"These mountains look so old"

"These mountains look so old," Lobsang Phuntsok tells me as he studies the Sassongher for the first time. "Our mountains, however, the Himalayas, are young, emerging mountains." I thought about it for a moment, as it was something I had never considered before, and yet I see them every day, every time I leave home. "You're right," I said, "our Dolomites are crumbling, they're ancient.” Now, the more I look at them, the more I feel that sense of antiquity that Lobsang highlighted, the deep history that they conceal, the wisdom that they transmit to us.

Lobsang is a former Buddhist monk and founder of the Jhamtse Gatsal children's community on the slopes of the Himalayan mountains, in Arunachal Pradesh, India. His is a very remote region. Tawang, where about 50,000 Monpa live today, is made up of an ethnic Tibetan minority that passed to India long before the Chinese invasion of Tibet. The Monpa are Tibetans, in Indian territory claimed by China. This makes Tawang and Arunachal Pradesh a region of continuous tension, with a massive military presence, always ready to defend, on one side and on the other, their "own" borders.

Lobsang had a very difficult childhood: an unwanted son, abandoned, brought up by his grandparents and then sent to study in a monastery in southern India, he subsequently went to America to teach Buddhist philosophy and after time there, the desire to return to his own land and be able to do something good for his community, led him to found the children's community of Jhamtse Gatsal in Monpa and which he renamed as "the garden of love and compassion". Jhamtse Gatsal welcomes children with very difficult family histories, orphans, victims of violence and abuse, otherwise abandoned to themselves and their destiny. In the community they find a home, a family, an education for a lifetime; once a child has been accepted, the community takes responsibility for assisting him or her as long as he or she needs it and always again at a future time if he or she needs it, just like in a real family. Children are welcomed, guided, healed with patience, perseverance and a lot of love. Lobsang is certain: any trauma, psychological difficulty, phobia or fear, can only be healed with love and compassion. Psychologists, psychiatrists or other specialists of any kind are not needed. Now, after twelve years of community life, he can say that he has had confirmation of his belief: in Jhamtse Gatsal, despite the traumatic background of almost all the children there, there has not been a single intervention by specialised therapists, even with the most difficult children. Lobsang once accepted the presence of a psychologist for a study on a specific condition: "I don't want my children to be labelled, I don't want them to say: this one has an x disorder and this one has a y disorder. I'm not interested in knowing." What interests Lobsang is to recognize the existence of every single child, each one different, without prejudices or classifications.


One of the biggest difficulties for Jhamtse Gatsal is to find teachers. The remote place - to get to the nearest city it takes two days by car - but also the fundamental importance of consistency with the values of the community - love and compassion, solidarity, life in communities where everyone is equal and no one is the exception - make the task difficult. "Before looking for a teacher, we look for a member of the community. We seek the goodness of the human being, and this has priority over the professional curriculum," says Lobsang. "We distinguish between "human being" - human being - and "human doing" - human action - we are more interested in being than action.

"The community of Jhamtse Gatsal was conceived according to a model of village, a place shared by all in rights and duties. The most important education we can and want to give to our children is the faculty of relationship, the relationship. We want to bring back and awaken kindness, goodness in our children. We are creating our army of love and compassion." So far, 24 of the 97 young people accepted into the community have left for university in various cities in India. There are those who study Western medicine, those who study Tibetan medicine and those who instead follow courses to become nurses. These boys have a very clear desire: to return to Tawang, to Jhamtse Gatsal, to give back to the community what they received. Their vision is to create a local hospital. Today it takes two days by car to reach the first accessible hospital. And then there are those who are already active, one of the girls, now graduated in sociology, is doing an internship at SOS Childrens Village in Delhi, because before returning to Jhamtse Gastal wants to acquire the special experiences necessary to be able to be useful in the best possible way to their community.

"But isn't it a difficult responsibility to carry, the responsibility for 97 boys and girls?" I ask this man of mild appearance. Lobsang smiles: "When I see parents with two children, I say to myself, wow, what a commitment! It is much more difficult to raise two children in a situation where families are left to their own devices, as is often the case in the Western world in particular, than to raise many children in a community. In a community there will always be someone to take care of the other. Everyone has many big and small brothers. When I am away from there I am calm, because I know that the boys are in good hands. One day American scholars came to analyze the happiness level of children, the result was surprising: Jhamtse Gatsal is among the places with the highest happiness rate in the world.


Post Scriptum: Along with With Lobsang we met the inspector for Ladin schools in the province of Bolzano, Edith Ploner. The exchange was mainly related to the trilingual school of the Ladin valleys, a model that Lobsang would like to know better; in Jhamtse Gatsal the lessons are held in four languages: monpa, tibetan, hindi and english. The desire is to be able to deepen and consolidate the constructive exchange from minority to minority.

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