Location: Dharamsala

It was interesting how more than half of us were discussing how we weren’t able to get a good night’s sleep. It might have been the unusually hot weather or the fact that today onwards will see us digging our hands into the core of this program and that is the service learning. For the next two weeks, we will spend our mornings with the Mutual Learning Partners, and afternoons are teaching at the Tibetan Children’s Village. We climbed the dreadful steps up to town. As usual, we were panting and almost breathless but better than yesterday. After what seemed like ages of walking down the street with the typical honking of cars and motorcycles signaling us to get out of the way, we arrived at a small green building with more of the steep steps. This was the Lha organization. Heart-warming smiles by various people in the building amped up our eagerness to meet our Mutual Learning Partners. With all 13 of us cramped in a small room specifically for IT lessons, we still managed to pay full attention to one of the coordinators as she explained further on what Lha is about. The excitement and the anticipation to meet our respective partners were finally lifted off our chests as we slowly made our way to them. The atmosphere was filled with smiles, telling each other our stories and where we come from, pleased to see the look of interest in each other’s faces.

Most of us spent time tutoring English at a small park above McLeod Ganj. Our partners can’t wait to take us to different places here in Dharamsala, the friends they have, their favorite place to eat and for some of us, their home. It was a new perspective in learning the Tibetan culture. A very personalized and up-close look on their lives in exile and the beautiful opportunity to make friendship bonds that will hopefully last a lifetime. Moreover, the hearty and flavorful meals we always get in Common Ground Cafe always gives us pleasure before continuing the agenda for the day.

The fun did not end at just meeting our partners. The next few moments saw us getting our heads to straighten out after the winding, topsy-turvy drive up to Tibetan Children’s Village. Everyone was intrigued by the size of the school and well-equipped facilities provided. Each of us took a step out of our comfort zone to give the best to these enthusiastic children. The thought of just two Lifeworkers in charge of 10 to 14 kids was overwhelming, but surprisingly we managed to keep the kids occupied for 2 ½ hours. Most of us were relieved with the fact that almost all of them warmed up easily to us and how excited they get playing games we made up- even the 15-year-olds! For some of us, it got to a point where we became the students. With all their patience, these wonderful souls taught us a simple traditional Tibetan game where our finger-shooting skills were put to the test by shooting tiny colorful stones with the ones that have matching shapes. Winner gets all the stones!!

What would have been a day tired from walking became double- walking AND teaching these Tibetan exiles. We also had our chance to connect with the outside world again. Thankfully, Wen and Dan brought us to the cybercafes located downtown. The hilarious part of today would be how all 10 of us officially made Dan as the Bug Warrior. He has full duties and responsibilities to ensure that all bugs that enter our rooms in the monastery will be exterminated one way or another. It starts by someone in a room somewhere screaming in the middle of the night and Dan forcefully getting out of his room to save the critical situation.

It was an amazing day and such a great start for the next two weeks of bonding and teaching the Tibetan exiles. We’ve also begun to bond amongst ourselves as well, which got rid of the awkward silences and homesickness. After a filling Indian themed dinner (vegetables, lentils, rice, and tea), all that was standing between us and another promising and well spent day would be the sleep we are all hoping to get tonight.