Photo: Michael Scalet

Yes, McLeod Ganj is that irritatingly busy little town located right above Dharamsala in northern India and made famous by the presence of the Dalai Lama and thousands of exiled Tibetans. But don’t hurry away.

Western and Bengali tourists disembark by the hundreds to pose, party, chill out, meditate, talk karma or catch a glimpse of His Holiness. Kashmiri shop keepers will no doubt resort to emotional blackmail to sell you overpriced shawls and trinkets. Local Indian taxi drivers may just run you over as they honk themselves to oblivion on the overcrowded streets of the hill town. Equanimity has never been so useful.

Underneath and through the samsaric dust cloud of modern agitation there are quite a few volunteer experiences. The exiled Tibetan community is struggling to maintain itself culturally, materialistically, and spiritually. McLeod Ganj being the main hub for the Tibetan movement outside of the homeland, there are many ways to make a difference through volunteering here.

Both short and long term opportunities are available. In many instances prior experience is not necessary. It also does not matter if your English isn’t perfect in most cases. Look up the current issue of the free ‘Contact’ publication (usually published once a month) when you get there to check current opportunities. Listings are also posted here.

Here’s an overview of the main opportunities:

1. Lha Charitable Trust

With birds living and flying inside the building (it’s slightly risky but has its charm) you can offer your time and skills for English conversation classes, French classes, health care needs, computer classes, environmental causes, grant writing, fund raising, and providing yoga classes or massage.

2. Tibet Hope Center

English conversation classes are the highlight of this dynamic enterprise. Like most conversation classes in McLeod Ganj, they take place every weekday in late afternoon. Groups are set up outside and during the cold season they gather around a fire with hot tea. You don’t have to come often– even just one time will make a difference. They are also looking for various kinds of teachers.

“[Conversation] groups are set up outside and during the cold season they gather around a fire with hot tea.”
3. Volunteer Tibet

Specializing in long-term opportunities, Volunteer Tibet dispatches volunteers to different non-profit organizations and governmental agencies in the area.

Musicians, art teachers, after-school program coordinators, webmasters and designers, computer technicians, business consultants, fundraisers, translators, gardeners, environmental teachers, human rights activists, writers, counselors, dentists, physiotherapists, event coordinators, and pharmacists are all needed.

4. Gu-Chu-Sum

Contribute by participating in English conversation classes and offering tutoring to ex-political prisoners and their families. Small-scale and intimate.

5. Rogpa

Rogpa–meaning friends and helpers–is seeking volunteers in its baby care center. It helps single mothers and families as they work and become self-sufficient, knowing their children are being cared for. This placement is a favorite of many volunteers. You can also give your time to work in their shop.

If you will be staying in McLeod Ganj for a long time you can inquire with these organizations directly about long-term opportunities: Tibetan Settlement Office; Tibetan Library; Tibetan Women’s Association; Tibet Institute of Performing Arts; Tibet Museum; Institute of Buddhist Dialectics; and the offices of the Government in Exile. Monasteries and convents may also be interested in getting help for various tasks.

Community Connection:

Matador member Danielle Adomaitis is looking for a travel buddy to trek with her on a survey trip through India, Tibet, and Nepal in 2010. Learn more about Danielle and see her request here.

Matador member and MatadorU student Tabatha Smith recently published a photo essay on Matador Trips about trekking Langtang in Nepal. Check it out here.

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