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Nelha Sangmo is an SMD alumna who came to us from a mountain village called Lhi in Nubri, a very remote part of the Himalayan region of Nepal. It takes a week or sometimes more to reach her village from the capital city, Kathmandu. She was only six years old when she left her family and village. There was no electricity, no running water, no sanitation, no telecommunications, no health care, and no education in Lhi. Nelha’s uncle, who is a monk, was able to find her a place at SMD. She feels she was one of the few lucky ones…. “Many of my brothers and sisters in the village died at a young age because of common childhood diseases, diarrhea or malnutrition.”
During the 17 years at SMD, Nelha learned many leadership and life skills: she served as school captain, room captain, class captain, and health club captain. She also volunteered at the SMD clinic for four years. Since a young age, Nelha has been passionate about healthcare. After graduating from grade 10 at SMD, she gave service to the school for six months before she went on to take her Health Assistants training, while also finishing grades 11 and 12 elsewhere (unfortunately, SMD is too crowded to offer those grades). She then took a post in Bhi village and provided essential medical care to the villagers for a year—she was the first Health Assistant in Bhi. Today, Nelha works at the SMD School clinic halftime, which allows her to also pursue an undergraduate degree in Public Health.
Nelha says “It is the wish of our founder, Thrangu Rinpoche, to use education as the tool to help our own villages, and it is my wish to fulfill his dream and repay his generosity. I think I can succeed with applying my skills and passion for helping my people through health care as the need is truly great. And for SMD School as a whole, I wish that the dream of a bigger, safer school campus will come true one day soon so that many more Himalayan children will receive the benefits that I and my fellow sisters and brothers have received.”
Ambir Tamang was born in a peasant family in Illam. He joined the SMD family as a lower secondary English teacher. Despite their poor economic status, his parents encouraged his education, and he feels lucky and blessed to be their son. In 1996, Ambir completed a Bachelor of Commerce from Tribhuvan University. He also studied in the Bachelor of Education in Administration and Supervision program for a year. This course is specially designed to train professional teachers. He acquired the teaching license from the Teachers Service Commission, Nepal. From his early years, he was very passionate about teaching, especially in English subjects. He used to read a lot of articles, novels, cartoons and graphics books. Before joining SMD, he taught in two other schools for 16 years. In 2006, Ambir was hired by SMD. In addition to classroom duties, he initiated a ‘Literary Club’ at SMD to improve the English language of the students. In 2013, he was chosen as an Academic Head of school and he worked forfive years in that post. Within that time, he attended teacher training by the Rato Bangla Foundation and workshops by Dr. Pushpa Prasad Sharma, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist on ‘Children’s Mental Health’. Currently, he is working as school secretary and secondary level teacher. As School Secretary, he is responsible for liaising with education authorities and managing the official paperwork, including verifying our students’ birth date and registering them for National Board Exams. Ambir shares, “After coming here, I learned to become a parent, guardian, caretaker and mentor, and at the same time, a professional teacher. I am extremely happy to be around the Himalayan kids because they treat me as if I am their own family. Everyone in the community gets surprised by the facilities, care, and scholarship provided by SMD to its students and the success of our students.”
Our nurse, Balkumari Gurung, is from Archalbot, Lamjung District. She studied at a government school there until she graduated from Class 10. Afterwards, she took a gap year in order to earn money to further her education. During her gap year, she taught primary level math in a government school.
The following year, she used the money she had earned to study in the medical field. After 15 months’ study, she became a Community Medical Auxiliary (CMA). She interned as Archalbot’s medic for six months, and then returned to the government school where she had taught earlier so she could continue to earn a living.
The cvil war had been raging across Nepal for several years and much of the country had fallen under the control of the insurgents. Balkumari taught for four months, but then the Maoists refused to let her teach. They were trying to force her to join the insurgency. (Imagine how useful a paramedic would have been). For six months, she had no work and no income, but then she found a position at Lamjung Community Hospital where she worked for two years.
Balkumari joined SMD School in 2000 and continues to work here. She loves SMD’s unique culture and its aims. She feels very fortunate to be serving at Thrangu Rinpoche’s school.
In 1999, at the age of 14, Palden Tashi joined the monkhood with the help of Lama Jorden who is also one of the monks of Thrangu Monastery. Within four years he learned all the prayers and prayer instruments. He was then sent to Namo Buddha Monastery for the six-month foundation practices retreat (Ngondro). In 2004, he joined Thrangu Rinpoche’s Shedra (monastic university of Buddhist Studies, Vajra Vidya Institute (VVI), in Sarnath, India) and finished eight years of Higher Buddhist Studies.
Graduating in 2012, he gave service at Shedra as the discipline master, then he served as “Nyerpa” (manager) for three years. As Nyerpa, the first five months were very hard. There are always two Nyerpas at VVI, one who works in the monastery office, and one who has to rush here and there for provisions. Palden Tashi was a new driver at the time, and traffic in India is chaotic….
During his time at VVI, the cook was often away, too. So Palden Tashi had to cook for 70 monks! When big occasions were held at Vajra Vidya Institute and many extra people came, it was very difficult for him to manage, but the job became easier and he realized that he gained lots of experience and respect as well.
In June 2017, he was sent to SMD School by Rinpoche and he is very happy to work here as a Nyerpa. “As it’s a new experience working as a Nyerpa at SMD School, I will work hard, as much as I can and try to fulfill all the needs and desires from students and staff positively. I am feeling very happy to get an opportunity to work according to our Rinpoche’s aims.”
Munu Rana, who joined SMD School as a primary level teacher in 2003, was brought up in Kathmandu. She always wanted to become an independent and educated woman as her parents’ dream was the same. Her parents were very supportive and caring. The only thing that her parents asked was that Munu do her best.
In 1999, Munu completed her Bachelor of Commerce degree at Tribhuvan University. She then continued her master’s degree in commerce. Due to health issues, she was not able to complete the final year but hopes to do so in the future.
Before coming to SMD, she had six years of teaching experience at another school, where she used to teach almost all the subjects up to grade 8. At SMD, she started at the primary level as well as giving classes at the secondary level.
Munu has taken full advantage of in-service training frequently offered by SMD, including Teach for Nepal, Hope Alliance Teacher Training, Rato Bangla Foundation, and ICSZ (International Community School, Zurich) teacher training. In addition, she also attended a workshop on ‘Child Mental Health’, led by Dr. Pushpa Prasad Sharma, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist. Munu believes that this training has benefitted her a lot and that it has shaped her into a more professional teacher.
After serving for 13 years, Munu became the Primary Supervisor at SMD in 2016, supervising the overall performance of teachers and students of grade 4 and below. It is one of the hardest job descriptions at SMD. The SMD administration was impressed with her dedication and hard work as Primary Supervisor. As such, Munu was appointed as a Deputy Academic Head in 2017 and as Academic Head in 2018. She is responsible for handling the teachers and students during academic hours. Munu says, “SMD has helped me a lot, and I will never forget SMD. I am willing to support the school in whatever way I can.”
From her experience, Munu shares, “SMD is one of the best schools in Nepal. SMD School provides a modern education as well as Dharma education to Himalayan kids in order to preserve their culture, language and Buddhist way of life. SMD gives education to hundreds of kids and employment for many staff. If we had schools like SMD in different parts of Nepal, then Nepal would be a better home for the next generation.”
Lopen Tenzin Norbu Lama was born on 4th December 1987 in the Tsum valley of Nepal. In 1997, he became a monk at Thrangu Monastery and started his modern education at SMD School when he was nine years old. He studied up to grade seven at SMD. He then took a two-year course in monastic rituals at Thrangu Tashi Choeling Monastery in Boudha.
In 2008, Tenzin Norbu joined a preliminary retreat at the Namo Buddha Retreat Centre and completed one year of practice without any obstacles. Right after one year, he entered Vajra Vidya Institute, Thrangu Rinpoche’s shedra (college for Higher Buddhist studies) in Varanasi, Sarnath, India to study the path of higher Buddhist philosophy for the next seven years (Bodhicharyavatara, Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Abhidharmakosa, Vinaya, logic and others). Around the end of 2015, he completed his Lopen degree of Higher Buddhist Philosophy.
In March 2016, Thrangu Rinpoche appointed him as a monk teacher at SMD. Lopen Tenzin has been teaching Tibetan literature and supervising and mentoring Eco-Club—the school’s environmental club. In 2018, Rinpoche appointed him as a vice principal because he has the skills needed and he takes the aims of Rinpoche in his heart and never backs off in fulfilling them.
Lopen Tenzin shares, “Being a Himalayan person myself, having grown up under Thrangu Rinpoche’s blessing, it gives me great satisfaction and honour to serve Himalayan children of my region. I am getting an opportunity to teach myself and the kids especially about our faith, culture and Buddhist Dharma at SMD School. I enjoy being here.”
Shirley Blair has given service to SMD School for 20 years. Together with the School’s Principal, she oversees all aspects of school operations in her role as Director.
Years ago, Rinpoche gave the following instruction to her…to “make the school as good a school as you can.” Shirley’s primary responsibility as such is the direction of the school—children, staff and physical campus. She sources funds, materials and training; recruits volunteers; and oversees ongoing education for ‘senior’ students who have graduated from grade 10.
Daily tasks include community, donor and partner relations, writing for the website, Facebook and print media, producing slide shows, formulating proposals, making presentations, and public speaking. She also travels to arrange scholarships and to fundraise, as all of SMD’s funding comes from overseas, from 26 different countries. Other tasks include legal work, writing the management plan, job descriptions and contracts. Counselling and mental health fall under the purview of the Director as well, but hygiene, nutrition and health care are now well managed by the school clinic.
Shirley also manages the Senior Programme—ongoing education for students past grade 10. Whether students stay in Nepal or go overseas, they need counselling. Their families can’t help and teachers do not see it within their role to prepare students to go overseas. Assistance with writing scholarship applications and applying for visas is an essential part of the job.
Tashi Gyatso became a monk when he was 15. He began his life as a monk at Thrangu Monastery, in the time-honoured way, memorizing prayers and playing ritual instruments.
After a Kunrig retreat, Rinpoche sent him to Namo Buddha Monastery for two years, where he helped to build the lhakang (shrine hall) and then, for one year afterwards, he worked as the nyerpa for Namo Buddha Monastery. His work was satisfactory, so he was sent to Thrangu Tashi Choling Monastery and after a year and a half there, he was sent back to Namo Buddha as nyerpa.
In 2006, Rinpoche moved him to SMD to be nyerpa so he could learn and grow further. It was difficult at first, but slowly it became easier, especially when he saw that SMD is a home for Himalayan kids, and that the support staff (amalas and palas i.e. mothers and fathers) do the things parents do, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and serving food. He notes that there is love here and that SMD kids here are more kind and compassionate.
Tashi Gyatso feels blessed to have been at SMD for the past 11 years and wishes that the school can keep running so Himalayan children can have a good future.
Niraj joined the SMD family in the summer of 2005. As Registrar, he is one of the three Senior Administrators. He handles all the accounting for SMD, including salaries and Nepal government annual tax audits.
He came to us through his elder brother Rajesh, Thrangu Rinpoche’s statue maker. The Chitrakars are a Newar family. The Newars were the first inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley and are famed as statue makers, carvers and thangka painters. Most Newars are Buddhist, and in the olden days, they sustained a lively trade with Tibet. It was the Newars who began the tradition of painting thangkas (religious scrolls).
An accomplished musician himself, Niraj enjoys organizing debates and talent shows at SMD. He started ‘SMD Idol’ where SMDers have to compete in all three languages: Tibetan, Nepali and English. Niraj was an integral part of ‘sPlat’, a musical put on at SMD under the aegis of Jodi Tweed and her NGO, Hope Alliance, which was the beginning of the Hope Alliance and SMD partnership. Hope Alliance funded Niraj’s trip to Australia, where Niraj gained some management training. He serves on the Nepal board of Hope Alliance (Rewa Alliance in Nepal) and has helped to start Hope Alliance teacher training at SMD.
“It’s a privilege to work in Rinpoche’s School. It has given me an opportunity to add a few drops of Dharma in my daily work. Lastly I’d like to say if you want to do anything, then do it from your heart. If you can’t, then take a break.”
Wangchuk Tenzin was admitted into SMD in 1995. Four years later he joined the monastery. He graduated from Class 10 after a stint as an administrator’s assistant where he got a ‘bird’s eye view’ of how a boarding school operates—somewhat differently than a monastery!
Wangchuk and another SMDer were selected to attend a human rights workshop for marginalized people in Dharamsala, co-sponsored by the Red Cross Nordic United World College and the school system established in India for refugees.
After finishing Class 10, Wangchuk gave service in various capacities, first at the monastery and then at SMD. He completed the Ngondro (foundation practices) Retreat before he joined Thrangu Rinpoche’s shedra (University of Higher Buddhist Studies) in 2008. During his shedra studies, Wangchuk had a ‘gap year’ which he spent travelling with Rinpoche as an attendant.
As a shedra graduate—a scholar—Wangchuk Tenzin has expert knowledge of the Buddha’s teachings. He takes every opportunity to fulfill Rinpoche’s aim in keeping the lamp of the Buddha’s teachings alight in the hearts and minds of the children at SMD.