Vasudha Wanchoo is the Managing Director of the Jhamtse Gatsal Children Community in a remote part of northern India. The Community was made famous by the Grammy Award-winning documentary film Tashi and the Monk.
Vasudha actively started living at the Community in 2011, although she was involved in the work as a volunteer with the US-based supporting organization, Jhamtse International, since before its inception. After visiting Jhamtse Gatsal Community for three months, she fell in love with the work that is being done in shaping future kind-hearted and thinking leaders. World Expeditions is providing a unique opportunity to work and stay at the community in March 2018 and all of this was enough reason for us to sit down with Vasudha and talk about the Community.
Could you tell us about the history of the Jhamtse Gatsal Children Community?
Jhamtse Gatsal started in 2006 with 34 children and a complement of 10 staff members including teachers, Amalas (housemothers), and administrative & allied staff. Today, we have 85 children and 32 dedicated staff members. Gen Lobsang La wanted to set up this Community for children from challenging and deprived backgrounds because his story is very similar to theirs. He wanted to give the children a chance at a happy childhood which he himself missed out on. He believes that every child has the ability to reach his/her highest potential given the support, care and nurturance that s/he may need. Jhamtse Gatsal is the ‘Garden of Love and Compassion’ [meaning of the Tibetan words Jhamtse Gatsal] where any child from any background is allowed to blossom to his/her greatest self. Whether our children decide to pursue further education or return to their villages, we prepare them to live their lives as compassionate citizens of the world with academic and life skills to assist them along in their chosen path.
What is your role at the Jhamtse Gatsal Community and what motivates you?
What motivates me to happily give my all to the work, is seeing the children at Jhamtse Gatsal begin to dream and feel confident to fulfil their dreams. Our children are not passive charitable beneficiaries; rather they are active participants in the growth and development of this Community who are capable of achieving any goal that they set for themselves.
I love our life in the mountains where I enjoy going on hikes and on overnight camping trips with my friends. Being single, I have the ability to shift gears easily in life and be open to every adventure that life may have in store for me. Having said that, I don’t see myself away from my children and my Community any time in the foreseeable future.
What, in your opinion, is special about the Jhamtse Gatsal Community?
The joy and happiness that permeates the whole Community is what I think special about Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community. The raised voices that one may hear in the Community are those of laughter and happiness. The simplicity of living a contented life with whatever is available makes Jhamtse Gatsal a beautiful place to be in.
Our physical location surrounded by the majestic Himalayan range no doubt adds to the beauty, but what is truly special about Jhamtse Gatsal is the people who live here and work so dedicatedly every day with gratitude and joyfulness.
On the World Expeditions trip in March 2018, people will spend 4 full days at the Community to help & support with donations, what would their stay and support mean for the community?
Jhamtse Gatsal can exist thanks to the generosity and kindness of countless individuals like travellers on the World Expeditions trip in March 2018. Their contribution and desire to support Jhamtse Gatsal would be a true manifestation of the interconnectedness that Gen Lobsang La talks about often with the children and staff members. We may not know each other yet, but traveller’s generosity and thoughtfulness would make it possible for us to give the best possible to our children.
We look forward to welcoming a group of World Expedition travellers and to spending some time together.
During the 4 days at Jhamtse Gatsal Community, what kind of tasks will travellers perform?
We have just broken ground on our family house construction, which we believe will continue well into 2018. We believe the travellers will help where most needed in the construction work to help us mitigate some of the high construction costs.
Usually, days start early at Jhatmse Gatsal around 5.30-6 AM. Breakfast is served at 7.30 AM for staff members after which people leave for their respective responsibilities. There is a snack break at 10 AM, followed by lunch at 12.30 PM. People tend to take an hour’s break for lunch and resume activities around 1.30 PM and work until 5 PM. Dinner is served by 6.30 PM and everyone retires to their personal spaces by 7.30-8 PM. Sometimes people may gather together in the evenings for relaxation and entertainment. On weekends, people take time to attend to their chores and sometimes help with any activity that may be happening at the Community.
And what about accommodation and meals?
Given our limited accommodation, participants will live in shared accommodations with 2-4 persons to a room. Being at Jhamtse Gatsal would be a practice in simple living. The food would be primarily vegetarian with eggs served on some days. We grow some of our own food and make every attempt that it is a balanced and nutritious meal. Usually our breakfast is Indian bread (roti) with some lentils or vegetable and milk or tea. Lunch includes rice, lentils and a vegetable. Sometimes salad is part of the meal. Dinner can be the same as lunch or sometimes Tibetan steamed dough (tingmo), chowmein or Tibetan noodle soup (thenthuk) is served.
The participants will certainly get time to interact with the children who enjoy spending time with visitors and are curious to learn about their culture and interests.
Could you perhaps explain what our stay would mean for the children?
Our children are used to having volunteers from all over the world and understand that they are here for a short time. They enjoy their visit and time together. However, it is also important for the visitors to be conscious of what they are sharing with the children and how they are sharing it. We ask our visitors and volunteers to become our partners in mindfully raising our children and in supporting our vision.
There is a section on Volunteer Expectations in the Jhamtse Gatsal Volunteer Handbook, for a copy, please contact a representative at your nearest World Expeditions office.
If travellers want to bring or do something extra for the Community and the children, what could it be?
Their time with the children sharing stories about their lives and life experiences is the most meaningful gift that visitors and volunteers can give the children.
However, if they wish to bring something, we appreciate volunteer and visitors to bring something small and which can be easily shared among all of the children. Usually stickers, hair clips for girls and colour pencils, sketch pens, etc. make for good gifts for the children. We request guests not to bring many sweets, candies or chocolates for children because they are not good for their dental hygiene, but one piece of good candy would be welcome.
What is your advice for people who are thinking of joining our trip in March 2018?
My advice or tip for people thinking of joining the March 2018 trip would be that Jhamtse Gatsal is not a place that is easy to describe in words, it is an experiment in unconditional loving and giving which can only be experienced. In all of my time here, I have not yet heard any visitor or volunteer leave this place not marked or changed by the experience.
Last but not the least, I would like to add that I think folks at Jhamtse Gatsal are some of the most genuine huggers that I have met and I am rather partial to my daily dose of 40-50 hugs… which is low-balling it!
Visit Jhamtse Gatsal Children Community in March 2018
What: Jhamtse Gatsal Indian Himalaya Charity Challenge
When: 4–18 March 2018
- Visit a remote part of northern India where only few travellers have been
- Work alongside members of the Jhamtse Gatsal children community
- A stunning day trek along tribal & Mompa villages and Tawangchu River
- Visit the largest Tibetan monastery outside of Tibet: Tawang Monastery
- Raise funds for Jhamtse Gastal Children Community ahead of your trip
- Visit Nameri National Park to spot elephants, tiger, leopard, barking deer & exotic birdlife