Volunteer in Dharamsala
Having followed their spiritual leader into exile, the Tibetan community in Dharamsala has brought to this former British Hill Station the architecture, food, and feel of old Lhasa. Around the main Buddhist temple bass tones of chanting fill the morning mist. Western visitors are warmly welcomed and Dharamsala has a thriving community of Western volunteers.
"We would like those who come here to use their time wisely, no matter if it's six hours or six months," says Dave Bloom, the Resource Coordinator for the Dharamsala Earthville Institute (DEVI), which provides information, advice, and contacts between the Tibetan and volunteer communities.
Dharamsala's greatest long-term need is for teachers. Refugees arrive at a rate of 3,000 a year, 80 percent of whom are children. The government in exile provides education through high school as well as up to three years of language training for adults. Experienced teachers are needed for math, history, English, environmental issues, and other basic K-12 classes.
According to Dave, "Schools for adults like the Young Ling Adult English Program will take English conversation volunteers for a day or provide you with your own class." Experience is preferred but not necessary. For a 1-month commitment, it is possible to negotiate a stipend to cover basic room and board.
In addition to teaching, you may also find work with one of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with Tibetans in and around Dharamsala. Solutions in Action, which has introduced village cleanups and education programs, is one example of a local NGO which can always use an extra hand.
The Tibetan Library, the Tibetan Welfare Office, and the Tibetan Youth Congress all take volunteers for three months or more. Volunteering can lead to a paid position, either within the office in which you're placed or through a contact elsewhere. All the organizations working to improve the Tibetan situation are constantly looking for researchers, data compilers, editors, designers, translators, and activists. Perhaps the most pressing need is for computer experts. Dave Bloom says that no matter what you can do, DEVI can find a place where you can help. Just don't expect the reward to be in cash.
Most visitors work about 20 to 30 hours a week, which leaves a lot of time for attending lectures on Tibet, studying Dharma, or taking courses in meditation, Yoga, and other spiritual practicesor just for hiking in the cool mountain air. Here in the Himalayas, working in the spiritual seat of Tibetan Buddhism, many have found there's a different definition to living the high life.
For more information, visit: Dharamsala Institute, dharmalaya.in/dharamshala/.