Namgyal Phuntsok, Educational Coordinator of the Rogpa Charitable Trust, based in Dharamshala, India. Photo: TPI

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Dharamshala, India —  "These refugees don’t possess the qualifications required to get a job in India, nor do they have the experience. Our priority is to make them self-reliant," Educational Coordinator, Rogpa Charitable Trust, Namgyal Phuntsok told Vandana Rajendran of The Tibet Post International, during an interview which was conducted on July 17, 2019.

Q. What are the roots of Rogpa?

A. Rogpa was started in 2004 by a Tibetan husband and a Korean wife. They first came to Mcleodganj and saw a few Tibetan families along with their babies in the market selling bread. It was difficult for them to take care of the business along with their babies. Thus, in order to make the community self-reliant, we started the Rogpa Charitable Trust.

Q. What are the different projects under Rogpa?

A. There are four projects under Rogpa. The first one is a Baby Care Centre (BCC), which was started in 2005, with just five babies; now there are 30 babies that are being taken care of at the BCC. Earlier there were thousands of refugees who came to India from Tibet but currently there is comparatively lesser number of Tibetans seeking refuge in India. These refugees don’t possess the qualifications required to get a job in India, nor do they have the experience. So, in 2008 we started the Women Craft Centre (WCC). The women who drop off their children at BCC were asked whether they had prior knowledge in stitching and if they didn’t they would be trained.

Once they have learned the craft, they are kept as permanent staff but in case they find better opportunities, they are always free to go. Our priority is to make them self-reliant so that they would not have to depend on someone else for their needs. The babies would be taken care of at the BCC while their mothers could work at WCC. The second project is the Rogpa Children’s Library (RCL) which started in 2012. “Books on Wheels” is a subsidiary project under RCL wherein 50 new Rogpa Books are rotated every month to almost 11 schools that are associated with the RCC. We currently have 13 Rogpa Bookshelves in those respective schools.

These books are in English language and have been divided into three categories: Preschool, Junior and Senior, upon consultation with the Principals and librarians of different schools and are then distributed amongst the students accordingly. Along with the bookshelf with books donated by the RCC, a diary with a wishlist is also kept. The wishlist consists of books that the students wish to read and those which the schools cannot afford. In order to cater to their wishes, the RCC seeks individuals who wish to donate to the Books on Wheels project or use the funds from the other Rogpa projects and also from the Rogpa branch in Seoul, Korea.

The “Green Letter Campaign” was recently conducted in April and included a presentation which highlights the causes and consequences of water pollution. After the presentation, the children were encouraged to portray their perception of pollution of water bodies and then, pen letters to their mothers, teachers, friends highlighting the importance of keeping the oceans and other water bodies free of pollution. Rogpa also organizes activities in a few Indian government schools. Even though these schools are not at par with private schools, the students are very active in participating in activities conducted by Rogpa. The Rogpa Shop & Cafe in Jogiwara road is another initiative which is also a  non-profit community space designed to create opportunities for unemployed Tibetans, local entrepreneurs while promoting ethical consumerism.

Another initiative is the Rogpa Children’s Publication under which we published four books which featured talented children from different schools who wanted to get their stories published. The TCV School in Ladakh has also contacted us for books and we have donated almost five copies of four books that we published, to the school. But the only problem is their inaccessibility since these books take a really long time, maybe months to reach the schools. Rogpa bookshelves were usually kept in school libraries but later on, they were shifted to hostels so that these books could be available to the students round the clock. The students are also encouraged to write book reviews of the books they have read so that the books of their choice could be distributed accordingly in the future.

Q.  Did the founders face any challenges during the formation of the organization?

A. The difficulty was in trying to make the community understand the relevance of such organizations as they believe that if they approach someone or some organization for help, those offering aid would have something to gain from it. It was a common perception among the parents that Rogpa was a Korean organization when it was not; it is a Tibetan organization run by Tibetan staff. The second challenge is that at times we are unable to meet the demands of the staff since we generate our own funds. We have three permanent staff at BCC who engage in feeding, cleaning their nappies and their nap time. Toddlers at BCC are also engaged in activities like storytelling, hand painting, etc. In addition to this, every Thursday, the staff along with the volunteers, take the kids for a temple visit to familiarize the children with the Tibetan religion, which is Buddhism and Tibetan culture.

Q. What are the activities that are included in the Annual Rogpa Festival?

A. The previous Annual Rogpa Festivals just included a fair with food stalls and donation camps but this year we are planning to have an exhibition whereby we showcase the artworks by the kids at BCC, along with the usual food stalls and donation camps. Even though visitors who come to Rogpa don’t always intend to donate we are also welcome to other contributions which could be in the form of new and innovative ideas.

Q. Why does Rogpa not demand any remuneration from schools which are provided with books?

A. We believe that receiving remuneration would not make Rogpa distinct from other organizations and would lose its purpose. Volunteers usually come to know about the organization through word of mouth other than the website and these volunteers usually stay for a few weeks or maybe a month.