Volunteering work in Ladakh
Flexibility, surprise and enrichment
As DFLN we regularly get questions about volunteering. For those who are considering to volunteer in Ladakh, it is useful to consider a few points.
Ladakh is a Buddhist region in the northwest of the Indian Himalayas. It is extremely dry and the winters are very cold. Leh is the capital and largest city of the region. Leh is situated at 3500 meters, so it is important to take the first few days to acclimatize
The area is accessible to tourists only from late 70s. Tourism is still growing and is an important source of income for the local population.
In 1996, the Buddhist nun, also physician, Dr. Tsering Palmo established the Ladakh Nuns Association (LNA) to improve the position of nuns in Ladakh. Nuns got much less opportunities to study, to training and learn the Buddhist teachings than monks. Until recently, the nuns performed household chores for monks. They also often worked to help provide for their families in the country. Often nuns had no monastery or their monastery were in bad shape needing maintenance.
When DFLN was founded in 2003 in consultation with Dr. Tsering Palmo it was determined that in addition to education of young nuns it was of great importance that a monastery be built for old nuns. Some at that time had no or very meager shelter. They have had a hard long life involving heavy physical work and had no opportunity to immerse themselves in Buddhist teachings.
Construction of the monastery in Nyerma began in 2004. It lies about 15 km from Leh. Nuns, local residents and volunteers helped. Since autumn 2006, 17 nuns live in the convent.
Homestay ‘the Tara’s’
To provide for the livelihood of the old nuns, in 2007 with support from Cordaid a guesthouse was built called: Homestay the Taras. We welcomed the first guests in the summer of 2008.
The homestay is run by volunteers from various countries. The objective of the project is that over time the nuns themselves will manage the guesthouse. At present there are not enough nuns to manage this.
Currently running the homestay is the most essential work that volunteers can do for the foundation. It's a very diverse and sometimes quite a daunting task. The altitude and the sparse infrastructure make it physically demanding. Guests from around the world demands you to adapt greatly. Volunteers are required to get provisions and prepare breakfast and dinner (vegetarian), they can get support from the abbess of the monastery, Dechen, who with her car will transport heavy bags from Leh to Nyerma.
Apart from managing the guesthouse there are no clearly defined tasks for volunteers. For ad-hoc tasks, it is not possible to request for volunteers in advance. If people want to contribute to the project, they can, if they are in Ladakh and have time, check if there is currently any work with which they can help.
A number of nuns would like to learn English. The past years have shown that the structural teaching of English in the summer is not so convenient as most activities take place in the summer. The nuns are often away to join prayer meetings elsewhere. The nuns do value the opportunity to practice their English with volunteers or guest who stay longer.
What are the requirements?
Volunteers who go to Ladakh are people who are aware of cultural differences and are prepared to adapt to local life. Ladakh has few luxuries: there is no running hot water and electricity always. The plumbing is not like we are used to
It is important to know that appointments and plans often turn out differently than expected. In Ladakh people view time and appointments differently than what is considered normal in the western world. This however can surprisingly vary your days.
Often things do not go as planned. You cannot expect it to be sorted out or be provided with a solution by someone else, you need to be self-sufficient and proactive.
Flexibility and patience are important virtues
It is important that you are independent and can rely on yourself, as you may not always find someone to share your responsibilities. Therefore, we try in high season, July and August, for two volunteers to jointly manage the homestay. That usually succeeds wonderfully, even with two people that do not know each other.
What do we offer?
Meet and work with special people in a special environment. By working there you experience the happy relaxed atmosphere, but also the problems the nuns often run into. You will learn about the daily lives of Buddhist nuns and have new experiences.
Feedback from volunteers show that the life of the nuns and the work experience in the guest house is an enrichment to their own lives. Some become so attached to the nuns and the place that they have for a number of consecutive years returned to run the homestay. You will be provided with a room that you may have to share with another volunteer, and you can eat for free from the meals you prepare yourself during your stay.
For more information about running the homestay you can contact Aniek Jaartsveld