Harbingers of change

Tashi Namgyal relentlessly educating poor children in remote Spiti valley for last 29 years

Dipender Manta

Tashi Namgyal, a resident of Spiti valley, was forced to think about the state of education in Spiti valley, when just three out of around 100 students managed to pass the Class X HP Board examination 29 years ago, that, too, in 3rd division. 

Going into flashback, Tashi remembers: “The state of education at that time in Spiti valley was extremely poor. It made me think as to how I can improve the situation for poor children in this remote region, as parents of such children were unable to send their wards out of the valley for better education.”

Now, he is transforming the lives of several poor children  by educating them for free. To achieve the target, Namgyal constituted a Rinchen Zangpo Society for Spiti’s development on October 19, 1993. Since its inception, the society is working extremely hard to provide better education to the underprivileged in Spiti. Currently, they are providing free education to around 500 poor children in the valley.

He said: “It was a challenge back then, as apart from providing quality education, we had to focus on keeping our own tradition and culture intact. To set up such a school in a remote region like Spiti was a big challenge. It was not possible initially. So, we started teaching 17 children from Spiti at Yol, near Dharamsala.”

“After that, we took several suggestions from people and planned to construct our own school in Spiti itself. SOIR-IM, a Dehradun-based Swedish organisation, came forward to support us and helped in the construction of the school building. We also received support from the state government, Ministry of Tribal affairs, government of India, and generous contributions poured in from foreign organisations such as Trans Himalayan Aid Society (TRAS) Canada; Aid for Himalayan Education, England and German Aid for Tibetans (GATE), Germany,” he said.

On July 3, 1996, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama inaugurated the Spiti Children Home School Munsel-Ling. “Munsel-Ling” is a Tibetan word which means a place where the darkness of ignorance is expelled by the light of knowledge. The school is affiliated to the HP Board of School Education (HPBSE).

“Since then, students started doing well in Boards. In addition to focusing on academics, we also give equal emphasis to culture, tradition and Bhoti language. Back then, no youngster from Spiti, who studied from governmental schools, could even dream of becoming a doctor or an engineer, but now, some of our alumni are studying medicine and engineering, while some are pursuing their higher education from some of India’s renowned colleges and universities,” he said.

‘Responsible for cultural awakening in the valley' 

The school had succeeded in playing a major role in educational and cultural awakening of the valley over the years, he said. At present, the society is running one big residential school ‘Munsel-ling’ in the valley at Rangrik village, which is affiliated by Ministry of Tribal Affairs. It runs a self-supporting branch in Kaza with 278 students. It runs feeder schools in seven villages of Spiti valley at Kee, Kibber, Chicham, Rangrik, Sagnam, Kaza and Khurik. It runs Rewa Buddhist Model School in Rongtong, which is also affiliated to the HPBSE, and provides free education to 105 poor children, especially girls. It runs a hostel for 47 students from Spiti and other Himalayan region at Dharamsala for senior secondary level education. They also provide hostel facility to students preparing for various competitive examinations in Delhi. 

Spiti developed largely due to his efforts, say residents 

People of the valley believe the credit for Spiti’s development largely goes to the dedicated efforts of founder of Rinchen Zangpo Society — Tashi Namgyal. The society is providing free education to the underprivileged children in the valley, while education fee for other students is also quite nominal.

Thukatan, a resident of Spiti, said Tashi Namgyal received the USA Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award in 2009, which was presented by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Tashi Namgyal was also appointed as the member of the Tribal Record Committee, Himachal Pradesh, by the Governor.

“For contributing to the educational needs of the weaker section of society in the area, he was conferred with the National Child Welfare Award by President Ram Nath Kovind on January 22 at Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi, this year,” Thuktan said.

Namgyal said the credit of the awards and honours goes to each and every individual and institutions that have supported and cooperated in this journey. He said: “It would not have been easy to achieve the target to serve the society by providing quality education to the underprivileged children for free without the support of people.”

Noble cause

Tashi Namgyal was born in 1964 in Morang, a tiny, seven-house, subsistence-farming village in upper Spiti, famous for the purity of its spring water. He came to Key monastery at an early age and completed his advanced studies in Buddhist philosophy at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala. His main inspiration in starting the Rinchen Zangpo Society came from educational programmes started by the Tibetan Children’s Village Organisation, successfully set up by Tibetans living in exile in India to save their culture and, in particular, the work of venerable Lobsang Gyatso, founding father of the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala.

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