A still from "Tashi and the Monk," a documentary about the Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community in northeastern India. A screening and discussion is set for Oct. 22 at College of the Atlantic. PHOTO COURTESY OF COA

Himalayan orphanage is film focus

BAR HARBOR — The award-winning documentary “Tashi and the Monk,” about the Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community in northeastern India on the borders of Bhutan and Tibet, will be screened at the College of the Atlantic Human Ecology Forum on Tuesday, Oct. 22.

The free event begins at 4:10 p.m. in the McCormick Lecture Hall.

The film will be followed by a question and answer session with the leaders of Jhamste International, the organization that supports the children’s community.

Over a decade ago, Buddhist monk Lobsang Phuntsok, hand-picked by the Dalai Lama to share Tibetan Buddhism with the West, felt called to leave a life as a spiritual teacher in the U.S. and return to the region of his birth to try and rescue children from suffering. Since then he has created a unique community in the foothills of the Himalayas called Jhamtse Gatsal, Tibetan for “The Garden of Love and Compassion,” which provides a permanent home for 90 orphaned or abandoned Tibetan (Monpa) children.

Jhamste International Executive Director Mark Foley and Managing Director Vasudha Wanchoo will share the film and discuss the growth of this community, including the recent graduates who are continuing their studies at colleges and universities throughout India.

“The film provides uplifting answers to the question, ‘How far kindness can take you?’” Foley said. “The children and the staff of Jhamtse Gatsal provide even more compelling and inspiring answers. We look forward to sharing these stories with the COA community.”

Perched on a remote mountaintop and surrounded by poverty, today the community is stretched beyond capacity and Lobsang faces the heartbreaking task of weighing the requests he receives for new kids to join. During the film he is confronted by the very real consequences of his decisions: a local 11-year-old boy who he turned down two years ago for a place in the community commits suicide. In a nearby village another young boy’s father dies suddenly and his family, unable to cope, plead with Lobsang to take him in. Within the community he is challenged by concerns from staff that any further expansion will compromise their ability to help the kids they already have.

Alongside Lobsang’s work, the film tells the story of Tashi Drolma, Jhamtse’s newest arrival who recently lost her mother and was abandoned by her alcoholic father. A wild and troubled five-year-old, Tashi Drolma is a big personality in a small body. Despite (or because of) her challenging temperament, she is thrillingly alive.

Tashi struggles initially to find her place among 84 new siblings. Gradually, as Lobsang and the community work their magic, the film follows her transformation from alienation and tantrums into someone capable of making her first real friend.

The atmosphere of warmth and support at Jhamtse Gatsal provides a backdrop to the unfolding stories.

“Full of children who elsewhere might be classified as ‘at risk’ after experiencing unimaginable trauma in their short lives, this is the kind of institution that in the West would be staffed by psychologists and social workers relying on an arsenal of medication to keep their charges under control,” a press release said. “Here, the staff have no formal training and children are simply invited to become active members of a community and participants in their own and each other’s healing. The results are remarkable.”

In a region where the only prospects are a life in the fields or breaking rocks beside the road, the lucky few at Jhamtse are given a shot at something much greater — the chance to become, in Lobsang’s words, “amazing human beings.”

Contact 288-5015.

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