A detailed visit report by FMVSO Trustee Grainne Prukis on
Gráinne Purkis Visit April 2015
Trustee Grainne Purkis returned from Manjushree at the end of April. She spent 4 weeks there with her 18 year old daughter Roisin, both fully integrated in the daily life of the school and orphanage. (Roisin's account of her visit is included in 'Visit Report' section). Grainne was trained as a science teacher so took the older pupils for science. Roisin also took classes and both of them spent all their time and energy working with the children. As always Grainne was greeted with open arms and Roisin was quickly adopted as one of the family.
Roads and Weather
Since her last visit in 2012, Grainne noticed quite a lot of improvement in the roads. The biggest improvement was the long stretch of road in Assam, day 1 of the drive up to Tawang, allowing the use of a car than 4x4.
The climb up from Tezpur from Bhulakpong is still treacherous especially during the wet season. The road is very twisty and the area is also fog prone. Grainne’s jeep was involved in a minor accident on the way down due to wet roads and oncoming erratic drivers but luckily the MV driver handled the situation very well! Stretches of the road from Tezpur to Tawang are still in need of major repair and further construction. There are major road works going on at Sela Pass (BRO are building a whole new section of the road). Smaller sections of the road, no more than 3km at a time have been tarred and smoothed which makes for good driving in various areas leading into or out of small villages along the way. However, the landslides continue to happen; bumpy, muddy or indeed snowy roads make for a challenging journey and MV’s vehicles are heavily taxed going up and down from Tawang to Guwahati.
Grainne felt that the weather pattern had changed for the spring period. She experienced many wet, and thick, heavy cloudy days which bring with them a coldness which seeps into the bones. She also experienced 3 electrical storms, one of which busted the wifi box and wiped out line internet connection. There were also a good few days of intense heat during daylight hours (Róisín and Grainne both suffered from head and nose sunburn on the first sunny day - it happened so quickly!).
There are now 221 children living at Manjushree, 89 of them boys, and 132 girls, most of them are orphans. 23 of the children are physically or mentally disabled.
Also under Lama Thupten’s care are 22 students attending university or college, 3 students being sponsored in school elsewhere, and 7 young men undertaking monk training in South India.
The number of day scholars has grown considerably. There are now 40 boys and 49 girls attending school daily. The education provided at Manjushree is excellent and Lama Thupten is constantly being asked to take in more children as day pupils. He carefully selects the most needy cases – children from poor families, single parent families, or children with some form of handicap.
With the growing number of pupils, staff numbers have also risen. There are 14 teachers of whom 3 are Manjushree ex pupils. They are working voluntarily as junior teachers whilst pursuing further studies by correspondence. As with any institution there is a large team of non-teaching staff – cooks, drivers, hostel wardens, cleaners and the 2 resident physiotherapists. All play a large part in the lives of the children. Despite the growth in numbers there is still a strong sense of family at Manjushree, with Lama Thupten Phuntsok at its head.
From March 2015, class 9 (15 year olds - class 10 in UK) has been incorporated into the MV school program. Lama Thupten’s dream is eventually to educate his children all the way through to XII grade (leaving cert./A level). The new academic building will provide enough classroom space but more senior teachers will need to be employed to satisfy government requirements. Senior Science and Senior Maths teaching posts have been advertised; interviews will take place in May.
The new school is well on target for the inauguration later this year. Works are at the decorative stage... builders rendering plaster on the classroom walls and halls, polishing and fitting marble floors and worktops, painters painting rooms, and Tibetan traditional painters carrying out ornamental Tibetan painting works at prominent locations in the building. The carpenters are very busy making necessary classroom furniture and window frames. The large wall to the front of the new school building has been well built adding a strong safety feature to the front area where children will gather to play.
Practical science equipment as well as computers will be needed to equip the new school building – FMVSO will be looking to raising funds for this project.
Class XII exam results are out and all the students passed in all subjects except one failure in one subject. The students will now be applying for college or university places.
Building works are able to speed up in the few weeks’ window between the frosts, cold and snow – and the start of the monsoon rains.
The New School is currently the priority.
Work on the Stupa (HH Dalai Lama’s projected site for world peace) is progressing well. The work is being supervised by Kandala, HH Dalai Lama’s oracle.
The extended kitchen and the extra staff/teacher accommodation building space above the kitchen are slowly being constructed.
Grainne noted that all students at Manjushree who are free from study duties participate each day in building works. Both girls and boys are very engaged in lending a hand and are willingly working hard. The university students on holiday from Delhi will join them in June to help with the building work. Lama Thupten in particular spoke highly to Grainne about the girls and their relentless input at the stupa and school works. He is very touched by their serious show of commitment to helping to build their home and their school.
Food and Water
A detailed list of current food expenditure was supplied and FMVSO has budgeted to cover most of the food cost. The food is plain and there is not much variety but the children have plenty to eat and they are generally healthy.
Provision of safe water is being much improved. FMVSO have funded the purchase and installation of new water pipes to bring water from unpolluted source. New large water storage tanks have been installed.
FMVSO have funded a reserve store of food which will feed the children for 3 months. This is rotated – used and replaced.
The recent earthquake highlighted the value of the reserve food and water store. It is located in the new academic building, the building is strongly constructed to, as far as possible, withstand major damage from earthquake.
Computers, Internet and Electricity
The electricity power cuts are many and frequent - daily in fact, so nothing has changed much in that regard. The generator seems to be working well. However, it only generates enough power for the children’s study hall and kitchen. There is nothing that MV can do; they do not wish to upset the electricity board as they get electricity supplied to them at a very good rate (heavily discounted being a charitable ongoing concern).
The wifi was recently rendered useless due to an electrical storm. The one working computer is often unusable as the landline was also damaged. Even after it was fixed broadband speed is extremely slow and continued electricity dips and surges are still causing great frustration with regard to internet access.
FMVSO trustees keep in touch with Lama Thupten and the students through Facebook and e-mail whenever possible. The staff and students can access the internet in Tawang market but its a mile or so walk uphill, and not always reliable internet there either.