It isn’t every day you have an opportunity to help the Dalai Lama, not to mention thousands of Tibetan children living as refugees in India.
Yet that’s exactly what two professors and one recent graduate from the Newman University School of Education did this June, when they traveled to Dharamsala, India, to implement educational enhancements at Tibetan Children’s Villages (TCV), an internationally recognized organization that operates schools for exiled Tibetan children and teens.
The initiative is part of an effort by the Dalai Lama to enhance teacher training and academic standards, in order to develop Tibetan student leaders who will become professionals and specialists. The group that came from Wichita to help in this effort included Ted Anders, Ph.D., assistant professor for graduate education and coordinator of special projects, Steven Dunn, Ed.D., associate professor of education and director of the School of Education, and Dunn’s son Joseph, a 2007 Newman graduate who now teaches social studies at Marshall Middle School.
The group also worked with colleagues from Georgia College and State University (GCSU) in the project, along with private educational consulting practices in Tampa, Fla.
Enthusiasm and dedication
The TCV was founded in Dharamsala by the Dalai Lama after his flight to India in 1959, and has evolved into a school system now serving more than 16,000 students and led by the Dalai Lama’s sister, Madam Jetsun Pema. The group became involved with the school in March after Anders was invited by Pema and the TCV executive board to form a team with Dr. Charles Martin of GCSU to evaluate and make recommendations for improving school services.
During the June trip, the group presented a weeklong conference for approximately 30 teachers and 50 administrators to introduce best practices of education and train administrators on how to better support and communicate with teachers. Anders said the conference was an unqualified success.
“It was fantastic,” Anders said. “We achieved all the goals of the visit.”
Anders and Steven Dunn attributed much of the success to the enthusiasm the Tibetans had for learning new skills.
“They were so interested in the learning they remained on task the entire time,” Dunn said. “I’ve taught hundreds of seminars, in the U.S. and internationally. Busy, over-burdened U.S. teachers often lose focus and enthusiasm. It takes tremendous energy to keep them engaged. The Tibetans, however, stayed with it. They were constantly on task, grateful to be learning.”
Anders noted another example of how strongly the Tibetans want to improve their skills and their schools – a group of teachers and administrators from the Kashmir/Nepal border who rode in a bus across the Himalayas for three days just to attend the conference.
“They have incredible dedication,” Anders said. “They were so engaged, and so intent on getting the concepts.”
Videos of several conference sessions can be seen at www.tedanders.com.
While there, the Newman team also experienced the Tibetan culture through several activities planned by their hosts. Among the most memorable were meditating in a temple outside the city with Buddhist monks every morning in Dharamsala, drinking butter tea (made with real butter), and learning folk dances with increasingly elaborate and difficult steps. Steven Dunn was deeply moved by an hour-long Buddhist prayer service.
“They were doing chants that sounded ancient, like they were from 1,000 years ago – very guttural sounds with a depth of feeling and sense of history at a deep emotional level,” he said. “The people have a connection with those prayers that unifies them and has real meaning.”
At the end of the trip, the group also experienced a little of the traditional nomadic Tibetan way of life. The group hiked up from the plateau where Dharamsala sits at about 7,000 ft. to another plateau at the base of a snowcapped mountain about 3,000 feet higher. When they arrived, they found that their Tibetan hosts had gone up the day before to set up a camp. Anders and Steven Dunn said they were almost overwhelmed by the scene, which included colorful tents, yaks, donkeys, campfires and large pots with simmering broth, and other images of what seemed to them a timeless culture.
“To come upon that image and to be embedded so lovingly into that culture was very special,” Anders said.
“They are very affectionate people; so open to us and teaching us about their culture and what we were teaching them,” Dunn added. “We were just overwhelmed by the generosity and friendliness and compassion of these people.”
Institute for gifted and talented
Before returning to America, Anders and Steven Dunn agreed to help develop an education plan for a special academy recently created for about 600 gifted, talented and spiritually sensitive students, who will be trained to serve as ambassadors of peace, love and compassion throughout the world. Anders and Dunn said they and other School of Education faculty plan to travel to India over the next few years to help the schools produce these kinds of scholars.
As part of their training, the students will study in various colleges and universities around the world. Anders said plans are being made to bring several top math and science Tibetan students to Newman in the near future.
“The ongoing success of this relationship professionally and personally is a huge blessing of life for all of us,” he said. “We look forward to continuing the relationship, and look forward to the upcoming conference.”Tags: Charles Martin, Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, Georgia College and State University, Himalayas, India, Joseph Dunn, Kashmir, Madam Jetsun Pema, Marshall Middle School, Nepal, School of Education, Steven E. Dunn, Tampa, Ted Anders, Tibet, Tibetan Children's Village, Wichita