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Annual report by Friends of Manjushree Vidyapith school and Orphanage (FMVSO)- 2019

A lot has happened this year. Gráinne and I (David Brown) will report here the sequence of important events which we believe could be transformative for Manjushree

Together, we visited the orphanage in March-April. Our visit was timed to overlap with two yoga teachers from the USA, Gurmukh and Gurushabd,  who are also supporters. Grainne and I have got to know them well in recent years and indeed they make their monthly donation Manushree through FMVSO.

Travelling with us also were two people from Australia who are interested in supporting Manjushree. Those days we all spent together in Tawang were most important

The background to this trip is that earlier this year Diana made the very difficult decision to retire from her role in FMVSO from January 2021. Age and health and family needs had to be respected. She has done incredible service for the children and given all her heart to building support for them through FMVSO from the very small beginnings we had after our initial visit to Tawang in 2005.

With my 70th birthday also this year, and travel to those remote high regions being quite demanding, I had decided to retire at the same time. We had in our minds accepted that FMVSO would wind down during 2020 and we would be informing you in this newsletter. I had thought that visit might be my last, though Gráinne had committed to continue to visit and teach at MV and see if she could possibly start a new charity from new beginnings in Ireland where she now lives to help support MV through the next phase of development. This however would be a massive undertaking and might not be functioning in time to prevent a big set back at MV upon FMVSO's closure.

Our visit to Manjushree in March-April changed all that.

A few days into the visit it suddenly dawned on me that Manjushree might not survive the closing of FMVSO, and the future of 200 children would be in doubt. Diana’s legacy would be gone!

What caused this concern? Let me be clear, the children are still very well looked after, they receive loving care from the staff, and Lama Thupten Phuntsok continues to provide inspirational leadership. The concern was this: your donations through FMVSO still provide approximately 60% of the running costs including food and also higher education support for the older children after they leave and go to college, yet, we observed that no new donors had been attracted by Manjushree in 2 years. So, what would happen if FMVSO closes?

We also noted that in the school all attempts to teach higher classes from year 9 upwards had been abandoned and no new teachers had been recruited to teach sciences – the chemistry and biology laboratories remain unequipped and unused. I had a strong sense that teachers morale seemed a bit ‘down’. Moreover, the new kitchen block remained partially built with no progress since I last saw it over a year ago.

I mentioned this to Grainne and said ‘we cannot close FMVSO, it could be disastrous for Manjushree’. Her immediate reaction was ‘I am glad you said that David, I had been thinking the same’. We made the decision there and then to keep FMVSO going for several more years while we sought funding to replace – and hopefully expand upon – our donations.

We have lots of very good news to report!

We made a good start a few days later when we had a forward planning meeting with Lama Thupten, the American yoga teachers and the Australians. A headline figure of immediate monetary needs was agreed. We decided to make a hard push to raise the £100,000 required to complete the kitchen block. FMVSO acted rapidly with donations from myself and another supporter in London to almost immediately confirm 30% of the amount, then the yoga teachers used their contacts in the USA to raise the remainder. The £100,000 was raised in just a few weeks! It’s amazing what can happen when people are determined. Construction of the kitchen block is now underway again. It will massively upgrade the quality of cooking facilities and also provide good accommodation for the live-in teachers on the upper floor. Moreover, the food for the children will be upgraded too. More on that below.

There’s more good news.

During that visit last springtime, we made a visit to another orphanage a couple of hours drive down the valley, towards the Bhutan border. It’s a newer facility with maybe 70 children. The climate is much easier at that lower altitude (no snow or ice!). Two things struck us from that visit. First, we asked how much the teachers were paid as we had become concerned that the very low pay at Manjushree was making it difficult to attract new teachers. Pay was 3 times higher! Later we got benchmark salaries from the local state schools which were also 3-fold higher than at Manjushree. Teachers at Manjushree do get free accommodation and food, but the gap is still considerable. Second, we heard that this other orphanage had raised a very large sum of money from donors in the USA by posting a very professional video on the internet. Talking about this afterwards, Grainne and I decided we had to help Manjushree prepare a video, and find ‘deep pocket’ US donors. In addition, Manjushree needs a good website – it has never had one. We took these as urgent actions from our visit. I committed to raise my monthly donation to FMVSO to give the teachers an immediate pay rise. That new pay level is still lower than the other schools, but it has raised morale considerably, Grainne reports from her recent visit.

That left one other huge action to complete – to find some ‘deep pocket’ US donors who would commit to funding Manjushree alongside FMVSO. Well, amazingly, we can report that has been accomplished in the past few months. It started in May when the two Americans were teaching yoga in London (where they train teachers of their form of yoga) and they took time out to come to my home near Cambridge to continue the planning for Manjushree. During that meeting they phoned a man in New York, who is senior in a healthcare investment company, to introduce us. The healthcare investment company has a large charitable fund.

Fortunately, I had a business trip to New York planned for June, so I visited him and colleagues in New York. I presented slides on FMVSO and Manjushree to their team that oversees the company’s charity fund. Exchanges continued for weeks after that visit though I became concerned that the remoteness of Tawang made it difficult to meet their criteria for visits and reports six times a year! However, they overcame that barrier and recently they committed a large donation to the orphanage. It is a one-year donation, but with the strong possibility of becoming annual if all goes well. Moreover, with their healthcare focus, part of the donation will go towards upgrading food for children and teachers. In fact, they may take over funding all the food, which will free the money FMVSO sends to upgrade the education at Manjushree. That would be a huge advance.

The teachers on a visit to a holy well and gompa associated with the 6th Dalai Lama’s mother

And now for something that makes Diana, Grainne and me very happy.

Central to securing that large donation from the USA is the requirement for detailed reporting and improved communication (to meet USA legislation requirements). An ex-student has stepped up! Namge Lhamu is a wonderful young lady whom FMVSO funded through training as a nurse. She now works at Tawang Hospital (recently delivering babies!) She also has taken on a part-time role as Communications Officer at Manjushree. Namge has been superb at finding all the information, filling the forms, and communicating with the US donor. We are so proud of her. (Helped by some coaching from Grainne who most fortunately has been on a 7 week visit to Manjushree while all this has been happening. Thank you Grainne!).

Moreover, another ex-student has stepped up to another critical role. Tenzin Tempa, a degree graduate, has now taken over as a fully paid accountant to act for MV taking over the Headteacher's accounting role. Tenzin is currently sitting a full-time accountancy course in Guwahati at AICSM Computer Institute that will allow him to set up and run a new accountancy system at MV at the end of January 2020. Together we are really confident that Namge and Tenzin will make a huge difference to administration at Manjushree and relieve other hard-pressed staff who were previously taking on these tasks alongside their full-time teaching jobs.

Oh, and what about that website upgrade? We are very happy to welcome Michael Motskin as a new Trustee of FMVSO. Michael, a work colleague of mine, is an orphan himself, and I can vouch for his skill at website design. Michael will also pick up some of Diana’s other tasks during 2020, including the Treasurer role.

Gráinne here.

So many exciting things happened for the nearly two months I spent at Manjushree Vidaypith over the months of October, November and December. This is the longest stay that any FMVSO member has spent with the children, teachers and with Lama during almost 15 years of involvement. Although a year has not passed with FMVSO not being present at Manjushree there is something very different about coming to stay, live and teach with our wonderful family for an extended period of time. It provides time to settle or sink right into the fabric of family and school existence with all of its daily and bigger challenges and all of its successes. This has been my second visit this year, the first in March with David. It all got off to an amazing start with Tawang’s 4th Festival which was inaugurated by the US Ambassador to India Mr Kenneth I Juster and the Consulate General Ms Patti Hoffman on October the 28th. The town was full of guests from near and far whilst streets were beautifully coloured by masses of prayer flags under which local groups of performers in traditional costumes and masks from many surrounding Monpa villages danced and sang folk sagas. One of Manjushree Vidyapith’s most famous sons, Mr Thupten Tsering appeared as the main guest of honour upon stage on the night of the Festival’s Outdoor Concert. He proudly performed a full hour of singing to a large audience on stage with a magical light extravaganza backdrop. Thupten is now very well known in India since he appeared on Indian Idol a few years back and is considered one of Tawang’s and one of the North East’s finest!

On the Saturday of the Festival Lama Thupten gave the middle group of teenagers and older students permission to attend the festival during the day. He provided them with small pocket money to buy treats at the large fair on the soccer grounds. Pupils set off walking up into town in groups of five in a flurry of excitement that morning.

On the 30th of October I featured as the chief guest of honour as a trustee of FMVSO at Manjushree’s 21st Foundation Day. You the donors and sponsors were publicly and warm-heartedly thanked for the years of caring sponsorship you have faithfully provided for this wonderful family. The day was fully organised by former students who came home to help celebrate this special event. They put on a fantastic program together for teachers, staff and all children consisting of deliciously cooked food which they cooked themselves, a cultural entertainment program of which current pupils partook, an award ceremony for best performing current pupils and gratitude presents for staff. We heard wonderful speeches of encouragement from a few former students to their current young brothers and sisters. There were 4 other guests present on the day to help celebrate from Australia and Mumbai who came to visit Tawang and also to see Thupten Tsering perform on the big stage during the festival.

Another beautiful celebratory event at Manjushree was Children’s National Day. The weather could not have been better as blue skies and sunshine set the morning scene for a wonderful fun packed day outdoors. Teachers set up and decorated a circular colourful tent for the children to play under. Outdoor ball games were played as well as traditional children group games. Tibetan circle dance was performed by the children throughout the day to music blaring from a set of speakers. Celebration cake (10 kg!) was eaten followed by a wonderful lunch of fish, local red rice, dhal and steamed vegetables. The night ended with a movie indoors from the chilly air.

FMVSO provided two Professional Development courses for the teaching staff following teaching reviews which I carried out with every teaching staff member. FMVSO is currently focusing on upgrading education as we move forwards with the new phase we find ourselves in. Staff are very excited and grateful for the progress at hand.

Three days of professional filming happened at the school and home during my visit which featured all staff members, the children, Lama Thupten and myself. A collaboration between a US and an Indian film company was commissioned by the new US sponsorship contingency to carry out this documentary style shoot. We hope to be able to report some exciting news about this in the future.

Many staff and children were asking after Mama Di a lot as they were greatly missing her presence. She would have been thrilled to see both boys and girls perform so beautifully on stage during Foundation Day. Dr David was particularly missed in Science class and pupils are very much looking forward to his planned visit in March 2020.

I am thrilled to announce that there has been a new addition to our family during my stay! Amar Sir (Headmaster) and his wife Nira who also teaches at MV have again become proud parents. We wholeheartedly welcome the birth of their newly born son.

What a year!

David Brown, Di Gallagher, and Grainne Purkis (FMVSO Trustees)


Registered Charity No. 1113428

No expenses are deducted and our trips are entirely self-funded.

All donations to FMVSO go direct to Manjushree to support the children.

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