A Week with the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamasala
On Monday April 11th we arrived with excitement and joy in preparation for our first Peace Exchange workshop with the Class 6 students at the Tibetan Children’s Village upper campus, Dharamsala (Upper TCV). The group was awaiting us in the upper hall where we were warmly greeted. Prayer flags for Peace, previously created, hanging above the student’s heads were a pleasant surprise and lovely artistic addition to our morning. The Peace Exchange workshop involves several activities and takes about two hours to complete. After introducing this cross-cultural exchange of art and messages of peace, we ask the students to share their thoughts on peace and what peace means to them. By encouraging the students to share their ideas, we hope to inspire communal learning, rather than simply informing via the teacher to student dissemination. Several of the students stood and confidently shared what peace meant to them. We heard things like: “Peace is happiness.” “Peace is the most important aspect of life.” “Peace is kindness.” Adding to the children’s ideas, I took the opportunity to expand the thoughts and discuss the importance of compassion, forgiveness and acceptance as it pertains to our relationship to all beings. I also added to thoughts of “Peace begins in our heart,” and “peace is love” the idea that peace does begin with the individual and from their spreads out into the world. The students all confirmed their understanding and agreement. It is from this concept that peace begins with the individual and from their spreads out into the world that the Peace Exchange project was born. This project gives students the opportunity to do just that; create art from their heart and send it to an anonymous student abroad. Following a short discussion and conversation on peace, we took a moment of silence to connect to our hearts and energetically send that love and hope out into the world. A short, guided meditation allowed the group to calm and relax, consider what peace looks and feels like, and prepare them for making art. This was a beautiful experience in each of our workshops and we very much enjoyed feeling and seeing the students in prayer. While in silence, I asked the students to consider what peace looked like and what kind message they were going to share on their personal peace card. Following our peace meditation, we distributed peace cards and began the process of making art. The children were enthusiastic and easily grasped what they were going to do and quickly went to it. I always love seeing the wide eyes of the imagination take aim at the blank 6 x 8 inch postcard we share with them. For 40 minutes the students explored what peace looked like with images and color and shared messages of peace on the backs of their cards. Many students reflected the Tibetan Flag in their artwork while commenting on the ever-present desire for peace between China and Tibet. Heartfelt messages and cries for peace were conveyed in many ways by this group of 10 – 13 year olds. Here are a few of the messages of peace written by these students that were inspiring: “Peace will prevail on Earth only when there is peace in the heart of mankind.” “Try to get peace within oneself. Peace is the key of happiness.” “I believe in peace so talk about peace, think about peace, create peace. Peace is to love each other. May peace prevail on earth.” The creativity among this group of Class Six students was very high. I was very impressed with their ability to express themselves clearly and beautifully with color, form, and image conveying what peace looked like to them. On Tuesday we retuned to Upper TCV and worked with two groups. The first group of Class 4 and 5 was the largest Peace Exchange group ever to simultaneously do peace cards. We had 300 students in this first group. Following which 220 students from Class 2 and 3 joined us. This was a beautiful day. Hearts opening, amazing art work and powerful messages being shared, and an inspiring and beautiful group of Tibetan Children to work with. A very special moment was when one of the resident Monks joined me in the front of the room during the first group and led a morning prayer. This was an enriching and charged experience to both share and witness the students chanting a Buddhist prayer for peace. Tuesday’s workshops were equally as wonderful as on Monday. The students enthusiastically shared their ideas on peace, spoke clearly and confidently about what peace meant to them and why peace was important and we very much enjoyed our interactions with all of them. Our team of four was eager to hear, listen, and see what the students thought, felt and were creating as an expression of peace. Many similar ideas returned in the art work and messages, but this is only a testament to the beauty of the many themes being taught and conveyed around TCV. I very much appreciate the mottos of “Others before Self” and “Come to Learn, Go to Serve” that the school is constantly reminding the students. This wisdom and the richness of the Buddhist culture and tradition were clearly expressed in the artwork and messages of peace by all the students. On Thursday and Friday of the same week we visited the Lower TCV campus where we worked with the Classes 5 – 10. Three workshops in two days, more than 500 students, and an amazing time, sharing the Peace Exchange with the staff and students of the lower campus. Some of the most touching and blessed memories from both schools was the support, and help of the teachers and administration who escorted us around and assisted us in translation, helped distributing supplies, lovingly sharing wisdom and knowledge with us about the school, the situation in Tibet, and making our experience a most happy one. The workshops at Lower TCV were even more active than the Upper School. Perhaps because they were older students, but there was a certain confidence and comfort that these three groups demonstrated that I hadn’t felt prior. Many students were eager to have conversation and interact with our group. They were excited and inviting of photos and at the end of the workshop enthusiastically requested autographs: which was an honor and warming experience for me. The art work and messages of peace continued to reflect the strong education and intelligence of the students and the beauty and nurturing environment of this school. Images of Tibet, of the Tibetan and Chinese flag joining, images of the 7 Lucky Tibetan symbols, and many more up lifting and positive messages of peace being conveyed in their art work. It is clear that the students of Lower TCV have a strong creative spirit and an enriched artistic life in this school. I was very pleased to learn of the art contests that happen throughout the year and to see the students art work hanging in the dining room where we art our lunch. I was very impressed with both schools on all accounts. I was very moved and touched by each group of students, their joy and happiness, love and light shining from their eyes. I am so grateful and honored beyond words by the kindness and connection of the students and the staff who joined us each day. I feel deeply blessed to have shared this project with your school and look forward to staying in touch for continued collaboration in the future.