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14february201120125Dharamshala:-Lha doesn't look like many other schools. Founded in 1997 by an American Social Work Professor from the Tulane University in Louisiana, the non-profit organisation based in McLeod Ganj (Dharamsala) provides various courses to students from heterogenous backgrounds. From English lessons to photography classes, the assocation gives many learning opportunities to those in need.

"We especially target people from above 25 years old who cannot go to school because of the age limit", explains Ms. Tsering Dolker, office secretary and accountant for Lha. "Basically, the school is aimed at people coming from Tibet. Normally, they can go to school if they are below the age of 18. Between 18 and 25, they can also attend one of the Tibetan schools called a ‘transit school', near Dharamshala. For those who are above 25, they can come here and learn any kind of language, though we have less facilities in comparison with other schools", she explains.

As Tibetan students have been in winter holidays for two months since January, some of them grabbed the opportunity to come and improve their knowledge in different areas. Photography and computer courses are some of the most popular among them. Rinzin Trinley, a young Tibetan student who aspires to be a journalist, says that he "learned a lot" from the photography courses and hopes that this knowledge will help him in his vocation."First I thought many of the students came here out of curiosity, but many of them expresssed their wish to be journalists and spread the truth about Tibet", confirms Lilian Bird, the photography teacher.

Around five to ten volunteers help the association everyday, from teaching classes to managing accounting matters. "Volunteers come mostly from England and the United States, asserts Mr. Lobsang Rabsel, volunteer coordinator. They also come from Canada, Australia and European countries. Most of them stay here for a short time, like two, three weeks. But some of them stay here for a couple of months, sometimes even more." Though he describes December and January as the off-season, he asserts that they usually have "plenty of volunteers".

Beside educational programs, Lha also devotes its efforts to different social projects, such as the "Eye Testing Project" launched in September 2009 after many Tibetan refugees complained of eye sight problems. This initiative, supported by various donators, has so far allowed 145 people to get free prescription glasses.

For the association, one of their "disadvantages" remains the fact that they don't have any longlasting sponsorship. Tsering Dolker explains that without permanent donators, they can't guarantee specific projects. She says that on the other hand, "if we have particular donators, we can direcly tell them that we are working on a project and that we need money for that."

Despite those obstacles, Lha still plans to start various initiatives for the Tibetan community and also for local people in Dharamsala. "We have some ongoing projects, especially concerning the environment. Hopefully these will be finished at the end of May", declares Mr. Ngawang Rabgyal, director of Lha.

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