I was lucky to be able to spend a week at the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) volunteering during my time in Dharamsala. Tibetan Children’s Village is an amazing place where 2,000 Tibetan children go to school. In addition, 90% of the children live at TCV in dormitories! Either their families are still in Tibet, or they live too far away for the children to come to school every day. I had a chance to take a peek at the dormitories. There are four to five children per dorm room and they are very simple – just bunk beds and a small space for clothes and personal items. There are up to five people in an 8-foot by 8-foot space! The dorms are separated into girls and boys and the children are grouped by age. The junior group is K-4, the intermediate group is grades 5-8 and the seniors age grades 9-12. By the time they graduate, the children are fluent in English and many go to college or work in the tourism industry.
This picture is in the main auditorium. Some of the older kids held a concert where they ang traditional and more modern Tibetan songs.
The children all get yearly health checks, which were happening while I was visiting. I was able to help Dr. Chungdok, the TCV doctor do physicals for hundreds of TCV students. He is the only doctor at TCV and this keeps him very busy! He sees all the children and all the staff whenever they have problems. He is responsible for about 2,500 people!
I was able to do physicals for the grade 12 class. The younger children had already been completed before I arrived.
The health check consisted of a visit with the dental hygienist, an eye check and then a brief physical. I first asked each child if they had any problems or worries and then checked eyes, heart, lungs and abdomen. There were no exam tables, so everything was done with the patient sitting in a chair!
The biggest worries and problems that the students have are abdominal pain and back pain. It seemed that at least 25% of them had some sort of pain in the epigastric (stomach) region. It is hard to know the exact cause of this pain, but it could be due to stomach acid, anxiety, and eating too much junk food – or a combination of all three! Most of the back pain was very nonspecific and probably muscular.
TCV has many of the same problems that we are facing in the United States. Junk food is easily accessible in the kiosks around the campus and the kids are crazy for it! Every time I walked around campus, there were kids eating chips and other junk food. I was offered a try and it was just like the United States – bright orange cheesy puffs that tasted like there were no actual food ingredients in them. The health committee has been working hard to curb junk food intake by limiting sales on campus. There is one store that sells snacks and they no longer sell soda or some of the least healthy snacks. The kids can still walk to the main road and buy whatever they like though. There is also a fresh fruit and vegetable stand on campus where the children can buy healthy snacks at a reduced cost. For staff, the cost is slightly above what the stand pays the farmers. I’ve been stocking up on grapes and bananas every day!
The campus stretches up the side of a mountain, so climbing stairs is a part of everyone’s routine. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the lower part of TCV to the top! I think this helps to balance out some of the junk food, but there were still a few kids that I had to talk to about being overweight. It’s especially a problem in the girls because they are less likely to be active in sports like the boys are.
I also caught the senior graduation ceremony while I was there. It was all in Tibetan, of course, but it was still fun to listen. Dr. Kunchok, one of the TB specialists at Delek Hospital, was a featured speaker and being honored for being a former TCV student and now being very successful. He received the most laughs by far and covered a variety of topics including Facebook, the New York Times, National Geographic, scholarships, and the American sentiment and appreciation of the Tibetan refugee population. I couldn’t tell you more than that, these are the only words that I picked up because Facebook, etc. in Tibetan are the same in English!