In 2015, I led a women’s group in Ladakh. My previous local guide couldn’t make it and so I got a new one: Norboo Dolma. That was very lucky, because we got along great and became friends. We led two more groups together and then met as often as it was possible. At that time, she was a student of education with the firm will to do something for education in Changthang, her home. In the meantime, she has long since finished her studies, worked a lot, got married and had a child. In 2019, we saw each other for the last time at a wintertuition in Nyoma. And now – 4 years later – we were very happy to finally meet again. And as luck would have it: there was another winter camp, this time in Hemya, the place where she got married. And after 40 days, the closing ceremony was on 11 February and luckily I was able to attend.
But first I had to get there and that was not so easy. I needed a permit, which is only issued for 2 tourists. But there were hardly any here, so I waited for Eva and her passport. Fortunately, it arrived despite the snow. Then we needed a vehicle. Tashi Gyaltsan took care of both. I had also met Tashi briefly in 2019. Just like Dolma, he is very involved in the development of the Changthang. The two have known each other for a long time and can work wonderfully together. Recently they have started an organisation: Lhagsam. And with it the 40-day winter camp.
On 10 February it had snowed and in the night of the 11th there was another small layer. Tashi picked me up in his little car and we had a very nice snowy drive the 80 km to Hemya. Enthusiastically I clicked with my camera back and forth – in the many previous winters in Ladakh it had never been so snowy.
Despite the delay, we arrived much earlier than the main guest, the Councillor. He was actually 2 hours late! Everything was prepared, people were excited and everyone was together in a festive atmosphere.
A word about the schools and the winter camp. In Ladakh, all schools are closed for the winter. Too cold for regular classes. But it is not so good to leave the children without guided learning for so long. And so they usually organise tuitions called teaching opportunities in small units close to the place. The winter camps are a bit different, children from different villages are gathered together and for a certain period of time (here 40 days) a camp is set up for them in a school, i.e. rooms become dormitories and someone cooks all the meals. So they have a good intensive time together with the teachers.
In India and Ladakh in particular, there are state and public schools. The state schools do not have a good reputation. Teachers are happy with their regular fixed income and hardly any supervision. Many are often absent and uncommitted. The small government school in Hemya also suffers from this. On the other hand, those who teach separately in winter are usually very committed teachers – I have seen that here too. Great people who pursue their profession with much joy and passion.
But now to the finishing ceremony. So the Councillor arrived at some point.
The children rehearsed many performances and then showed them. They sang, danced and some even talked. I always find it remarkable how relaxed they are in front of an audience.
Afterwards, speeches were made and katags were presented and children were awarded for good performance.
Afterwards I got to know that there was a bad problem. The councillor had sponsored the winter camps almost alone with money that he was supposed to get. Dolma and Tashi relied on it arriving in time and organised everything. In the end they wrote cheques to the teachers and cooks etc. for their wages. However, the Councillor told them that they would have to wait even longer for the money. Oh dear, what now? The cheques would not be cashed because there was hardly any money left in the account. Well, that wouldn’t do. So the two raided their piggy banks and tapped people for money, which gave them good stress. And now they hope that the money will flow soon.
After the event, which dragged on so far due to the Councillor’s lateness, there was delicious food for all.
And in the evening, a rock show was organised in the community hall. The children performed a lot again, dance, sketches, singing, etc. Money was also collected and the people were enthusiastic. In winter, there is not so much happening, so everyone was happy about their cheerful get-together. And I was happy to be part of it all!
Afterwards I stayed and got to know Hemya a bit and had time for nice talks with Dolma. The next blog post will tell about that.