I want to share the news about some extraordinary recent events at Jhamtse Gatsal. Some bad things happened, we made good decisions, and our Community is stronger, safer, and more valued by members of the local administration and villagers as a result. We have also grown stronger as a Community firmly committed to our mission. These recent events tested our compassion, but they also taught us how to appropriately address unforeseen challenges in our journey.
In the middle of June, two women from Kharteng, one of the surrounding villages, came to the school to report that their 11-year-old younger sister had been inappropriately touched by a young man they thought was a staff member at Jhamtse Gatsal. The girl’s sisters and later the girl herself reported that nothing more serious than touching happened because the girl drove the young man off by hitting him on the head with a rock and then running away. We applaud the young girl for her courage and offer her our sympathy and support.
I told the women that the staff and I would help find the boy so that he could be identified. We learned that Sonu, a young man who worked as a kitchen assistant, was not on campus, it being his day off. When Sonu returned in the evening, the women from Kharteng identified him. We restrained Sonu and asked the sisters to bring the police to pick him up. Before the police arrived, a few villagers from Kharteng came to the school and demanded that Sonu be turned over to them. I refused to turn him over to the villagers, insisting that he be held for the authorities. The police finally arrived and took Sonu to jail.
My decision to hold Sonu for the police angered the villagers from Kharteng. They made plans to return the next evening, egged on by their headman. Fortunately, we were forewarned that the villagers were coming. We gathered all children, staff and volunteers in a single large room on campus – one of the rooms that serves as a family house – because we did not know what the villagers might try to do. Thankfully, although frightened, no one was hurt. The school received some minor damage and the school’s vehicles were damaged. Three children and a couple of staff members became ill for a short time in the stuffy space.
After these troubling events, the Deputy Commissioner (DC – head of district administration), the Deputy Superintendent of Police, and many other community leaders and administrative heads traveled to Jhamtse Gatsal to hear the stories and reports from the staff and students. After speaking with folks at Jhamtse Gatsal, these officials went to speak with the headman and some villagers in Kharteng.
The next day, the DC called both sides together. The Kharteng headman pleaded that the assault on the school was an act of passion because the young girl was one of his relatives. He apologized to me, and promised to come to the school to apologize to the staff and students who had been frightened by some of the villagers from Kharteng. The headman assured me that no more harm would come to the community.
In the DC’s office, in his and the Superintendent of Police’s presence, an agreement was signed by the village headman and myself. It lays out strict guidelines, ensuring that such an occurrence will never happen again, as well as defining who may enter the school grounds and when. All residents of Kharteng , including their headman, must now have written permission to visit the Jhamtse Gatsal campus for any reason. The police and administrative officers committed to enforce the agreement, and to increase the level of security for Jhamtse Gatsal if needed. Above all, the officials expressed their very strong support for and appreciation of Jhamtse Gatsal. Ever since these events, Jhamtse Gatsal has had nearly non-stop visits from villagers who are disturbed and saddened by the events. They have come with many gifts and testimony of very strong local support.
The Real Outcome
As I have often said, challenging times are the real test of the depth of one’s commitment and values. Although these were unfortunate events, the real outcome was the strength and solidarity of the children, staff and volunteers of Jhamtse Gatsal. This depth is hard to notice on a daily basis; only tragedy has a way of showing it to us. I am touched, honored and humbled by the strength of conviction that all the members of the Community showed throughout these troubling times. Everyone came together to do what needed to be done and took care of each other. My real learning from these painful incidents is that:
• A vision and mission deeply rooted in the principles of love and compassion is more powerful than ignorance and violence.
• No external force can destroy us as long as we stand together, and our actions and decisions remain true to our values and beliefs. Difficult situations will test our commitment to our values but they cannot break us.
• The children, staff and volunteers of Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community are truly inspired by our vision and mission. They are guided by wisdom and nurtured through love and compassion.
In closing, I’d like to acknowledge the support, love and courage of all my children, staff members, and volunteers – they are the real heroes of this challenge that fell upon us. I would also like to acknowledge our donors, sponsors and board members who equally share our commitment to the Community and continue to support us. Last but not least, we are grateful to our children’s families and local supporters who stood by us steadfastly as we weathered this difficulty. This garden of love and compassion thrives and grows because of who you all are and what you bring to this Community.
With love, prayers and gratitude,
Founder and Director,
Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community