Today I’m typing in my daughter’s apartment in Boulder, CO. Wonder is the feeling that feeds my soul. Childlike wonder. The kind I only truly experience when I’ve lost myself in another world. When the ordinary fades away. Beauty sometimes makes this possible. Natural beauty inspires but what I’d like to share with you today is a story about the beauty of courage and strength against all odds. These are the gifts that Sonam (left) and Sangmo (right) gave to me.
Sangmo and Sonam are best friends. I met the girls when I volunteered as a relief worker in Boudha, Nepal last May. The clinic for Global Dental Relief was set up at their school, Shree Mangal Dvip. Sonam and Sangmo are students at the school and volunteered their time to help at the clinic. Sangmo, Sonam and I worked closely together organizing over 1000 kids for dental work, at times playing with the kids, at times comforting them, giving fluoride treatments, holding their hands, laughing, playing string games, teaching them how to brush their teeth, handing out toothbrushes and stickers. As I watched and worked with Sangmo I appreciated her work ethic, her sense of humor and maturity. I thought she was sixteen years old. It was near the end of the week that I discovered she was only thirteen.
To the beats of drums and chants of a nearby puja, I entered the newly set up clinic at the Shrew Mangal Dvip school along with all the other Dental Global Relief volunteers from all over the world. Shirley, the principal, dropped in to say hello and told us that the children at her boarding school are “yakland” kids–children who live at an elevation of 10,000 feet or above. She said that many of the children walked up to a week in order to take a day-long drive to attend the school. As the journey was long and dangerous, it would be years before the children would see their families again, those lucky enough to still have families. Sangmo is one of these lucky children. Many of her classmates were orphaned as a result of the ten-year civil war that ended in 2006. The principal blushed as she shared that she’d love to get an email from Richard Gere because she admired his charity work so much. Shirley has a beautiful spirit. During our orientation, Shirley said that the children were experts at Buddha’s main teaching—turning problems into happiness.
One day, while I worked with Sangmo I asked if she stayed in touch with her family by writing them letters. She said that she did but that her mother and father couldn’t read or write. So, when they receive her letter they take a one-day hike to another village where someone there would read her letter to them. Then, her parents would take another one-day hike to another village to find someone to write a reply.
This struck me deeply. Sangmo and Sonam have very little materialistically. But they are among the happiest most polite, hard working teenagers I’ve ever met. Their light comes from within. And as children and teenagers often do, they taught me more about life and love than I could have ever taught them. They truly inspired me by rekindling a light that had died inside of me.
Wouldn’t it be fun for Shirley to get an inspiring note from Richard Gere? If you know him or know someone who knows him, or can help in any way, it would be my joy to help give back to her in this very small way. Here’s the address to send a note to Shirley: himalayanchildren@ yahoo.co.uk. If you like, you can “like” the school on Facebook here to find out more about the kids and the school.