Jhamtse Gatsal is a dynamic Community. Not only are our children cared for in the essential ways they may have lacked, but we teach them – academic subjects of course – but also the deep lessons of love, compassion and wisdom. These are the principles that are at the core of learning to become well-rounded human beings.
One of our most important tasks at Jhamtse Gatsal, is to provide our children with a sense of belonging. We see this as integral to providing for their physical and emotional needs. So many of our children come from emotionally and socially deprived backgrounds that this aspect of our care is crucial. We work hard to make this a Community of safety and affection.
The “families” are not just places where the children live when they are not in class. They are where the children develop trusting healthy relationships, by being cared for and guided by Ama las (housemothers), and by learning to care for each other as brothers and sisters.
Currently, the children live in one of four “family houses.” Each family is named after a Himalayan medicinal flower, a symbol of healing and wholeness. The Ama la, at the heart of each family, has the primary responsibility to nurture the children in her family as her own and give them the emotional stability they need. This ensures the children always know someone loves them and is looking out for them.
Each Ama la cares for a family of approximately 20 children of mixed ages. Ama las teach the children responsibilities and chores around the Community. From a young age, each child learns to respect their environment and take care of their belongings.
Food & Gardening
The devoted kitchen staff at Jhamtse Gatsal provide clean water and a variety of simple, traditional, local (Monpa, Tibetan, and Indian) dishes, for three meals a day.
Examples of the food at Jhamtse Gatsal are:
- Chai – black tea or milk tea.
- Chana – chickpeas or beans.
- Chow mein – long noodles with vegetables.
- Chutney – spicy or pickled condiment.
- Dal – lentil soup.
- Desserts – occasional Indian sweets such as Gulab Jamun, Rasgullah, and Jalebi.
- Egg Curries – hard boiled eggs with vegetables and curry.
- Fruit – occasionally seasonal fruit such as apples, bananas, mangoes, kiwi, oranges, and berries.
- Halwa – sweet cereal-grain mixture, like farina.
- Momos – steamed, vegetable-filled dumplings.
- Rice – both white long-grain, and a local short-grain variety that is purple.
- Roti – griddle-cooked flat bread.
- Paneer – cheese dish, often with vegetables.
- Pakora – battered and deep-fried snacks, usually vegetables.
- Paratha – flat bread, shallow-fried in oil; sometimes stuffed with potato or other vegetables.
- Poori – deep-fried roti bread.
- Subjee – generic term for most vegetable dishes.
- Thukpa – soup with noodles.
- Thenthuk – soup with thick, home-made noodles.
- Timo – steamed bread rolls.
- Weshang bhale – Tibetan fried bread.
Our organic gardens provide an important source of produce for our Community. Currently these gardens can meet about a quarter of our kitchen’s vegetable needs during the Spring to Fall growing season. To extend the months of the year in which we can provide our own fresh produce, we have built a Community greenhouse. Food that is grown at the Community includes:
- Bitter Gourd
- Hot chili peppers
- Variety of leafy greens
- and more
The Ama las oversee the Community gardens with the children’s active help. When possible, the children also learn about the history and science of the crops, cultivation techniques, nutritional value, market potential, and harvesting methods.
We are learning to use compost produced on site, including vermicompost (compost made with the help of worms), as fertilizer.
Some of our gardens are protected from free-foraging cattle by solar electric fencing – the first to be used in this region.
Health is a major concern at Jhamtse Gatsal, given the lack of quality medical care in the region. In the villages, water is often polluted, hygiene is sometimes poor, and preventable diseases are common.
- Regular exercise
- Good sleep habits
- Brushing their teeth
- Washing their hands with soap
- Eating healthy food
- Drinking clean water
- Bathing regularly and
- Keeping their clothes and environment clean
The children are provided medical and dental checkups in our small, temporary Community clinic. Minor health issues are taken care of by a staff member who is a former army medic. Complete physical checkups of all the children and staff are conducted periodically with the gracious help of visiting international volunteer doctors, and through our partnerships with doctors and dentists from Tezpur, India. When these doctors are not visiting the Community they provide remote medical consultation. We also have access to help from medical specialists in Lumla and Tawang, the nearest towns, and from the Indian Army medical teams stationed nearby.
However, for hospitalization or for more in-depth medical diagnostics, we are required to seek care at the Baptist Christian Hospital in Tezpur, Assam, approximately 18 hours from Jhamtse Gatsal over rough roads.
We have ambitions to create a health clinic on campus in the future, which will provide medical care for all members of our Community, as well as our village neighbors, hopefully contributing to improvements in regional access to healthcare.
- Family Housing – Four large, dorm-style rooms where the children currently live. These rooms are actually intended to be classrooms, and will be converted when we are eventually able to build actual Family Houses.
- Community Bathhouse – A level with showers and a level with toilets. Completed in 2011.
- Classrooms – There are currently 9 classrooms, some still in need of furnishing.
- Multipurpose Room – Contains our small library (ever-growing with every generous book donation!), and place to keep other learning resources. Eventually we would love to have a complete student computer lab here. The room is also used for cultural preservation, (see below) meetings, workshops and weekend movie entertainment.
- School Office Building (currently under construction) – It will include: administrative office space, teacher resource room, 7 rooms for staff housing (complete), and a social gathering room.
- Clinic – A temporary space in the school building, which will eventually be turned into another classroom, where the children receive healthcare from our on-staff medic, medical volunteers and other health professionals.
Food & Gardening Facilities
- Family Kitchen – One of our first buildings, constructed in the local style with bamboo and mud by our very own staff & students. It is small, but includes a hand-washing area in front, a smokeless wood stove used mainly for boiling drinking water, a cooking area, food storage space, an area for food-prep & dishwashing, and a dining room where all Community members eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We are quickly growing out of it, and will eventually need something bigger.
- Family Gardens – Small garden plots located all over campus, where the children and staff grow food.
- Vermicomposting – A large concrete bin with a roof, where compost (leftover food, garden waste and grass trimmings) is prepared for the gardens with the help of red worms.
Sustainable Living Facilities
- Photovoltaic Solar Power System – Currently provides enough power to run our office, and light one of the two school buildings (about one-third of our Community’s power needs). Eventually we hope to expand our solar power system and combine it with a wind power system to supply all our electricity needs.
- Wind Monitoring System – Equipment installed by a volunteer to monitor wind potential on our narrow ridge, in preparation for developing a wind power system.
- Recycling Bins – We are beginning the habit of dividing waste into plastic, paper, metal, food waste, and garbage, in hopes that we can someday implement a waste management system that will set a standard for the local region.
Cultural Preservation Facilities
- Practice & Meditation Hall – A large room for practicing dance, music, and singing. It is also where the children and staff have morning and evening prayer, the place we gather for special cultural & religious occasions, and is also used for educational purposes, (see above).
- Staff Housing – We aim to provide each staff member with their own room to call home (though some are graciously willing to share when we are short on space), with access to a shared bathroom.
- Guest House – A small stone cottage. We can currently accommodate visitors and volunteers in three small rooms with shared common space and a shared bathroom.
We would like to be energy independent in the next five years. We think the Community location has great potential for a hybrid solar/wind power system. Several photovoltaic panels currently provide almost one-third of the Community’s power needs. Small photovoltaic panels on roofs of most buildings also provide emergency lighting. We anticipate installing more solar panels. Wind power is under investigation, with plans to install a wind turbine.
Purifying the water for safe drinking is an essential daily need for the Community. We are working to install an ultra-violet water purifier to supply clean drinking water. This will significantly reduce the need to purify water through boiling it over wood fires. This will also reduce the large expense of wood and eliminate some related pollution.
The school is pioneering its own recycling program since no such infrastructure is otherwise in place. Waste is divided into plastic, paper, metal, food waste, and garbage. Eventually, we hope to truck the recyclables to waste management facilities in Tezpur when we make trips there for other purposes. We compost what we can, and currently burn the rest in a dedicated location. We seek to be an example for the local villages with these mindful practices of waste management and energy independence.