Happy Tibetan New Year!! Today, February 22, 2012, is the day of the Tibetan New Year. We thought we would share a story from one of our WONDERFUL volunteers, Sergio, who traveled to Tibet this summer past summer.
Sergio, who is originally from Chile and now lives in Bolivia, is an avid traveler and loves to photograph. This past summer, Sergio had the opportunity to travel to Tibet to teach English in a monastery for three weeks.
At first Sergio found the volunteer project very challenging and he was unable to communicate with the Monks and students at the monastery. The language barrier was difficult and he only knew phrases such as, “I’m full, I’m hungry, I want dinner.”
At the monastery, there were about 40 students and 21 Monks. Monasteries are part of traditional Tibetan culture. Each family sends one son who is expected to stay until their 18th birthday. After that, they can decide if they want to stay and become a Monk.
During his United Planet Quest, Sergio had the unique job of teaching English to the younger students–the group of 40 or so he fondly referred to as the “little Monks.”He was the first volunteer to be sent with United Planet to this monastery, and his three week Quest experience was extremely successful.
Typically Monks are very private people so it was totally unique for him to be able to observe the habits and routines at the monastery. After the first week, Monks eager to learn English themselves, were requesting language lessons from him in his free time. He found himself conducting language lessons in his dorm room at the monastery, but he loved having the chance to help them learn.
According to his translator, “the Monks were very happy, and they could see a difference in the kids. It ended up being a great experience.”
The monastery is located close to a small town, but there’s not much contact with the outside world besides those who travel and visit the monastery to worship at the temple. When he traveled into the town, he would be approached by the local people who would say anything they possibly knew from the English language; usually, Sergio told us, they screamed “I love you!”
During his trip, Sergio got to celebrate his birthday. His country coordinator brought him a cake and he was able to take some free time and travel to the top of a nearby mountain. After hitchhiking to the top, he was overcome with emotion as he viewed the scenery and observed the nomadic people.
Sergio kept a diary during his trip and when he returned home he reread the passages and was able to fully process how powerful his trip had been. He reflected on the people he met, the places he’d been, and the way his life been changed.
“It was amazing to see people–the way they live without material goods. It changed me. I’ve become more humble and grounded in my own life, expectations, and travel.”
Sergio is currently finishing his studies in psychology, which was what originally attracted him to UP programs. He explained, “it all started because I wanted to travel as more than just a tourist, I began thinking you can travel anywhere, why not travel and do something good with your time.”
When we asked him if his United Planet Quest to Tibet changed his life plans or goals, he felt that it had: “It’s a small portion what you give, but it makes a difference. And besides, if no one goes, who’s going to do it? I want to give back to kids who need help. After I get my degree I hope to do social work in Bolivia. There’s so much to do here.”
Sergio’s trip was a unique and powerful experience; he bonded with kids and teens on their way to becoming Monks, he impacted a community and a monastery in a positive way, and he discovered the true unbridled joy of volunteering. Thanks Sergio, for giving back to the wonderful people of Tibet, and using your love for travel to do something truly great with your time!
We also received some awesome pictures and information about the Tibetan New Year from our country coordinators, Tsaiyang, Deiji and Dechok in Tibet!
The Tibetan New Year is also known as Losar, Lo meaning year and Sar meaning new. Losar is the biggest festival in Tibet and it lasts for around two weeks!
There is a lot of preparation to be done for the big festival, including cleaning and cooking and certain religious ceremonies that take place on the last day of the year.
The first day of the New Year is spent with family and is full of worshipping, chanting, and religious celebrations. The second day of the New Year is a time to visit with friends and other relatives. One of the traditions is to burn torches and incense to get rid of spirits. Other customs include traveling to local monasteries and making offerings.