Originally posted on Beezy ‘s Facebook page, and shared with her permission.
This year I am teaching 7th and 8th grade English. There are about a dozen kids in each class, mixed in ability, but all eager and curious, and happy to see me each day. They have been learning English since first grade, but it is only in the last two years that conversational English has really been emphasized. English is one of two national languages in India, the other being Hindi. From first grade, the children learn English, Hindi and Tibetan.
The native language of these children is Monpa, a Tibetan dialect without a written form that has perhaps 50,000 remaining speakers. The children belong to the Monpa tribe, which lives in a relatively small area that is politically divided between India, Bhutan, and Chinese Tibet. Cultural preservation is emphasized at Jhamtse Gatsal, and the children are encouraged to speak in their native language outside of school time, as well as to sing Monpa songs and learn Monpa dances.
During school time, the intent is that all instruction and conversation be in English. This is not easy for the children or the teachers, but I see a remarkable difference in the ability and willingness of the children to speak in English now. English is very important for these children. All higher education in India is in English, government forms and communication are mostly in English—and Jhamtse Gatsal may always rely on volunteer, English speaking, teachers for some of its classes because its remote location makes it hard to attract and keep good teachers.
Volunteering at Jhamtse Gatsal is a wonderful experience! Living in this amazing, loving community, in gorgeous Himalayan surroundings for one or many months is often life-changing.