A Tibetan monk in Dharamshala is transforming the lives of child rag pickers

A young Tibetan monk fled from his homeland to India, like many others, at the age of 19 in 1993 without any specific goal in his mind. Now, he has a mission. He is transforming the lives of hundreds of slum dwellers, particularly children, in Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh.

Monk Jamyang (38) is, perhaps, the only refugee Tibetan in India who has devoted his life for the empowerment of the poorest of the poor Indians. The result of his untiring efforts and vision is clearly visible -- those slum children who used to beg in the streets are now getting not only good education but are the toppers in their class and dream high. They have launched a vibrant campaign against child- marriages, the use of drugs and alcohol in and around their slum area.

For the last 10 years, Jamyang, people call him as Guruji, is working for beggars and rag-pickers living in the shanties in Charan Khadd area of Dharamshala. He has adopted the entire slum area and envisioned an alternative model of development. Interestingly, none of the slum dwellers are from the State, but migrants from Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

“In 2002, while studying Buddhism in a monastery in McLeodganj, I used to see children digging out food from the dustbins every day. One day I followed them and reached the slums. I was stunned to see their pathetic condition. I started giving them food and clothes. But very shortly, I realised that it is not the solution to their problems. I thought I should do something that will have a lasting effect,” says Jamyang. I studied the magnitude of the problem and designed an integrated programme for their multi dimensional empowerment, he adds.

To give concrete shape to his vision, Jamyang started the Tong- len Charitable Trust in 2004. A survey conducted by Tong-len in 2009 showed that about 94 per cent of the slum children are malnourished. The trust operates health clinics and mobile health units that serve about 4,000 slum dwellers in the districts of Kangra, Hamirpur and Una. It is also making efforts to get them government facilities under various schemes.

For Jamyang, children’s good education is the only and permanent solution to the problems of the slums. To prepare the rag-picker children for admission in a public school, he started tuition-tents in the slum area. His focus was to cover at least one child from each family. “It was a tough task to make children attend school regularly and to maintain their hygiene in the slum. Therefore, we started our own hostel,” says Jamyang.

“I had no aspirations because it was impossible to come out of the hell-like conditions in the slum. But now, I am sure that I will become a doctor and serve my community,” says Nisha, a brilliant Class 11 science student who bagged the 50 position in Class 10 in the State. Nisha along with Rinku have got scholarship from the State government and have also received laptops from the State Education Board.

In the new hostel, inaugurated by the Dalai Lama who has praised the young monk’s work, there are 68 children at present. Earlier Tong-len had rented accommodation for twenty boys and equal number of girl. Now the new campus has ample space to accommodate hundred children and sports a state-of-the-art computer lab, library and a playground.

The slum dwellers have high expectations from the monk. “I don’t want our children to be like us. Only Guruji can give us a new life,” says Maya, a rag-picker who was born and brought up in the slum. She could have never imagined that her seven-year-old son Rahul will one day get an opportunity to study in a good school.

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