In 1997, when Lobsang Jamyang escaped from Tibet and arrived in Dharamsala, the 24-year-old had two “goals in life”: to meet the Dalai Lama, which he did soon after arriving; and study religion, which he went on to do at Sera Jey monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka.
However, he says, it was only when he returned to Dharamsala in 2001 that he realised his second goal was farther away, that his religion had more to teach him. “Two children used to follow me as I went from my home to the monastery, wait for me outside all day, and follow me back, begging for a coin or something to eat,” says Lobsang. Then one day, in July that year, he saw the two foraging through a heap of garbage outside his one-room accommodation, looking for something to eat.
“My first thought was these children are not going to live long by picking food from the streets. But I did not know how to help them. I did not know much about Indian culture and everyone I spoke to dismissed these children as rag-pickers and thieves,” he says.
That was his big Buddhist moment. “My conscience pricked me. As a follower of His Holiness and a student of Buddhism, how could I allow such a thing to happen,” says the 44-year-old.
That’s how the monk, whose official status in India is that of a refugee, set up Tong Len Charitable Trust, which runs a residential set-up in Sarah village, some 15 km from Mcleodganj, with financial backing from the Dalai Lama. Today, there are 107 children, mainly ragpickers from the slums of Kangra Valley, who stay at Tong Len. For their schooling, the Trust has tied up with Dayanand Model Senior Secondary School.
Pinky, a 17-year-old, has just finished her higher secondary school with 75 per cent marks in the science stream. “I will be starting my coaching classes for my PMT (pre-medical test) exams. I want to be a doctor,” says Pinky. Both her parents are daily wagers.
Meenakshi Gautam, principal of Dayanand Model Senior Secondary School, says, “We are lucky to be part of this initiative. There are nearly 100 students from Tong Len who are with us.”
Lobsang says he used to pay parents Rs 150 every month to keep their children at Tong Len. “But as the numbers increased, we thought we should utilise the money to provide better facilities at Tong Len,” he says.