Disabled Project in Tibet
(click on the photo)

 

Closing Ceremony

The 30th of November 2003 will be remembered as a special day in the history of Tashi Lumpo Monastery, situated in Shigatse, Central Tibet. On this day, under the blinding winter sun, a ceremony took place to mark what had been termed the “official closure” of the rehabilitation and vocational training project for people with disabilities in Tibet. The project that was initiated in 2002, the first of its kind in this region of Tibet, brought together the Lama Gangchen World Peace Foundation (LGWPF) with the Don Gnocchi Foundation and AISPO (Association for solidarity among populations) and received funding from the Italian Lombardy Regional Council. However the ceremony, that marked in particular the end of the participation of the Don Gnocchi Foundation, was in fact a celebration of the new responsibilities left to Tashi Lumpo Monastery and Clinic as well as to the Lama Gangchen World Peace Foundation – Help in Action. As the representatives and staff of the Don Gnocchi Foundation planned their withdrawal and return to Italy from the Land of Snow, meetings were underway between Monastery management and volunteers from Help in Action to determine the best way forward for the project that has undoubtedly changed the lives of a number of people in Tibet.
In true Tibetan tradition the office of the new rehabilitation centre, constructed to house the handicraft workshops, doctors living quarters and dormitories, where the closing speeches were held was overflowing with Tibetan hospitality. Flasks of hot salty butter tea, dried cheese, fruit and other delicacies, usually only seen during the days celebrating Losar (the Tibetan new year), were abundant as monks bustled around the room making sure everyone had more than enough to drink and eat. Present at the ceremony were foreign representatives from Lama Gangchen World Peace Foundation and Don Gnocchi Foundation, monastery management, doctors from the Tashi Lumpo Clinic as well as other local representatives and volunteers of Lama Gangchen’s Foundation.
Venerable Phunla, the head of Tashi Lumpo Monastery, regardless of many other pressing appointments returned specially to the Monastery from Lhasa to be present at the ceremony. He began his speech by thanking those present for the ceremony and went on to thank in particular Gangchen Rinpoche, founder of the LGWPF, for making he said: “the project possible at all”. Phunla then went on to address the two physiotherapists who have passed long periods of time in Tibet working for the project: “Renzo and Laura have had to overcome many difficulties including those of altitude, weather and culture. What they have managed to do here will be helpful in the future to those who work in the hospital”. He then went on to offer the full support of the monastery to the future of the project: “From our side we are doing our best not to waste the opportunity that we have been given. This project gives us the chance to benefit sentient beings and in particular to benefit those people with disabilities. As monks this is our dedication. You have given us a base to do this job, and now the Monastery must take upon itself the full responsibility”.
Project manager Massimo Ferrario, in Tibet for his second visit, was the next to speak. “I can now see the results of two years work – he began – the 8000 km separating Italy and Tibet are very long, but here we are trying to share our experiences”. He went on to offer words of encouragement to the Monastery: “ You have a lot of experience in Tibetan traditional medicine and we have some experience in treating disabled people, the best thing is to join these to get the best result for the people. The important thing is to share experiences and achieve something positive”.
Trying to bridge the huge gap that exists between attitudes and services for people with disabilities in the two countries he went on to explain: “In our country we usually see disabled people living a normal life. They have a good quality of life. In Tashi Lumpo Clinic I have seen people with different disabilities trying to benefit from physiotherapy. This is not just about physiotherapy, but a connecting point between traditional medicine and new ideas. By joining these two we can help to achieve a better quality of life for disabled people. This concept is important. We have very different cultures and realities that need to connect. We do not want to cancel your tradition but supplement it.” He closed his speech by saying: “ Every project has a start and an end. Now we are celebrating the end of this project but it is very important for Tashi Lumpo Monastery to find a way to continue”.
Sharon Dawson, representative of Lama Gangchen and his Foundation and a Help in Action volunteer took the chance to assure Venerable Phunla and the monastery that help and support, both practical and financial, would as usual be offered through Lama Gangchen’s Foundation. The Foundation since many years has valued and supported the charitable work of Tashi Lumpo Monastery and Clinic, that offer medical care and treatment to the poorest in the area for a symbolic cost, by making significant donations to the Monastery. Lama Gangchen was also responsible for the recent building of shower blocks and providing hot running water to the Monastery that desperately needed to improve the level of hygiene. Lama Gangchen has stressed since the beginning of the project the need for the Monastery, already famous for its social work, to expand the facilities provided from the Clinic to include help for disabled and elderly people who are often left alone and forgotten in extremely difficult conditions.
Venerable Phunla closed the ceremony by presenting the representatives from the Don Gnocchi Foundation and Lama Gangchen World Peace Foundation with katags (white ceremonial scarves) and gifts.
A plaque carrying a special inscription in Tibetan, English and Italian to commemorate the project was placed at the entrance of the centre.

 

Party at Tashi Lumpo Clinic

Following the official ceremony, held at the new rehabilitation and vocational training centre, a much more relaxed and informal gathering took place on the roof of Tashi Lumpo Clinic. The monk-doctors of the clinic, eager to show their appreciation of the project had prepared an elaborate tea party.
Doctor Tsepun, the head of the Clinic expressed, on behalf of all the staff, his gratitude for the new ideas and skills introduced into the everyday working practice of the Clinic. He explained how they had seen great improvements in all the patients treated over the two years, and that they had come to understand that there was in fact a great deal that could be done for people with disabilities. During staff discussions all the doctors working in the Clinic had agreed that the knowledge and techniques passed to them by Laura Negri and Renzo Pezzini, staff of the Don Gnocchi Foundation, during the duration of their stay in Tibet were extremely valuable and that from their point of view the project had been a great success.
Dr Tsepun presented the western representatives of the
Lama Gangchen World Peace Foundation and Don Gnocchi Foundation with katags (ceremonial scarves) and gifts of traditional Tibetan handicrafts. According to monastic tradition, and upon the request of Lama Gangchen, a small
gift and donation was given to each monk working in the clinic as well as to those who had worked for the project by Help in Action. Massimo Ferrario presented on behalf of the Don Gnocchi Foundation commemorative medals to Dr Tsepun and Kachen Wangchuk, the project secretary. He also presented notebooks and pens to the monks who had followed the physiotherapy training.
Later Doctor Tsepun and the clinic staff took the opportunity to make the most of modern technology by recording on video a message to Lama Gangchen in which they thanked him for bringing this important project to Tashi Lumpo and requested him to continue his support of the clinic.

 

Young Patients

“Rehabilitation and vocational training for people with disabilities in Tibet” was the grand aim and title bestowed upon this project proposed by the Lama Gangchen World Peace Foundation, Don Gnocchi Foundation and Aispo. However, we must remember that it is far too easy to get caught up in words, plans, budgets and bureaucracy and forget that humanitarian aid projects of this nature are created and exist because of real people. People who have lives and problems that we cannot possibly imagine and hopefully never have to experience. Projects of this kind have the power to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life of numbers of people. This project, for example, has changed the life of Nyma Puti, Tse Lhamo, Jamyang Chonzo and his family, Lobsang Tenzin…

  • Nyma Puti is just 13 years old but is already a key player in the care of her 10-year-old cousin Tse Lhamo. Before Tse Lhamo received the gift of a wheelchair Nyma Puti would carry her cousin on her back… Now, Nyma, in a short time, has learnt how to manoeuvre expertly the wheelchair confidently negotiating steps and corners.

  • Jamyang Chonzo is small for his 9 years, but what he misses in size he makes up with enthusiasm and speed. There is no stopping Jamyang now that Renzo has made for him a special walking frame. Jamyang got the hang of how to use the frame in minutes and confidently takes a rest every now and again by sitting on the crossbar.

  • Lobsang Tenzin, one of the children chosen for physiotherapy treatment at the beginning of the project has made amazing progress. Initially unsteady on his feet and unable or unwilling to move by himself Lobsang, who has cerebral palsy, is now much more confident in his movement and is walking unaided.

  • Tenzin Shelock has multiple problems but is blessed by a family that love him deeply. Coming from a remote village area Tenzin’s mother decided to remain in Shigatse, after receiving the possibility to attend physiotherapy at Tashi Lumpo Clinic, in an attempt to improve Tenzin’s condition. Laura has concentrated on including the mother of Tenzin in the therapeutic sessions so that she can continue the exercises even if she is unable to attend the clinic.

  • Tenzin Chontze has a smile that can light up a room; he is a good student and likes nothing better than to get his hands on the computer! Another recipient of a wheelchair he initially refused to use it, preferring a family member carry him. However, as he has slowly got used to seeing other children in the clinic using their wheelchairs his confidence has grown and his embarrassment lessened and hopefully he will begin to make the most of his newfound mobility.

 

Tashi Lumpo Clinic

Tashi Lumpo Monastery is today considered to be one of the largest and most important monasteries in Tibet. Constructed in the 15th Century by the first Panchen Lama, who unable to finish the work left his close disciple Panchen Zangpo Tashi the commitment of completing the project, the monastery is now home to approximately 800 monks and is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lamas (the second highest religious authority in Tibet). It is in this monastery, thanks to the dedication and commitment of the monks, that many of the oldest and most sacred religious traditions were saved from destruction and preserved for the future generations.
However, it is not only the religious teachings that are preserved intact and kept alive in this monastery, the unique traditional medical and healing systems of the Himalayas have also survived and are thriving under the guardianship of the medical centre created within the walls of the monastery.
It is within the monastic structure that the poorest and most needy of Shigatse, and the surrounding villages in Central Tibet, find some repose from both their mental and physical suffering. Along with the first pilgrims of the day also arrive the weak and sick, knowing that here they will find for a symbolic cost the care, understanding and treatment that is unaffordable to them in other establishments. In fact, the monk-doctors in this clinic receive on average 150 patients a day.
Trained principally in traditional Tibetan medicine the monk-doctors have also received basic training in allopathic diagnosis, treatment and medicine. Here, these two systems that may seem opposite to us work together, complementing and supporting each other. As well as pulse diagnosis the doctors have on hand equipment to measure blood pressure and an electro-cardiograph machine. Antibiotics are as much a regular feature in the pharmacy as acupuncture needles and the traditional compositions of herbs, flowers and minerals. Referrals to specialists are as common as referrals to lamas and monks who carry out spiritual and healing practices that a person may require. In Tashi Lumpo Clinic the body and mind of the patient is treated as one, and both are given equal importance.
It was in fact after visiting all the other available medical establishments in Shigatse that a representative from the Don Gnocchi Foundation, understanding the true value of the Clinic, requested that Tashi Lhumpo Monastery act as a base for the proposed project for people with disabilities. Thanks to the long and sincere relationships that Lama Gangchen has developed over years of humanitarian aid work in Tibet, he was able to quickly gain the support not only of Tashi Lumpo Monastery but also of the local and regional government officials.
Regardless of their many other commitments, to both the local community and spiritual life of the Monastery, Doctor Tsepun (head of Tashi Lumpo Clinic) and all the other monk-doctors staffing the clinic, accepted whole heartedly to participate in the project. At the very beginning of the project, as well as offering a piece of land to house the new vocational training facilities, the Monastery also released space in the clinic to create a gymnasium, for physiotherapy treatment, an office and workshop. Monk-doctors were also nominated to follow the training, in the art of physiotherapy, carried out by a member of staff from the Don Gnocchi Foundation.
Now, two years later, when the Clinic closes its doors to the general public it opens its arms to welcome a number of disabled children who are fortunate enough to receive physiotherapy treatment from dedicated people who have seen the benefits and accepted new techniques in order to offer the best possible solution to their small patients.

 

Vocational Training Centre

The harsh climatic conditions of Tibet have taken their toll on the construction housing the handicraft workshops and doctors living quarters. Sub zero temperatures, harsh winds and a scorching sun are just some of the elemental challenges that have added to the necessity to make a few repairs to the building that is already passing its second winter. During the repairs, the opportunity was also taken to clean and prepare the building for the ceremony.

  • Views from the outside of the building.

  • Views from inside the protective wall. Special features have ensured that the building is accessible to those with mobility difficulties.

  • Luxury bathroom facilities, with running water, have created quite a stir amongst the people using the centre.

  • Monks from the monastery and local people lending a helping hand to make sure the building is spick and span for the ceremony.

  • New prayer flags and curtains hung to replace the old ones, created a feeling of festivity.

  • Doctor Tsepun confers with the secretary of Tashi Lumpo Monastery to finalise the arrangements for the ceremony.

 

Handicraft Workshops

Tibet has an ancient and precious handicraft heritage: carpet and cloth weaving, woodcarving, the painting on canvas of sacred images, sculpture, embroidery and metalwork.
Art is often closely related to the profound spirituality of Tibet, and over the centuries the monasteries have been the most important custodians.
During the years of the cultural revolution this rich artistic patrimony was also at risk of being lost: His Holiness the Xth Panchen Lama in the 80’s therefore initiated at the Monastery of Tashi Lumpo various handicraft workshops, creating an important reference point for the preservation of this fundamental aspect of the Tibetan tradition.
Around this original central point, today the activities of the new centre for people with disabilities, annexed to the monastery, are developing. Looms of differing sizes for the realisation of carpets, as well as the traditional cloths and aprons, sewing machines, equipment and tools for woodcarving and for the sacred painting of religious images on canvas are all used under the able guidance of teachers and experts and are adapted to the specific needs of each person.
People with disabilities, coming from villages outside of Shigatse, have the possibility of staying at the Centre with a companion or family member and are also offered the possibility of attending therapeutic rehabilitation in Tashi Lumpo Clinic.
In just a few months of school it is possible to learn how to spin and weave wool or to make the traditional colourful hand-woven apron, that all married Tibetan women wear; it is also possible to learn how to make small carpets from Tibetan wool, an indispensable fixture in the village houses where people sit and sleep on the cold pavement or beaten earth. With a sewing machine it is possible to make a “chuba”, the traditional dress worn by both women and men of Tibet, covers and decorations in multi-coloured brocade or cloth picture frames for the sacred paintings, clothes for monks or the shoulder bags they commonly use.
Other people might be more adapted to painting the colourful ornaments that are used to decorate the walls, the doors and the window of the houses in Tibetan villages, where otherwise due to the arid climate the only other colours would be the blue of the sky and the burnt brown colour of the earth; or even realise the designs used for the carpets and cloth, or simply carve from wood everyday objects such as bowls, spoons, looms, butter churns.
All the activities are chosen according to the inclination of the individual person, as well as upon their specific difficulty.
At the end of the course, held at the Centre, the disabled person receives as a gift the working tools that have been adapted to their needs. In this way they can return to their home or village of origin to continue the activity and if needed there is always the possibility to return to the Centre to improve their knowledge.
Thanks to this precious gift a life, marked by dependency, feelings of uselessness and frustration can ultimately be transformed into a dignified life, full of meaning and autonomy. In this way both the physical and mental weight forced upon the disabled person and their family can be lifted.

 

Village Life

The inhabitants of the isolated villages scattered throughout the Shigatse region in Central Tibet have a simple but extremely hard life. Here, people survive from subsistence farming on mountainous terrain and tending livestock. People are often constrained to look for jobs on road construction or collecting and breaking the stones used for construction to supplement their income and enable the survival of themselves and their children. In this kind of life, for these families, every pair of hands count. In villages that have remained the same for centuries, modern technology has had little or no effect on everyday life: clean water for drinking and cooking needs to be carried from the nearest water source, fuel for heating and cooking needs to be collected daily and stored for the winter, the commonest (and often only) form of transport is by foot… There is no electricity or heating, no drains or running water, no roads or shops, no doctor’s surgery, no hospital and no social services. The elderly and disabled are often excluded from the day to day life and chores due to the heavy physical nature of the work. In this context, people with disabilities become a silent and hidden population, relying fully upon their families and community.
The Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Project at Tashi Lumpo Monastery intends to offer new hope to these very people. Training people with disabilities in a handicraft skill, which they can later carry out within their own home, will not only offer them independence but also allow them to play an active role in the economic and social life of their families and wider community.
However, due to the travelling distances and lack of transport to and from the villages it would be impossible for people to attend vocational training classes on a daily basis. For this reason we need to provide Tashi Lumpo Monastery with the resources to help the people who would benefit the most from the handicraft training programmes.
If you would like to participate in covering the expenses, essentially room and board, of a person with disabilities from a village to enable them to following a course of training or help to provide a person with disabilities with the necessary equipment and materials to become independent in their own village, donations can be sent to:

Lama Gangchen Kiurok Tsochun – Help in Action
Banca Popolare di Sondrio – Agency 13
Account Number: 7770/67
Bank codes: Cab: 1612 Abi: 5696
IT58 D056 9601 6120 0000 2877 X24 SWIFTPOSOIT22.

Please specify Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Project on any bank transactions.

 

New services bringing hope

article from Peace Times 19 - March 2003

Tashi Lumpo Monastery in Tibet providing a base for rehabilitation and vocational training facilities that offer better chances for people with disabilities

Organising a trip to Tibet can be a daunting and complicated task, even for experienced travellers: ticket, visa, guide, translator... Numerous preparations, preoccupations and unanswered questions about the weather, equipment, altitude sickness and of course the necessary travel documents and permits. It was only when my aeroplane landed at Lhasa Airport last October that I was able to utter a sigh of relief, relax and delight in the sight of the brilliant blue sky and the snow capped mountains. I had finally made it.
With only two weeks to make the most of this golden opportunity on the roof of the world I headed from the airport directly to Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet. Four hours of swerving mountain roads to enjoy the spectacular scenery and watch the dramatic changes in the landscape.
The abundance of ripe corn in mid-harvest I saw at the beginning of my journey near Lhasa slowly dwindled as we approached the much drier and rockier terrain of the Shigatse area. Despite the breathtaking beauty of the view, the sight of entire families scratching away at stony rubble in a desperate and backbreaking attempt to cultivate at least some crops to get them through the long winter made tears of sadness come to my eyes. The problems of organising the trip quickly dissolved from my mind as I saw the frustrating task that some people face everyday of their life to provide themselves and their families with enough food to live.
As I stepped out of the car outside the hotel in Shigatse I was welcomed by representatives from Tashi Lumpo Monastery (one of the largest monasteries in Tibet) who presented me with ceremonial scarves and offered me fruit and drink. An official welcome because I was not in Tibet just as a simple tourist but I was in Tibet as a representative of Lama Gangchen and his Foundation.
In recent years Lama Gangchen Kiurok Tsochun - Help in Action, the humanitarian aid association of the Lama Gangchen World Peace Foundation (LGWPF), has completed many important works in Tibet. The Foundation has dedicated itself to providing some of the poorest and most needy people in Tibet with primary healthcare, educational and sanitary infrastructures with the aim of raising the standard of living for people who, in an environment where everything from the altitude to severe climatic conditions go against them, have a difficult and arduous enough life. But this year, 2002, saw the start of yet another important project for the Foundation. The first of its kind in this region of Tibet, the project, a collaboration between LGWPF-Help in Action, Don Gnocchi Foundation and the Association for Solidarity Amongst Populations AISPO, unites the diverse knowledge and skills of three important organisations in order to create rehabilitation and vocational training facilities for people with disabilities. Work on this project, which was granted part funding by the Italian Lombardy Regional Council, had already been underway for three months when I arrived in Tibet. As a volunteer of LGWPF I was in Shigatse to help, if possible, and view the progress of this new project.
Until you have visited the villages in this area of Tibet it is impossible to imagine the poverty and desperate living conditions of the people. The houses, generally made from mud bricks, have no supply of electricity or running water, no bathrooms or even windows; people and animals live together in the same spaces, sleeping in rooms blackened by soot from the smoky stoves. Yak dung is often plastered on the walls of the house and left to dry as it will become an important source of fuel in the winter. Little furniture, no wardrobes and old sacks are the only blankets available to protect the inhabitants against the bitter cold of the winter months.
The only forms of livelihood for these villagers are those of subsistence farming on the dry and rocky terrain or caring for livestock. There are no shops, no roads, no drains, no telephones, no hospitals... A harsh reality for most people.
Now try to imagine how it would be if you had a disability. The very nature of the living conditions in these villages excludes many people with disabilities from having independent and valuable roles within their families and the wider community. This project was created to offer solutions to some of the problems faced by people with disabilities, and has the aims of providing rehabilitation facilities and vocational training.
The first visit I made was to the Clinic of Tashi Lumpo Monastery. Built in the 16th Century and the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, the golden roofs of this Monastery dominate the skyline of the city of Shigatse. The Monastery is home to approximately 800 monks and other than observing spiritual and cultural traditions it provides a sanctuary for the poorest people of the region in need of medical care. The monk-doctors staffing the Clinic, situated in the grounds of the Monastery, visit an average of 150 patients a day for a token fee. It is here in this Monastery that the poorest of the local community find relief from their physical and mental suffering. However, these dedicated doctors, trained principally in traditional medical systems, often find themselves impotent when confronted with cases of handicap.
It was in this Clinic that I could see the first signs of the project at work. The two therapists, Renzo Pezzini and Laura Negri, sent by Don Gnocchi Foundation (one of the most important Italian organisations working in aid of people with disabilities) have been present in Tashi Lumpo Clinic since August. The Clinic has provided the project with office, consultation and workshop spaces and with the full support of the management of Tashi Lumpo Monastery, a number of monk-doctors have been given the possibility to learn the art of physiotherapy according to the western medical system.
The consultation room has already been transformed into a physiotherapy gym, under the guidance of the Italian experts, with treatment beds, mirrors, supportive cushions and other simple but important pieces of materials and aids.
Laura, in the past months, has gone to great efforts to prepare teaching materials and has patiently covered some basic theory of physiotherapy and, through the use of practical demonstrations, has already enabled the doctors to begin treating their first patients under her supervision. The four patients currently receiving treatment, chosen from the results of an initial screening made by Dr. Fabio Cimorelli during his 2 week stay in August, are all young people who previously would have had no hope of improving their conditions. Now, even after this relatively short time, the first benefits can already be seen, an encouraging sign for the therapists, doctors and patients alike. In the future, it is planned that this facility will be made available to as many people as possible from the local area.
Nearby, in the small workshop, Renzo has been hard at work searching for suitable materials and methods to make crutches to replace the often ingenious but badly made ones that are commonly in use and that can aggravate physical problems. A person’s mobility and posture can immediately be improved through the use of a well designed aid. Several pairs of crutches have already been made and distributed to people in need.
On another site, to the left hand side of the main entrance of the Monastery, another more ambitious part of the project is underway. A valuable piece of land (804 square metres) belonging to the monastery, considered a cultural heritage site by the china tourist board, has been offered to house a new construction dedicated to the project. Since work on the foundations was started on the 5th of October, more than 50 people have been working around the clock to finish the construction in the shortest possible time. With temperatures dropping daily, the completion of these building works is of major importance and the priority of the project, before the severe weather conditions completely halt the work.
The building, destined to be the nerve-centre of the vocational training facility, is comprised of three segments. The first segment, made in the traditional Tibetan style, consists of five rooms to be used as dormitories and kitchen; the second segment, made from cement blocks, consists of workshop space, a storeroom and an office; the third and last segment consists of two bedrooms with attached bathrooms and two rooms to be used as kitchen and living areas for visiting doctors and therapists. Toilet facilities, complete with running water, have also been provided for the dormitory and workshop areas and will be a luxury for those fortunate enough to attend the centre.
When completed, the rooms of the centre will open up onto a terrace and small garden, and a wall will enclose and protect the whole construction. Opposite the building is situated the monastery orchard and the plans include gates which will allow access to this haven of peace and tranquillity. The centre will be accessible from the main entrance of the monastery by car. Renzo, in particular, has been following these building works with interest as one of his particular areas of expertise is in reducing and avoiding as much as possible architectural barriers, that in themselves can disable even further a person with a handicap. Following his advice, door frames have been widened, windows lowered and ramps and hand railing have been planned. The building however has been made respecting traditional building techniques and forms, and facilities - sensitive to those available to these people in their everyday life - are planned as the aim of the project is to teach people how to live independently within their own environments. When completed, this building will host and train people with disabilities in basic life skills and a range of traditional handicrafts, some of which are in danger of disappearing. It is hoped that in the future sales of these handicrafts from the workshop - to the many tourists who visit Tashi Lumpo Monastery - will provide an income that will allow the project to become self-sustaining.
To get some idea of these handicrafts and to judge the level of skill, physical dexterity and equipment needed, so we could begin buying materials and preparing for the next stage of the project, it was necessary to investigate some of the nearby workshops. Within walking distance of the Monastery, we found everything we were looking for and thanks to the good name of Tashi Lumpo Monastery, doors opened and we were allowed to move freely among the many workshops. It was fascinating to watch the craftsmen hard at work making beautiful clay statues of Buddhist divinities, to see the concentration and skill of the artists painting intricate designs on canvas, and the women bent for hours over sewing machines to produce amazingly colourful quilted door covers...
As I watched the building taking shape, saw the doctors treating patients, visited nearby villages and listened to local people, I began to understand just how important a project of this kind will be for the local community. Doctor Tsepun, a mine of information with his many years of experience in Tashi Lumpo Clinic and a well known character in the local community, explained with great clarity the problems and difficulties that he felt people with disabilities faced. In fact, his particular concern is for those people living in the villages that he describes as being deprived of any form of care and assistance. People deprived hope. The training centre he says will address some of the problems faced not only by people with disabilities themselves but also those of their families.
Teaching people basic self care and living skills will allow people not only to have a higher degree of independence but will also enable them to take on chores in the home, alleviating other family members from what can be time consuming burdens. This, he continues, in the villages, will be considered just as important as having a skill or trade and on the same note reminds that the help has to be extended beyond the physical boundaries of the new centre. People chosen to attend the centre will need handicraft equipment, such as their individually adapted loom or sewing machine, and materials so they can continue their chosen work back at home.
I was also very fortunate during my visit to attend meetings with Venerable Punla, the Head of Tashi Lumpo Monastery. In these meetings Punla praised the efforts of the Italian therapists for their work and thanked Lama Gangchen and the project organisation for helping to develop the activities of the Clinic. He pledged the full support of the Monastery to the project and has actively demonstrated this support by arranging all the essential background preparations. Appointed at the beginning of the project the administrative secretary, Kachen Wangchuk-la (a Tashi Lumpo monk and close collaborator and friend since many years of Help in Action), has organised and carried out the complicated job of attaining planning and building permission for the construction, making the necessary documents from the local authorities for the running of the project, keeping accounts and so on. Already famous in Tibet for the medical support they give to the poor of the area, the monks of Tashi Lumpo, motivated by a profound sense of compassion, are dedicated to expanding their activities so as to help as many people as possible, and are devoted to the prospect of meeting the needs of some of the most forgotten people of their land.
I visited Tibet as a volunteer. I am not a doctor and not a therapist. I am not able to put names to the diseases or handicaps that I have seen. I am not capable to judge if a therapy has been successful or if a condition can be improved or not. I am, like so many others, just an able bodied person living in a world that has been created for me to live in and so I have remained ignorant to the problems that people with disabilities might meet in their daily life. Problems that, unfortunately, are only too real. I did however, during my visit to Tibet see the faces of children light up with smiles and expressions of eagerness when about to start painful and sometimes uncomfortable therapy. Smiles that communicate to me, without the need for words or translation, the happiness and hope those children now feel for a better future.
Projects, such as this one, have many different functions. They are not only about building and enabling people with disabilities to live independent and dignified lives but they also serve to open the eyes and hearts of people like you and me to the plights that many other people have to suffer in silence. Please, help us to support this project and change the life of someone in need...

Sharon Dawson

View of Tashi Lumpo Clinic where therapist from Don Gnocchi Foundation are training monks in physiotherapy

Part of the new construction that will house the handicraft workshops

A monk-doctor of Tashi Lhumpo Clinic treating a young patient

Official welcoming of project staff by Tashi Lumpo Monastery in August 2002

Group photo of Tashi Lumpo Clinic doctors

Handmade crutches

 

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