Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Natali Yudekevich

It’s the last week in Dharamsala; my emotions are running all around. On the one hand I miss my family and friends, have exams to complete and I miss "the rush" of the big city. On the other hand, the peaceful community that unites lives and grows despite everything.

My volunteer placement is at "CHOICE", the main goal of this unique NGO is to educate and create awareness among the Tibetan people in exile about HIV/AIDS, an epidemic which has no boundaries. The community here has the third highest number of people living with HIV, with an estimated 2.5 million people in India with HIV/AIDS. Volunteering at “CHOICE” has opened my eyes to issues that had never crossed my mind living in a country where human rights are protected by the law. In Dharamsala a large part of the population, don't receive the proper education about HIV/AIDS and lack the means or knowledge about prevention.

On a more poetic note, I would like to share some thoughts:

If you were god, what would you do?
This is a question that has been asked at HOPE centre – which offers conversational English classes to newly arrived Tibetan refugees.
It seems like a rhetorical question when you are speaking to people who escaped from their country, trekked for days in the mountains, in the snow without their families to the unknown of a different land.
I write these thoughts in a cute cafe with a good cup of latte. What else do I need in life? I have a caring, loving, supporting family that has, like any other family its own craziness. I have caring friends that surround me with love. I am volunteering on the other side of the globe. In the Himalaya Mountains.

Everything but the last part was probably in the Tibetans mind, which forced them to escape from their country. One morning while they were drinking their traditional black tea and eating Tibetan bread, watching their sheep's or goats that they raised from childhood, this memory probably looked far away and shrouded in fog.

I can’t imagine this kind of moment in my life, that everything I find important and care for is taken away from me, leaving me on my own and hopelessly incompetent.
Is that what happened to my parents when they immigrated from Russia to Israel "The Promised Land". They left everything they knew and had so many obstacles in those early years in Israel as much as our ancestors had in our long and far history. The wanderings to Israel "to the land that they were promised"

Every one of us is asking for stability in our lives, a safe place and for a place that our children will call "home".
We Jews found this home in Israel, we still struggle for this home every day and it sometimes seems we will continue to fight forevermore for it. The way things are going, even my kids will go to the army even if we hope that in the future - our kids won’t have to join the army - we won’t need an army in the peace days that we hope will come.

We as people, live to protect our children, our home, our mental and physical safety. The Tibetan community live with hope, a hope directed to the Dalai Lama, that one day he will succeed and bring them back to the land they lost, that they were forced to abandon. They live on a hope that their children and grandchildren will one morning be able to sit on the balcony with a steaming cup of traditional Tibetan tea, looking at the snow covered mountains. They will smile with tears and say - "here we did it".

In the end, I just want to quote something I was reading in the cafe I am sitting in:

"The Final Analysis -
People are often unreasonable, illogical,
and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, People may accuse you
of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some
false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone
could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the FINAL analysis,
it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Meeting the Karmapa

From Maayan Ravid (August 17, 2009)

On our last day in Dharamsalah emotions are raging.
Receiving ceremonial white scarves from everyone as a sign of respect and good luck, a tea party at the Women's association, goodbye lunches and events and individual goodbyes. It seems a part of us will never leave.

On my last day I had lunch with a monk who I'd taught English at our conversational English classes at the Hope Centre. He made me noodles in his room- 3 metres x 3 metres. Simple, basic, his life in a matchbox.

As we had our last conversation he explained to me that the Jewish people are very strong- they waited for their homeland for over 1000 years, Tibetans only waited for 50- it's OK. Then he continued to explain how Jews say: Next year in Jerusalem- leading to our mutual rephrasing- Next year in Lhasa- the ancient capital of Tibet. This for me is a final reminder of why we are here.

Last week we had an audience with the Karmapa. The 3rd holiest lama, whom we had the honour of meeting. This 23 year old man, chosen for this role at less then 10 years of age will be the future leader of Tibetans. We are close in age but worlds apart in responsibilities and life course. In response to our question he said:
"You are from the West and we, from East, different cultures are meeting, thank you for your contribution, and maybe take along some compassion from what you experience here, if every person passes on a little bit, the world will gradually improve."

So two final messages:
1) Next year in Jerusalem or Lhasa- safe and free
2) Sending you a dose of compassion- please pass it on!

Signing off from Dharamsalah,
Peace and Love to all,

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Judaism is not a sheep

McLeod Ganj
Buying salwar kameez in Lower Dharamsala (Sandra, Rebecca & Tracy)

"Judaism is not a sheep"
Program at TCV (Tracy & Dafna)

From Merav

A few thoughts before the end of the trip...
A common phenomena of the Israeli youth is to travel the world after their military service. Many of them also visit India. I had one of these trips a few weeks back, this trip was very different although it began in a similar way...after a few flights, we found ourselves worried and overwhelmed in a Tibetan hostel somewhere in Delhi. That is when the trip reached its turning point - we met Tenzin. A strong Tibetan women who never ceases to amaze me. Tenzin is our local coordinator.
Then we traveled to Mcleod Ganj to our daily routine, I volunteered at "ROGPA" a day care, free of admission, for Tibetan kids aged 8 months to 3 years. Its purpose is to enable the parents to work more hours and to save money for school later on. Working with kids (42 of them) was fun, hugely fulfilling, challenging and sometimes very hard work. Communicating without speaking the language, playing, crying and smiling. In the afternoons I participated in conversational English lessons with Tibetan individuals, most of them who fled to India from Tibet. Some more recently then others. For me the interaction with Tibetan individuals - the teachers and parents at ROGPA. (and then meeting them on the street), hearing personal stories, experiences of pain and hope, made me listen, learn and understand the problems and the needs of the Tibetan community as refugees in India, and feel connected to their community and their cause at a personal level.
One can find similarities between the Tibetan story and our own Jewish story (being in exile, coping with oppressor)I found a connection in values and religion. The experience of being in the present and seeing the Dali Lama. Even though I'm agnostic, spending time with our Jewish group, at Kabalat Shabbat for example, made me feel more connected to my Jewish roots and the Jewish tradition. I can say this trip made me feel part of something bigger. Part of the Tibetan cause, and part of my own Jewish heritage.
-Merav Cohen

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Visit to the Dalai Lama's Temple in McLeod

Bhagsu Waterfall (Rebecca & Shauna)
Trying sweet paan (Maayan & Tenzin)

The group at India Gate (Left to Right Top row: Meir, Rebecca, Tracy, Sandra, Lihi, Maayan, Merav, Natali, Tamar, Shauna. Kneeling: Yoav & Tenzin)

From Lihi Zechovoy

The True Meaning of Life:

We are visitors on this planet. We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people's happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life”. The 14th DALAI LAMA

That was the first thing that I saw when I arrived here. “ Here ” its MCLEOD GANJ, DHARAMSALA, INDIA. When I saw it I thought : maybe I’m here with a group of Jewish students that came to India to volunteer at the Tibetan community, maybe we thought that it’s very special and unique to do it but apparently we aren’t the only ones who thought about that idea.

So then I thought maybe those people that we came to be with and to help aren’t so different from us, if we all have the same goal and same meaning of life, we probably have the same issues that bother us, the same issues that we want to change and the same hopes in our life.

I was very surprised to realize that I was more than right.

The first time that I realized it, was at “ THE TIBET MUSEUM” that was the first time that I heard about what really happened in Tibet and actually still happening. At that museum I could see and be empathic with the pain that they have and it was very strong for me because of the feeling that there is another holocaust just like we had, that still continues this day, right now!!!

The second time that I saw that we aren’t so different was when we found the place to volunteer at. “ The Rogpa Baby Care Centre (BCC) ” – I could see that babies all over the world have the same needs and it's not important if they are Jewish babies from Israel or Tibetan babies from India, they all want to see a smile when they arrive in the morning, they all want a warm hug when their parents leave them, they all want to play with their friends , they all love the “ hashafan hakatan” song, all the babies in the world cry when their diapers are wet, they all have a runny nose, once in a while they have fights with each other and after lunch they all want to sleep. It’s true that they have different ways to do all of those things but basically we all have the same needs.

A little bit about “The Rogpa Baby Care Centre (BCC)” – they are providing free childcare, daily meals and play equipment in a fun and safe environment for 42 children under 3 years of age, 6 days a week with no cost to the parents in order to allow low-income Tibetan families, struggling with everyday challenges for their survival to go to work, become self-sufficient and independent.

At the beginning of my volunteering I felt that it might not be so important to the community and maybe I need to do more or more meaningful activity but a few days ago I bought earrings from some shop on the street and after I paid the woman, she said to me “this is a gift to you”. I asked myself how it could be that I’m in India, in every shop that I’m going they trying to give me the highest price ever and this woman want to give me a gift ?!?!?! So I told her that it’s fine and she doesn’t need to give me a gift and then she told me “ You are from Rogpa, right ? I’m Gamso’s mom and I see you hugging my baby everyday when I’m going to work. I wanted to thank you for helping with my baby and with all the babies and also to thank your sisters (she thought that maayan, merav and me are sisters)”. And then I realized that I was taking part in a meaningful way, that maybe they have other volunteers from all over the world but it’s enough for me that one baby, one Tibetan mom will remember my love for them and that will make me happy because the way that I see it, the most satisfying thing that I can do is to make the hard life that they have every single day more comforting, with less worries just because they know that beside the four teachers they have at least three girls from Israel that care a lot about their babies.