On September 6, 2005, I left the Kathmandu Valley and my volunteer work with Child Haven International to travel to Kalimpong and see how things were going with the
OFT seniors’ home project. I took a small plane with Buddha Air to Bhadrapur in Eastern Nepal, bargained a ride to the Nepal-India border, and took a cycle rickshaw across
the bridge to a town called Panitanki. Once on the Indian side, I enjoyed passing all the tea plantations. My ride to Kalimpong began in the north-east from Siliguri, the West Bengal gateway to Sikkim, Darjeeling and Bhutan. After two and a half hours of winding roads that climbed these Himalayan foothills, over the Teesta River, and through many small villages, our jeep finally arrived in Kalimpong.
Once settled into a room with a splendid view of the Teesta Valley, I was on a mission to find the Tibetan Welfare Officer (TWO). Something beautiful about Kalimpong is that at times, in the evening, one can be walking in the clouds. The air was so different from that of the bustling cities in the lowlands of India.
The next day, I found the TWO, Mr. Tsewang Tashi Ksaraleg, who greeted me very happily. First, Tashi La spoiled me with tea, then he showed me the land where our seniors’ home is to be built. At that time, he was very occupied with pre-election preparations, but he still had time for my visit. Through lengthy, yet interesting conversations, I learned how devoted he was to the Tibetan cause. His genuine admiration for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community shone throughout my stay.
Over excursions, meals and many cups of chai, Tashi La conveyed to me his vision for Kalimpong. He feels so loyal to the community. This was very obvious when we visited some of the cases looked after by the Welfare Office. Most of these cases involved senior citizens that had medical as well as financial problems. We tried to take care of a serious case, an elderly man whose leg was so infected, that I feared gangarene would set in and spread. We arranged for the gentleman to be evaluated and treated
by medical experts, and for more follow-ups by the TWO, which were essential for his well-being. I witnessed other similar cases of seniors living alone and sometimes far from medical facilities. Having no means of transportation, it is often difficult for these individuals to get fast medical help.
I truly understand the necessity of building a home for senior Tibetans in this area. It is essential that the building offer a warm, solid shelter with a medical facility nearby. As for the social component, directly beside the proposed building site stands the Tibetan community hall, the Mani Lakhang. This is the building where a much-needed new floor can now be installed thanks to the generosity of one of our OFT volunteers, Bill O’Connell, who donated the entire $3,500 needed for the renovation.
Here, at the hall, a multitude of events and ceremonies take place. The week I was there, the hall was being used as a voting centre for the Kalimpong area elections. On the second floor of the community centre is the local monastery, and adjacent to the hall is the Tibetan Medicine Clinic.
My visit to this area was quite informative. I was given the opportunity to film four senior Tibetans who told their very moving stories. It will be an honour to show these stories at OFT’s 10th anniversary dinner this October. I also had the privilege of meeting with the architect, Mr Ashok Pradhan. He laid out the official blueprints of the seniors’ home and we discussed its features. The next day, he gave me the blueprints to deliver back to Ottawa.
I will always remember the wonderful hospitality offered to me by Tashi
La, his son Wangdue as well as Mr Ashok Pradhan. I am forever thankful
of the time they shared with me during this busy period in Kalimpong.