Shenpens trip to Sonada 2009

Dreaming big dreams together – and acting on them – can get big results. Shenpen has a big dream of helping Tibetans in need, and now we are just about to making it come true. At least we’ve done our best, the rest is up to fortune. We have just applied for Norad funding to make a health centre in the Tibetan settlement in Sonada, near Darjeeling, North East India. This is where Lama Changchub used to go school, and where he became a monk at Kalu Rinpoches monastery, and did his 3 year retreat. There is great need of heatlh services in the community. If we get the funding, we want to make a health centre staffed with local health personnel, as well as visiting expertise and volunteers coming from the west. In addition we plan to educate 3 nurses, 1 midwife, a lab-technician/radiographer, an ultrasound specialist and a number of “health workers”. The project will last minimum 3 years, and have a special focus on women’s health. Maximum funding from Norad for the 3 years is 1,5 mill NOK. Shenpen has to raise 50.000 NOK a year , and then Norad multiplies it by 10.

Shenpen had originally planned to start a project to help a primary school in Kham, Eastern Tibet, that we have already been giving small financial support. But fate wanted it otherwise. Due to 60 year celebrations in China, it was difficult to enter Tibet, and Tashi and Amalia who had planned to visit Kham this summer, were not able to go. So the Shenpen committee decided to move our project to Tibetans in exile in India, which is a much more accessable country. First we hoped that Sonada monastery would be our “local partner” in creating the clinic, but it turned out that a more suitable partner was the refugees in the settlement below the gompa. They had a more democratic structure in their organization (required by Norad), and already had an empty clinic building, ready for use! It was donated to them a year ago by Enfants du Tibet. We decided to go and meet them.

We had many meetings in the Shenpen committee before we left for India. How to do it…. Anne-Lise Langøy (UD), who has worked in Norad, and also lived in India, gave us very valueable advice. Well prepared, Lama Changchub and Heidi travelled to Sonada in September, to meet our “local partner” . The leader turned out to be a bright young man, Kalsang. They had already formed a local Shenpen committee. Most of the members are also leaders in the Refugee Co-operative they run together. We spent a week together, working intensely on common aims, budget for 3 years, plans for the clinic and for health education of locals. It became clear that what they need is an outpatient diagnostic clinic. There we were, none of us had any experience about setting up such a clinic, so we quickly decided that we needed some expert guidance and help. The next day we went to see dr. Pemba living in the Dali Monastery, right next to Gampopa clinic in Darjeeling (45 min drive from Sonada). Dr. Pemba is a very respected doctor who studied surgery in London, and worked in many countries. We were overjoyed when he agreed to be our medical adviser, both in relation to the purchase of the needed medical equipment, and in interviewing medical staff who will apply for work at the clinic, if we get the funding. What a relief. He seemed to be a very good and wise man, and advised us to set up the clinic with a head nurse who is also a midwife, with 2 assistant nurses. On top of this there will be visiting doctors and specialists. The following days we visitited 3 out-patient diagnostic clinics in Darjeeling; Gampopa clinic, the Tibetan settlement Clinic, and a place for ultrasound scanning, and learned about lab-kits, x-ray machines and cheap dental chairs, all “Indian style”. We got the information we needed, and during the next few days, the budget, educational plan and agreement became clear. All is now inside the Norad-application.

In between all the work, we were served Tibetan food and strong coffee for the guests, the children gave us a dance performance, the fogs came and went, revealing the beautiful mountain scenery.

Before we left , Shepenen sponsored a very delicious dinner for all the 145 children In the children’s hostels. Lama Changchub could remember how little food they would get, and how he was hungry. So now they got a BIG meal, and also money for winter clothing for the poorest children. There were many smiling faces, and the fashion among the children seemed to be to give the peace-sign when the photos were taken. Shenpen also gave 100 rupees each to the monks and nuns, as Lama Changchub could remember how little money they used to have. 100 rupees is only 13 NOK, but worth something in India. We donated the money to all the monks and nuns while the young Kalu Rinpoche was giving a teaching in the monastery.

It was exactly on the autumn equinox that we finished the planning work and signed the agreement that will be activated if we get the funding. The welfare officer in the settlement, appointed by the Tibetan government in exile signed as a withness, to make sure everything was happening properly.

Mission completed! We took farewell and drove down the mountains to the plains of India ,to the heat and Salugara,, where Lama Changchub’s mother lives. She is 88 years old, and was happy to see her son come home, and also sad to see him leave so soon. Lama Karma, one of Lama Changchub’s 3 year retreat collegues, also stays there. He has suffered from TB for 34 years. He now has resistant TB, and was on very expensive medication that he has no chance to pay for. So Shenpen donated enough money for him to pay for the medicines. He was very happy, and we were very happy to be able to give him that support from the sangha in Norway.

It was a good trip. As soon as we found an internet-café, Heidi sent home all the documents to Elisabeth and Yvonne who were working on the Norad application in Oslo. A few days later we came home and finsihed it, just in time for deadline 1. October. What a nice collaboration, and efficiency!

It’s wonderful what can happen when we dream big dreams together, and act on them.

Shenpen Tibet Aid has got a new account number:

Help us to help Tibetans in need

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