||Rewalsar (Tso-Pema in Tibetan), India, is a sacred
place in the
northern part of Himachal Pradesh where in the 8th century, the great
yogi and teacher Guru Rinpoche visited to spread Buddhist
teachings. While there, he taught Princess Mandarava who was
destined to become his consort and a great teacher in her own
right. Her father and ruler of the district, King Vihardhara,
suspected Guru Rinpoche of having an affair with his daughter. Fearful
of the contamination of the royal bloodline and angry at what
he perceived as her disloyalty, he arrested them both and set them
afire. To the king's astonishment, the burning pyre was transformed
into a small lake and both Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava appeared, rising
from a lotus
in its center. From this came the names Tso-Pema and Padmasambhava, or "lotus-born"
for Guru Rinpoche, who is revered not only by Buddhists, but also by
Hindus and Sikhs. Many pilgrims come to Rewalsar to pray and be blessed
by Guru Rinpoche.
| Dr. Tsering Dorjee was
born in Ladakh of Tibetan
parents who left Ngari in Western Tibet after the Chinese invasion of
1959. He completed his medical degree while serving in the Tibetan
Army, and joined the Tibetan Department of Health in 1998.
2000, Dr. Dorjee was sent to Rewalsar, India, to work as a general
practitioner in the Tibetan refugee community. There he met his future
wife, Yangchen Dolkar, from Darjeeling, and they were married that same
Dr. Dorjee felt a strong affection for his new hometown, such that when the Dept. of Health wished to transfer him to southern India, he declined and resigned his post to find another way to serve his community. At first he embarked on the small enterprise of a Tibetan gift shop, but he soon perceived a greater need for a nursery and kindergarten for Tibetan children whose parents had nowhere to send them and little time to spend with them. Often neglected and unprepared for school at age seven when they are sent to a Tibetan Children's Village school some three hours distant, these children were at risk. Although Dr. Dorjee applied for assistance from the Tibetan Children's Village Association, there was not a large enough Tibetan population in Rewalsar to warrant the necessary aid. So it was that in 2004, Dr. Dorjee’s sister, a nurse in Boston, MA, USA, started giving money to pay salaries, and a French tourist donated 1800 Rupees to the cause of the school, and an inspired and determined Dr. Dorjee, accompanied by his equally determined wife, rented a room, got some chairs and study materials together and opened the Tso-Pema Nursery and Kids' Garden with 6 students. They taught English, Tibetan, and Maths and also strove to instill an understanding of Tibetan history and cultural traditions.
By the next school year, the student body increased to 17 students, another room was rented, and another full-time teacher came to assist with Tibetan studies. Her name was Sonam Tsomo, and she arrived from Assam, India, also of Tibetan parentage. At this time, Dr. Dorjee began to post flyers around Rewalsar asking for donations and materials for the school. Many tourists and visitors responded with money, textbooks and toys, and some, such as an Australian trekking company, signed on as long-term sponsors. However, textbooks are expensive; workbooks are needed with each new school year, and toys and teaching materials don't last, so the need is ongoing. 2005 was also the year in which the students began performing songs and dances from both Tibetan and Hindi cultures for community-wide celebrations of H.H. the Dalai Lama's birthday on July 6th and his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10th
In 2006, the student body rose to 28 students with several boys from the Drekung monastery attending after one such student proved to be so far ahead of his peers that the teachers at the monastery felt their youngest students should start their education at the Tso-Pema kindergarten and continue there through the primary grades. Most of these boys are from poor families in rural Nepal that cannot afford local school fees. The monastery will house, feed, clothe and educate them as monks until the age of 18 when they are free to decide their future vocation. Also in this year, a nun named Tsultrim from the Pinor Rinpoche Nunnery in Mysore, India came to assist with Tibetan language, history, culture, and ethics for these older students, and Dr. Dorjee retired from teaching to become the school coordinator.
By 2008 Tso-Pema had gained a student body of 51 students with the addition of more young monks, this time from the Zigar monastery in Rewalsar. A fourth schoolroom and kitchen space were rented and a cook was employed to provide hot school lunches. Tsultrim returned to Mysore and another nun, Tenzin Chozal came from Sakya nunnery in Dehra Dun to teach the older students, while Migmar Dolma, a Tibetan from Kullu was employed to teach kindergarten.
At this time the number of students is holding at near 50, as some students move on to other schools and new youngsters arrive. Feedback from schools where these older students go to study has been very positive, with comments on their good classroom behavior, respect for the teachers and their fellow students, superior understanding of spoken and written English and Tibetan, and a good grounding in Tibetan history, culture and ethics. However, Dr. Dorjee's vision for the school has only reached its first level of realization.
With the help of his Australian sponsor and other donors, Dr. Dorjee wants to build a fully operational nursery through primary school, not only for children in Rewalsar, but also for about a hundred children from the districts of Kinnour, Spiti, Zanskar, and Ladakh. In his opinion, many of the schools in these areas are substandard, and poor families there cannot afford the fees to send their children to any school at all. The new Tso-Pema school will provide housing and food for primary school-aged children nine months of the year, as well as for a staff in residence. There will also be classrooms, an assembly hall with library and playing fields for sports.
Tso-Pema Nursery and Kids' Garden has no regular funding beyond the commitments of a few supporters. It's expenses run in excess of $6,000 a year and all income is made from direct donations and sales from a tiny gift shop called the Wosam Classic Collection near the school. To make a donation or become a long-term supporter, please click on Donations.