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Nepal, Voluntourism

Of monks and monasteries…

Young monks at the prayer wheels

Young monks at the prayer wheels

In the last post, I mentioned I would elaborate on the monastery and its inhabitants. The mission of the Namo Buddha monastery is to educate young monks grades 1 through 9 (another sister monastery handles the higher grades). Previously, the young monks only learned a traditional Tibetan Buddhism curriculum that included subjects like Tibetan writing, ritual, language, chanting, etc. However, not all young monks desire to pursue the monastic life long term, so the monastery now teaches them subjects such as mathematics, science, and English to ensure they are properly prepared for life in the outside world.

The monks follow a strict schedule that begins at 5:30 am with morning prayers and continues until 10:30 pm, with several breaks in between. During these times, their day is full of learning, ritual, chanting, daily puja (worship), as well as time scheduled for cleaning and homework. Not having worked directly with monks before, I imagined that they would be serious, focused, and disciplined individuals. While it’s certainly true that they embody these traits, I’ve been delighted to discover the boys underneath those red and gold robes. During breaks, the air is filled with the sounds of yelling, laughter, and the occasional jovial slap on someone’s bald head. At lunch they play cricket and other games on the roof of the school (which also functions as a playground), and during mealtimes the younger ones fidget uncontrollably during the chants that begin and end each meal. Above all else, they are boys—albeit happier, more polite, and more disciplined than any boy I’ve ever met. Sure, there are a few cheeky buggers in the bunch (after all, no one is perfect…not even young monks), but the vast majority are truly extraordinary young men and I feel lucky to have this time with them.

The staff room at the school

The staff room at the school

I’ve just finished my first week of classes. Since the monastery has a need for basic computer classes, I’ve also taken a few of those in addition to my English classes—a particularly tricky endeavor because there are no computers in the classroom, so I’ve had to make due with drawing pictures and using my iPad for demonstrations. With the extra computer classes, I teach a total of five classes a day. Thankfully, text books are provided and this is the start of their new term, so it’s easier to jump right in than it otherwise might be, but not without a hiccup or two. For example, on my first day I misjudged their reading comprehension—they seemed to read quite well, so I wrongly assumed they also understood what they were reading. They actually seemed eager for a homework assignment, so I assigned them homework based on a short story we read in class—an assignment that required them to understand the story. At 8:30 that night, fresh from a shower and in my pajamas, I received a knock on my door and heard an “Excuse me miss!” from the other side. When I opened the door, the young monk requested assistance with his homework. After another student came to my door just a few minutes later, I decided to leave my room—wet hair and all—to join them in their homework room so I could be available for their questions. The moment I entered the room, I heard a “We have big problem, miss! Very, very big!” I laughed inwardly, sat down, and worked through the questions with them. I don’t think they even noticed I was in my pajamas. đŸ™‚

About colleen f

Colleen is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.


2 thoughts on “Of monks and monasteries…

  1. Colleen, I recognize those three kids! We stayed at Nama Budda a few months ago. They were really acting like kids!

    We trekked from Kathmandu to Nama Buddah and back to Baktapur. I loved the granite steps (not)!

    Posted by Ted Scheinman | March 31, 2015, 2:25 pm

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