Winchester Boys at Work on Basgo Nunnery, Ladakh

Winchester College

Lotus Flower Trust has enjoyed working in partnership with Winchester College for a number of years on a variety of extremely challenging projects that have changed the lives of many young people in remote communities in India, and left a lasting impression on the Wykehamists (former pupils of the College) who have taken part. Throughout the year students from the school, through their own efforts, raise funds to pay for a whole project. They then embark on a life-changing trip to India to meet the children, carry out the building work on the project as well as experiencing the wonders and challenges of trekking in the Himalayas. It is a mutually beneficial relationship which profits the students of Winchester with a wealth of cultural experience as well as children in India who desperately need help.

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Here are some of the projects which students from Winchester College have worked on and completed so far:

Latest Project for Winchester College Boys

Lamdon Jamyang School, Residential Accommodation, Khalatse, to be funded by Winchester College: At a recent meeting with Committee members from the school, a site for the new accommodation, across the Indus River and away from the main road, was agreed. The team met with architect Rigzin Namgyal, who specialises in Passive Solar Construction, and is keen to help with plans. Currently there are 140 pupils at the school – the Committee sponsors 20 and a further 30 children are funded by local Ladakhi people. The remaining pupils pay £5 per month for their education (which amounts to a great deal for most families). The project will cost £60,000 to build over 2 years. Thirty boys from Winchester began work on the project foundations in August 2016.

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The Himalayan International Primary and Middle School, Missoorie, Uttrakhand, Funded by Winchester College in 2015

Missoorie is one of the old British Hill Stations and is visited by both Indian and foreign tourists. The children of this mountainous area are at great risk of missing out on a brighter future and job opportunities if they do not receive a good education.

The Trust has been approached by S.P. Chamoli, Chairman of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and of the School, to support his Trustees and the local villagers to build a new school for 200 pupils. The school will cost £36,000 to build on generously donated land.

At the moment the children all go to school in rented accommodation which accommodates 60 children, but they have recently been served notice to quit the premises. The education offered to children in this area is poor, with the notable exception of this school, and there is an enormous demand from the villagers, parents and children alike for a new purpose built school to be constructed.

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We are grateful to Winchester College for agreeing to sponsor this project. A team of 15 boys aged 16 and 17, plus 3 staff from Winchester College, worked on the building site in April 2015, clearing the area for the foundations of this new school. They all enjoyed meeting and entertaining the local children. The team then trekked close to the Har Ki Dun Trail in the north west of Uttrakhand. It was a very steep climb and the boys persevered through rain and perfectly formed giant snowballs, a highly unusual phenomenon, falling from the sky which caused a white out on the final day. They then visited the amazing Golden Temple at Amritsar as well as taking in the spectacular Flag Ceremony at the Wagga Gate on the Indian/Pakistan border. The project is now complete.

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Shara Sharnos Village Anganwadi, Indus Valley (Funded by a private sponsor in 2014)

Three villages make up this beautiful area about 50 miles from Leh. Our generous private sponsor has donated £10,000 for this project in memory of her husband, an Army Officer, who recently died. What a lovely way to be remembered.

The 2014 Winchester College team ‘adopted’ this project when treacherous weather prevented them from getting to the Missoorie site for which they had raised funds to build a school (see 2015). Building work proved to be a real challenge. A team of 18 boys and five staff from Winchester College worked with local builders to construct the earthquake-proof foundations. To do this they had to remove part of the hill behind the site made up of stones and very large boulders. The boys worked incredibly hard over four days and when they left the site the foundations were finished, saving the builders at least one month’s work. The Anganwadi has now been completed and 29 children now attend school here. The Trust will be visiting Shara Sharnos in June to see how things are developing.

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Students’ Comments:

It’s weird to think that the difference between my life and theirs is so huge, and yet only something as small as luck has made it so that I should live my life and they theirs.”  Punn Tengtrirat

What occurred to me about these kids and us, more than anything else, was the difference in our lives. The chance of us coming into contact with these kids is near zero, and yet a very slight chance has enabled us to help try to improve their lives, but just as importantly, given us a perspective on life and the remarkable fortune we have.” George Garnett

Once we were on the project site, I was taken aback by how kind and hard working these people are. I am in awe of how they live to survive in some of the world’s harshest conditions. The progress we made on site showed me how much more we can achieve with just a little more effort. I honestly think I learned a lot during those few short days. I hope I go back, one day, to see the valley again.” Michael Turner

All morning we rotated on pick-axing and shovelling in order to finish the foundations. This was finally completed one hour before lunch, so we moved to carrying bricks. In my first afternoon on the building site we moved wet cement onto the foundations to solidify them. Finally, before we left we took a team photo with the local builders.” William Treacher

“The expedition itself was first class, offering all the challenges that make such a trip a worthwhile and enjoyable experience. The team worked incredibly hard at the project site in Shara, spurred on by the small Ladakhi children who would benefit from their efforts. In four days, we achieved the complete foundations, ensuring that the project would be finished before the winter arrived. The trek was outstanding, enjoying the pure beauty of the Himalayas whilst acheiving, in light snowfall, the 5,000m Matho Pass. The trip to Amritsar was memorable, visiting the Golden Temple and the Wagah Border Crossing, both experiences I will certainly never forget.” Sam Hart, Expedition Leader

Basgo Nunnery, Ladakh, Funded by Winchester College in 2013/2012

In 2012/2013, two separate teams of young men and Dons from Winchester College raised funds to pay for the construction of this home and nunnery for 60 destitute nuns. By definition, Buddhist nuns in Ladakh are beggars. The teams collectively raised £69,000 and worked hard on the building site with the Nepali builders and the nuns themselves, ranging from seven to 32 years.

Whilst this is a nunnery, it is most importantly a home for children from very poor families who cannot afford to bring up all of their offspring. The nuns provide the children with a good education; when they are 18 they can choose to stay as nuns or revert to normal life. They also offer lessons in basic Buddhism, yoga and meditation to tourists to cover their living costs. In addition the nunnery will serve as a refuge for Ladakhi women who have suffered abuse.

The buildings are complete, apart from a much needed water tank and the temple for which the nuns are seeking further funding. It is quite extraordinary to see what has been achieved with the money raised. The Winchester College teams are to be congratulated on their hard work and generosity. The Trust hopes that this experience, along with the treks they undertook in the mountains, will have a lasting effect on their lives. It certainly has on the little nuns!

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama unexpectedly visited our nunnery in July 2014. This will have been the happiest day of the nuns’ lives and is wonderful news for the Trust and of course Winchester College who funded and worked on the construction of the nunnery.

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The Nunnery was officially opened by His Holiness Togdan Rinpoche and politician Rigzin Zora in August 2014. The building looked spectacular and all the nuns were very excited at the opening. A crowd of more than 300 villagers, families, monks and officers from the adjacent army barracks attended the event which included speeches, dancing and presentations. It was a wonderful day made more special by Tom Bacon, formerly of Winchester College, who read out a letter from the school’s Headmaster and spoke on behalf of the boys who raised money for and worked on the construction.

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Students’ Comments:

OMG Just met my first nun…” Thomas Rea

I will take this moment to say something about the people we work with. They put us to shame every day and miraculously mange not to get impatient with our incompetence.” Jack Commack 

Breakfast with the nuns was a treat. I got a mantra from the Dalai Lama, a pooja bracelet and a khatak… Just a few general points, not in any particular order: Google images do not do justice to the Himalayas. Go there, they will take your breath away… Pretending to pick up the Taj Mahal is not original. Never underestimate Immodium! Once you get used to them, poo tents are amazing things. With the best will in the world, when equipped with  a bowl of water and a bar of soap you can only get yourself back to smelling ‘presentable’. Don’t go into tents during the day. You will die! Being served delicious omelettes at 5,000 metres is mildly unreal!”  Robert Leach

A memorable trip is the best way to describe it. From seeing the smiles of the nuns greeting us, their laughter ringing through the building site to help make our work enjoyable, to standing on top of the world at 21,000 feet after the hardest climb of our lives. There was an unspoken but terrific sense of achievement amongst the team as we said our goodbyes… It was tough leaving the nuns behind, but the most comforting thought is that they will never forget us, and we have made such a positive impact on their lives, and the lives of many more to come.” Dougal Gray

I was taken aback by what we had accomplished during our short visit to Basgo. Not only have we created a home for 60 destitute nuns, we provided them with the means by which they could practice their own beliefs – their only possession. Although it may seem that they are indebted to us, I feel incomprehensibly indebted to them… They are people that live only to save others. They are people who pray for countless hours in the hope that their words will bring peace and happiness to all those on earth. Despite their lack of material wealth, they smile brighter, sing louder and play harder than any of us. I will always be in awe of these angels.” Chris Huang 

The time to say goodbye came round far too fast. It took about 20 minutes. Lahdol had a real reluctance to let go of my hand, it was too much for Chonzom, who was driven away crying. Yesterday I picked up the title of ‘Acho Jamie’, Brother Jamie. Leaving them, that really came to the fore. Each of them felt like a good friend and Lahdol, Chonzom and Muskit truly felt like little sisters. To describe the feeling is hard. I would best put it as leaving your old school to come to WinColl. But that does not do it justice. They are my sisters.” Jamie Truell

A Fresh Sense Via Jet Air

(To the tune of Will Smith’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air)

In Winchester College, four years raised
Twenty one journeyed from London to Leh
Digging, lifting, relaxing and hurling
Building a house, for Buddhist schooling
A whole load of nuns, they were nothing but good
Smiling all day in Basgo neighbourhood
After five days and nights many friendships were struck
Then a drive back to Leh via Gompa Spituk.

We walked about two hours though a canyon of spikes
A fairly gentle start to a four day hike
A hill sprint and quiz kept us all amused
None of Tantar’s food was ever refused
We crossed three streams, during day two
Even Ashok was always in view
Sean was pleased that the leopard was rare
Our camp was quite safe under Dr Jamie’s care.

The Lotus Flower Trust is wonderfully run
Single handed by an ex-knicker salesman called John
In twenty years he’s built many Indian houses
You cannot help be moved by the passions he rouses
In one hundred years the nunnery will persist
Built by the hands of the best Wykehamists
And so ends Ladakh, August 2013
John and John we thank you and your excellent team.

A poem by Andy French, written at 4,000m

Tarsaal Primary School, Uttrakhand, Funded by Winchester College in 2011/2010

This was Winchester College’s very first project with Lotus Flower Trust.  The Headmaster was so impressed with the effect this programme had on his students that working with Lotus Flower Trust has now become part of the Sixth Form curriculum. All £28,000 construction costs were raised by the students and their parents.

After two visits by the students of Winchester College in 2010/2011 a new school was built for the children of the villages of Tarsaal and Song, high in Kapkote Valley, Uttrakhand. Previously there was no school for the children in this area and the new building is being used by 125 local children.

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Students’ Comments:

If we have managed to improve, even by a miniscule amount, the hardships of life in the remote village of Tarsaal, we have, indeed, done a great deed.” Ed Wyman

Over the two weeks in India, my sense of unfriendly Britishness completely disappeared: in India it’s just considered perfectly normal to cheerfully greet everyone you see.” Charlie Palmer

The team moved bricks and rocks on the building site, or, wielding picks and shovels, dug foundations for the kitchen – back-breaking work, especially at 7,000 feet. Every so often we would stop for a lengthy tea break, brought to us by some lovely ladies, one of whom proposed to Freddie Pattisson (he said he would consider it)…Oli Wettern

Walking around the three rooms on that final morning brought some feeling of artistic accomplishment. I guess, knowing that in those three days we had completed something that, initially, seemed quite unthinkable. What was even more impressive was comparing last year’s pictures of a mere construction site to this year’s almost finished product, and the quick progress throughout.” Tim Yung

Read Oli Wettern’s Story on Working in Ladakh

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