult concepts to teach, I do not feel equipped to teach them in a different country, let alone would I feel comfortable teaching them in my own. Who am I, without any training in primary education, to teach these children their education and tell them that this is what they should be learning? What if I am not communicating and teaching these concepts properly and effectively? I discussed this disorientation with some fellow India Field School friends and Veila, our volunteer coordinator, and they brought to my attention that while this is true, it may be truly beneficial for these students to have a native English speaking “teacher”. As I think about this I do realize this benefit for the children and the teachers, and I empathize with this as many of the teachers’ English is poor.
This aside, I am feeling positive and I realize that every day will become a bit more comfortable. Sitting at the back of the class on a bench, observing one of the teachers in one out of eight of their classrooms, I also realized how capable learning and teaching can be with few resources. The children were super attentive as the teacher wrote out math questions on the small chalkboard. The children were also hoping over their bench desks to share erasers, the walls are rather bare and each classroom has one light. While I am truly grateful for the resources provided to me in my own education, it really makes me question the necessity for the amount of resources and goods I have in my own life.
Each day so far has been a whirlwind of disorientation and excitement, and it has been difficult to reflect on all of these emotions and experiences. Today five of us hiked up Bhagsu waterfall just outside Mcleod Ganj. Waving prayer flags traveled all across the waterfall and we found ourselves sitting at the rock landings exploring and overlooking the valley below. We all felt like we really needed this unscheduled time to reflect on the last several days and on our way down from the falls we all felt really relaxed and content. I think it is truly important to find a balance where ever you are – take time to absorb your surroundings, especially when your surroundings continue to change.