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Feedback from Tibet

Below you can read what former EXIS volunteers in Tibet says about their stays there.

Firstly I found the work amazingly rewarding and a unique opportunity. Tenzin is doing an honorable job at the orphanage and catering for volunteers. So I will run through my experience at the orphanage in hope that some information might be of help to you or future volunteers.

I was met on arrival in Lhasa airport by Tenzin who had a car waiting to drive me to the hotel. I was given my own twin room at Kirey hotel (some volunteers shared twin rooms though so not everyone should expect privacy) which was paid in full for my whole stay. The hotel is a very comfortable Tibetan run hotel in the center of Lhasa which is popular with travelers so offers many opportunities to meet other people and organize road trips etc.

The hotel has 2 restaurants in its courtyard, the renounced tashi 2, and a just opened but more expensive bar and restaurant called Shangri-La. Kirey has a reliable regular hot shower block, a free laundry service to guests, daily boiling water to your room and regularly cleaned shared toilets.

From the Kirey hotel you take a bus from just outside the hotel to the orphanage every morning. The fare is just 1 Yuan and the journey takes around 20/30 minutes. I was shown where to get on and off by another volunteer already placed at the orphanage otherwise Tenzin will show you on your first day.

Lessons at the school start at 9:30 am with lunch running from 12:30 until 3 pm in which time you can either eat at the orphanage with the children (usually rice and cabbage or dhal) or you can bring dried noodles to prepare with hot water. Then you are free to play with the children, prepare lessons or play pool outdoors up the street with locals.

In terms of what I did at the orphanage my first week was occupied with mainly house keeping tasks such as sewing up holes in the children clothes, washing their clothes, planting seeds and watering the garden areas and tidying children dormitories. The second 2 weeks though I taught regular English and art classes to grades 1-3 and grade 4. As a have limited experience of teaching English I chose to concentrate on art and craft lessons.I would strongly suggest other volunteers would be advised to prepare for what types of lessons they would like to be involved in BEFORE they leave for Tibet and there are limited resources at the school and it is A LOT easier to do this preparation and research before hand. Any type and basic English activity book for young children would be a good stating basis as are any personal photos of your home country, family, places you have been of great interest to the children.

Some of the boys are obviously very enthusiastic about football and international teams such as Brazil, France and England are particularly popular. I also found the boys have a fascination with motorbikes which could be used to engage them.

Careful not to alienate the girls who greatly enjoy craft activities, singing and play yard type skipping games etc. Tibetan children are quite shy by nature so volunteers should not expect to be greeted by hordes of smiling children and hugs. It takes a few days to win their trust, also the orphanage receives many visitors.

So the children may not be able to distinguish between who is there for a few hours and who will be staying for a few weeks at first. A handful of the children speak good English so I found is useful to use these ones as interpreters for the rest so they all learn where you are from and how long you are staying etc. The class sizes where around 30-35 for grade 1,2,3 who are all in one class together then around 10-15 for grade 4 and 5 each in different rooms. I found that it is very useful to bring photocopied material to each lesson and give each child their own work sheet and shared coloring materials etc. I left a lot of my teaching resources (books and coloring pens, pencils, crayons) with Tenzin so there should be more of a stock of resources for volunteers to use now. A good source of resources of Tibetan specific material can be found here:

www.snowlionpub.com/ (click Tibetan culture then children corner)

I will list the books I have already left at the end. I taught around 1-2 lessons a day (each lesson is normally split into 2 halves of about 45-50 minutes each). I organized a time table of lessons I would teach with Tenzin in my second which I would highly recommend other volunteers to do as it makes things a lot more structured and can save waiting around for a long time for something to get involved in.

When not teaching there are many other activities to become involved in such as paper making, dress making, general cleaning and maintenance, gardening, administration and spending free time with the children.

During your time in Tibet it is very easy to organize afternoon/day or longer weekend trips to monasteries around Lhasa, namstso frozen lake, reting monastery and valley, tildrum hot springs etc. Tenzin is very knowledgeable about such places and how to get there, permits required prices etc and can help you organize trips to get the most out of your stay.

Also at the end of your time in Tibet Tenzin will obtain your return flight to chengdu for you or help you organize overland jeep transport from Lhasa to Tibet.

I hope this information is of help to you. I believe that the Tibetan orphanage programme is a vital project and I encourage EXIS to keep supporting it in any way they can for the long term future. I think some volunteers may not get the most out of it due to its early days as a placement destination but with some preparation and enthusiasm I believe this placement is of great benefit and reward to both volunteers and the orphanage alike.

Books and resources already available for lesson to volunteers:

EXPLORE TIBET
by the Junior Museum Staff of the Newark Museum.

HIMALAYA
by Tenzing Norbu Lama

I AM A YAK
by Norbu Kharitsan

PRINCE SIDDHARTHA COLORING BOOK
by Jonathan Landaw, line drawings by Janet and Lara Brooke

PRINCESS METOK LHAZEY: A Tibetan Folk Tale
by Paljor Publications

A SNOW LION’S LESSON: A Tibetan Folk Tale
by Norbu Kharitsang

TIBETAN DESIGNS
by Marty Noble

Robert

I want to thank you and the rest of the school for an incredible stay in Lhasa. It has been an experience that I will never forget.
I sincerely hope that your father is getting better.
The work at the school has been hard, because I was not prepared for handling the students alone, but the children were great, and I really enjoyed teaching them. It has learned me a lot as well, and the time at the school has given me a little inside in Tibetan life. I want to thank all the lovely children for behaving and listening to me 🙂

And then I want to thank you for the opportunity to come to Tibet and work at the school.

Vicki