MANJUSHREE VIDYAPITH SCHOOL AND ORPHANAGE
was founded in 1998 by a Buddhist monk, LAMA THUPTEN PHUNTSOK
He was born of a peasant family in Dharmakang, a small village near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. When his mother died, he was sent to south India to train as a monk – he was just 9 years old. He excelled in his education and was sponsored to do further studies at university and went on to be a lecturer in Tibetan language and Buddhist studies. On visits home to Tawang, he was reminded of the struggle for survival of the people of the mountain villages and he made the decision to return home and to do what he could to help the people of his homeland, particularly the children.
Lama Thupten taught in the Tawang Public School for six years during which time he gained respect and recognition, and mobilized support from many quarters. With the support of the Army, the District Administration and individual benefactors at home and abroad he was able to found the school and orphanage. He started with just 17 children.
Lama Thupten Phuntsok’s vision of Manjushree Vidyapith is:
To provide a home and close-knit loving family for orphans, physically disabled or destitute children of the Tawang district.
To provide a modern education and sound moral values.
To inspire the young people to act with a good heart, to become leaders in their communities, and to help bring peace to the world.
There are now 209 children under Lama Thupten’s care, with slightly more girls than boys. The majority of the children are orphans. Many adults and children die in poverty from malnutrition, disease or accidents. A small proportion of the children have physical or mental disabilities and a few were destitute.
FMVSO has supported twenty-nine of the Manjushree children through their tertiary education. These post-grads are now either in full paid employment, working voluntarily back at Manjushree, or continuing with further studies. Twenty-three students are currently at university or college.
Several more Manjushree boys have chosen to become monks and are studying at Mysore Gyumed Tantric Monastery in South India. They are free to leave the monastic life at any time if they so choose. In spring 2017 some of the older student monks took the opportunity to return to Manjushree, their home, for a holiday. In 2016 11 girls chose to join a nunnery. Lama Thupten escorted them to Nepal and stayed with them for a week. It is common practice within the culture of the region for at least one boy, and often a girl from a family, to choose to take the monastic path.
Sadly Lama Thupten cannot take all the children whose extended families come to him for help. , The girls’ dormitories are still overcrowded and the boys’ dormitories are filled to capacity. However, each application is carefully considered and children in dire need are taken in. As well as the children for whom Manjushree is home, there are 40 children from the surrounding villages attending the school as day pupils. They are provided with uniform, books and stationery, and the use of the school facilities.
The teachers and the domestic staff are very much a part of the family. There are 12 teachers plus the Headmaster; many of them were born in the Tawang region, went away for training, and then returned to work with Lama Thupten at Manjushree. They are there because they care; they work for less than half the usual government salary. Some of the teachers are post-graduate Manjushree students who have returned to work voluntarily, teaching and working with their younger brothers and sisters.
A senior monk, Geshe Thupten, is the domestic supervisor, guest master, and in charge of construction projects. Geshe Dorjee Rinchin supervises the land on the Bhutan border where fruit and vegetables are now being grown. Also resident at Manjushree are 2 qualified physiotherapists who work with the handicapped children and with residents of the villages. The 15 domestic staff also play an important role; as well as cooking, cleaning and washing, they are friends, house mothers, and aunties and uncles to the children.
When FMVSO Trustees David Brown and Di Gallagher first visited Manjushree in 2005, the buildings were in a bad state of repair, overcrowded and inadequate. The academic block, built in 1998, originally provided classrooms and living accommodation for 17 orphans and 3 members of staff. When FMVSO was founded in 2006, Lama Thupten gave this description of the dormitory situation: “The girls live in a dormitory. The boys live in two classrooms, as there is no separate dormitory for boys in particular. The two classrooms are too small to be utilized as boy hostel but having no other options they are still living there. One of the main problems we encounter due to lack of boys hostel is that the children become more prone to unhygienic related diseases, which create a massive health problem in the orphanage.”
FMVSO pledged to help fund improvements to the living conditions of the children at Manjushree and by March 2007 the boys had moved into their new dormitory. Some renovation was done to the girls’ dormitory but sadly a lot of the girls still had to share a bed. In the boys’ dorm there were enough beds for all the boys and all the children had indoor bathroom facilities. By the end of 2007 a further storey had been added to the dormitory block, providing a clinic, prayer room and extra staff/visitor rooms. The outside toilets were also rebuilt. FMVSO fully funded the dormitory block project.
By 2009 both dormitories were becoming overcrowded. Children from the age of 3 to young adults of 18 were sharing one space. The senior children were in need of more privacy and space to study. With this in mind, a group of Australian supporters, from the charity Yoga Aid, pledged to fund the construction of a separate 100 bed boys' hostel. Construction of the boys' hostel was finally completed in October 2012. The ground floor provides 2 large dormitories and bathrooms for the junior boys. On the first floor there are 4 4-bed study bedrooms, and bathrooms, for the senior boys, and 4 rooms for male teachers. There is also a 2 room apartment for the Headmaster and his wife.
The old boys' dormitory has now been converted into study bedrooms for the senior girls and they have a new bathroom block. The senior children have some access to hot water but the young ones are still being bathed twice a week with water heated in a huge cauldron over an open fire.
The school has struggled with fit for purpose classroom space for many years. The original school building was built in 1998 then, as the numbers of children increased, more classrooms were needed. Many classes were held outdoors or in the dormitory. Temporary classrooms were built in 2011. These sadly had to be rebuilt in 2012 due to damage caused by a landslip.
A group of benefactors from Japan and New York, led by Dr Kazuko Hillier, has raised the funds to build a new academic centre. Substantial foundations were laid, starting in 2012, and the 4 storey building was completed in 2015. The new Academic Centre is now in full use providing light and spacious classroom accommodation.
The original school building was pulled down to make space for the new.
In October 2007 the foundations were laid for the new dining hall and recreation centre, Sherab Yoinang Tsokhang (meaning Wisdom Hall - the name given by His Holiness Dalai Lama). The old single-storey building was in a sorry state of repair and was totally inadequate for its many functions. The new two-storey building was inaugurated in March 2009 and now provides, on the ground floor, a large dining hall and kitchen, staff quarters and an office. On the upper floor is a fine hall used for morning prayers, entertainments and recreation. This project was funded by the US charity, Tibetan Living Communities, Tibet House Russia and by Umang Charitable Society in Delhi.
In 2010 a second floor was added to the New Hall, fully funded by Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa of Golden Bridge Yoga. This floor is now the 'guesthouse' with 6 twin guest rooms with bathrooms for paying guests, providing a source of revenue for Manjushree.
There have been great developments over the last few years, but there still remains much to be done.
In 2006, when Di Gallagher and her son Rory spent 3 weeks at Manjushree, there were serious health concerns due mainly to the overcrowding in the dormitories and to the lack of space to isolate children with infectious diseases. At that time, there was no medical facility within the orphanage. The need for an infirmary was identified and, as a temporary measure, FMVSO equipped a large first aid box and gave some basic first aid training.
In November 2007, the US charity, Amrit Davaa World Health Corp., embarked on a major medical mission to address health issues at Manjushree, in Tawang and the surrounding villages. As well as carrying out examinations and giving treatment, they also sent a large quantity of medical supplies and equipment and set up the clinic in the top floor of the dormitory block. Their aim was to provide sustainable medical support. Members of the mission returned to Tawang in May 2008 and in March 2009, when they carried out a TB and MMR immunisation programme for the orphanage, the monastery and people from the villages.
Sadly there has been no further input from Amrit Davaa over the last few years
The Manjushree clinic was re-organised and equipped by FMVSO in November 2014 and checked in 2015 and 2017. 2 senior girls manage the clinic under the direction of a teacher. The children are generally in good health – they look strong and well fed.
The doctors no longer visit but local government official, the Member of Legislative Body (MLA) – donated an ambulance so now Manjushree can quickly and easily get emergency cases to hospital.
THE STUPA BUILDING
A fairly large construction project is currently underway on a site adjacent to and overlooking Manjushree. The 6th Dalai Lama was born very close to Manjushree and the site designated for the project was once his playground. His Holiness Dalai Lama instigated and will back up the funding if needed for the building of an 107 foot high STUPA, which will become a centre for World Peace. There will be offices on-site and a room housing precious Tibetan Buddhist manuscripts for public display. It is hoped that the Stupa and the manuscripts will attract tourists and pilgrims to the area. Manjushree is very much involved in this project and the seniors willingly and happily help on the building site during their holidays. FMVSO is not providing funding for the Stupa but those who wish to contribute to this very important project may contact Lama Thupten Phuntsok through this website. It is hoped that the Stupa will be complete by 2018
His Holiness Dalai Lama visited Tawang in early 2017, he called in to the orphanage and spoke with the children.
Manjushree receives support for both running costs and capital projects from many individuals and organisations from within India and around the world.
His Holiness Dalai Lama has visited Manjushree and gives his financial and moral support.
The Indian army continue to give their support through donations of material goods (e.g. rice and diesel) and over the years they have sponsored a number of senior children at the army school at Tezpur.
The Local Administration acknowledges the work that Lama Thupten does to benefit the community and accordingly give their support in whatever way they can (e.g. technical help with the computers, professional help with surveys etc.)
The Arunachal Pradesh Government has pledged funds for Manjushree school as well as promising to provide sufficient funds to protect the infrastructure from landslides. Manjushree is still hoping this will happen.
Local organisations, and businesses such as the Tawang branch of The State Bank of India, and friends in Tawang and the villages give their support and have made donations of material goods such as blankets, jackets, children’s clothing, rice and vegetables.
In February 2012 the State Bank of India donated a new jeep to Manjushree. A new minibus donated by a women's group in Delhi led by the widow of the ex-Governor of Arunachal Pradesh was being underused so has been sold and replaced with a mini-truck which is much used for transporting food and construction materials.
Word is spreading around the world about Lama Thupten, and his vision to help the orphans, the destitutes and handicapped children of this remote, impoverished mountain region of Arunachal Pradesh. In March 2009, the inauguration of the new hall provided a valuable opportunity for visiting supporters from Japan, US, UK and Australia to interchange ideas and information about their particular funding priorities and discuss with Lama Thupten his plans and hopes for the future of Manjushree. On their 2013 visit, FMVSO trustees were pleased to meet and share support ideas with friends from France and Holland. The trustees all visit on a regular basis; one or two of them spending a month at the orphanage every year, joining the staff in classroom and extracurricular activities. Di Gallagher visited in spring 2016, Dr David Brown and Grainne Purkis visited in spring 2017, then Di and husband Leo were there again in autumn 2017.
FMVSO has pledged to continue with regular support, providing a consistent level of income for the day-to-day needs of the orphanage and for the support of the children going on to higher education.