Being a monk does not mean meditating all day

Alban from May 2015 Team has chosen to spend his Travel Period in Nepal, in the spring of 2016. He mainly helped with English teaching in a small Buddhist monastery near Kathmandu. He also investigated the health-care system in Nepal, both in the big cities, and in the villages. However, here we have a glimpse into the daily lives of the young boys who live and study in the monastery.

 

At the edge of Kathmandu Valley stands a small monastery.  The road which leads there is the worse I’ve ever seen. There is one car, and it’s hard to imagine how it’s still in one piece. Sometimes, driving with it through the crazy Asian traffic, the engine dies, but the driver manages to restore it back to life, on the spot, in 15 minutes. Miracles.

Nyingma Palyul Buddhist Lower Secondary School is home to 70 boys. It provides modern and Buddhist education to underprivileged boys. While they live here, the boys live the life of Buddhist monks. Guru Pema Lama is the one behind the project. In 2004 Guru mustered enough courage and funds to open this Buddhist school. He started with 30 boys. He believes that yes, in this harsh world food comes first, but then there is education, to help the children break out from the slums, from the poverty circle, from misery.

Guru Pema Lama giving a speech

Fortunately, there are also hard-working students in the monastery who want to go back to their roots when they grow up and help their communities. But the way is long. The days are marching slowly forward and the children are happy for every single chance they get to a day with no studies or no homework.

If you are wondering how a day looks like in a monastery, I can tell you that the daily life is quite puritan, and rather overcrowded with a lot of routines:

5.30 – wake up and preparation for the Morning Prayer, called Puja

6.00 – Puja, for almost an hour; almost everyone needs to attend

7.00 – tea time

7.30 – English lesson for the 2nd and 3rd grade, thought by a volunteer

8.00 to 10.00 – free time: studying, doing homework, maybe Tibetan class for some of the students

10.00 – breakfast

10.30 – prayer and national song singing

11.15 to 16.00 – teachers are teaching the curriculum

16.00 – lunch time and football

17.00 – afternoon Puja

18.00 – free time, studying, doing homework, and maybe Tibetan class for some students

20.00 – dinner time and English lesson from 4th grade up to 10th grade by a volunteer

21.00 – free time, studying, doing homework

21.30 – advisable to go to bed, but many of the students are going on with their studies

On Saturday they have lessons for half a day, and Sunday it’s the only free day. Very crowded schedule for kids, I would say.

On the premises of the monastery

The classrooms are built from metal shed, with no doors and no windows. During winter time is quite though for the students. The teachers have no materials except the marker, the sponge and a white board. The teaching methods are outdated, and the lessons are 35-40 minutes long. To me, coming from Hungary, it feels like this education is superficial. I was teaching English, and at every lesson I would start to explain the theoretical aspect of a certain topic, and then the time was up already. It is impossible to go deeper and to have some practical activities related to that topic. I also took a glance at their books on chemistry and biology, and I could see they are very far away from the European standard.

The classes follow this path: read, ask, and answer. There is no place for educational games or going deeper into any topic. When a teacher is missing the boys are doing their homework, or they start memorizing the theory. It was easy to notice that their ability to memorize is very developed, but they do it without understanding the topic.

After dark, the boys study in the ceremony hall, in their rooms, or in the classrooms with flashlights in the darkness. The nights are cold, especially in the metal shed classrooms. They cover the door-less entrance of the classrooms with a blanket or with the white-board to protect themselves from the wind. But it doesn’t really help – the air is still cool, the wind still gets into the classrooms. Some of them bring a mattress and 2-3 blankets, and then they sleep there as well.

Some of the boys studying after dark, in the classroom

One night, I came out of my room around midnight and I found some of boys awake, still studying in the classroom. I was wearing my 2 jumpers and my long trousers, but the boys, they were barefoot in their plastic slippers with one jumper and maybe a hat. I asked them why are they doing this – sleeping in the cold classrooms, where is as cold as outside. I was freezing while I was talking to them. Silently and humbly they answered that inside, in the rooms where they sleep too many of them together, there’s a bad smell and too much noise. It’s better outside, they said. But the ones sleeping outside, they are sick, most of them. With sadness and shame, I went back to my room, where I live by myself. It’s just me, Guru and the Tibetan teacher who have a room where we sleep alone. The windows and doors do not close properly even in our rooms, but it does not matter – it is a luxury to have such a room to myself.

Some of the older boys taking advantage of half bucket of paint which they found laying around: they are painting a bedroom, covering the cracks in the walls with nothing but paint…

Another thing that disturbs me is that I see no shoes, no socks. I am here since the beginning of March, but everyone is barefoot, or in slippers. I wear my shoes all the time to protect myself from catching cold. But the boys are barefoot even when they wash their plates in the stream, or at the hose which carries water from the stream. Their feet are getting wet in the cold night, but they behave like they don’t feel it. Maybe they are that much used to it…

At least there is water. Because the monastery is situated close to the mountains, the stream water is much cleaner than the water that reaches the cities. In many places in Kathmandu there is no water. Here, the boys could wash themselves, but they are not so eager to do it. They have wounds on their faces, spots on the skin, and in their hair. What can be done to help them with these health issues? I’ve investigated the topic of health in Nepal, and I know that there isn’t much to do when there is no money. In Nepal there is no health insurance paid from the taxes, like we have in Europe. Here is only out-of-pocket payment. I have read that 85% of the population in Nepal is dependent on natural/traditional/alternative medicine. So most of the people cannot afford to pay the private clinics that are slowly overtaking the government supported hospitals.

The food is the same almost every day in the monastery. For breakfast noodles or pasta, for lunch steamed rice and potato soup, sometimes with beans or with pea. The dinner is the same. Rice does not match with potato, neither with beans. There are not so much vitamins in these foods. However, it may look like life is difficult for these boys, but at least they have food, water, education and a place to sleep. Which cannot be said about so many other Nepalese. I saw shelters, tents, literally next to the main road where the air is unbearable, un-breathable.  I saw a mother with her baby laying in dirt on the pavement, next to another main road. What future can these people expect? They are dying slowly day, by day. After seeing so many scenes like these, it seems that the boys in the monastery are the ones who are privileged.

Until the mid-March days there were no light during the nights. The government provides only a few hours of electricity per day. So, many times after darkness the kids were not able to go on with the homework and their studies. The situation now is a bit better as I donated them as much money to buy a huge solar system. Now, they have light.

Installing the solar panel

Also, while I was still there, we managed to buy bunk beds from the money I donated. However, he rooms are still stuffy, and noisy, because there’s too many children in them. And if one of them gets sick, the rest will follow for a certainty.

***

One day, after darkness fell upon us, a silent man arrived to our small school. He was calm, his face was peaceful. He sat down at the arrival entrance and waited patiently for someone to greet him. I saw him arriving, he greeted me and in return so did I. No one was in the yard so I let somebody know that a man has arrived.

Next day it came to light that he is the father of a child here, and he is very sick. He went to India for diagnosis, and now he needs to stay in Kathmandu for some days, for treatment. But he is dying. He came to see his child and to say farewell. He does not know how long he has left to live, and to say something to his son now is better, than later. Because maybe… tomorrow will not come for him.

Two days later I saw him again, sitting at the entrance. His son was standing around him. He was 6 years old. I saw the man struggling with his tears. His face was already red. Then the time has come to depart. His son ran back to his friends to play, and the father stood up with falling tears on his face. He stood there crying for minutes.

Alban – May 2015 Team

 

Alban has kept in contact with Guru, and with other volunteers who have helped the monastery. Now, almost one year later since Alban was there, the monastery hosts around 50 boys. Alban has donated almost half his travel budget when he was in Nepal, and now is still trying to collect money, from his friends in Hungary – they want to help Guru improve the living conditions for the boys. If you want to get involved or to find out more, check out the website which Alban created for them: http://nyingmapaschool.wixsite.com/nyingmapaschool

 

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