In 2018, following a successful application to the state education department, Tong-Len was registered to offer education and the charity duly opened its doors to students in April that year. More than 200 children now attend the new school which comprises classes from pre-school through to grade 8.
The establishment of the school has meant that Tong-Len has the ability to provide a full-time education to the slum children not accommodated in the hostels. At present about 120 children are collected daily from the slum camps in the Kangra valley to be taken to the school. For these, the Tong-Len school is their only chance of an education. In the Tong-Len school they receive food and care as well as an excellent holistic education.
In 2003, one of our trustees, travelling in India, had a chance meeting with a young Tibetan monk named Jamyang. The trustee talked about the newly formed Mandala Trust and the monk spoke of a newly established project he had launched called Tong-Len. The name comes from the Tibetan words meaning ‘give’ and ‘take’ — the idea being that through compassion one shares in the suffering and pain of others, whilst simultaneously giving out love and kindness.
Jamyang had been working with the Charan slum community, where 600 people were struggling to survive in flimsy makeshift shelters which offered only minimal protection against the harsh climatic conditions. Disease was rife and exacerbated by severe malnutrition. Children had little or no opportunities for education and, like their parents, many spent their days scavenging and begging. Jamyang’s dream was to open a hostel to house children from the slum, and before long, the two new friends had agreed to work together to make this happen — within a few months a hostel had been opened and the Mandala Trust had committed to fully funding it for the first year.
At the hostel the children live in a family environment with experienced caregivers and professional teachers. The hostel staff provide balanced nutritious meals, help the children with their homework, and organise recreational activities. The children contribute to the domestic tasks and have the opportunity to learn cookery and other essential life skills. They are also encouraged to play sport, study dance and singing, and learn a musical instrument if they wish. Computer time is very popular and the children are given individual lessons by the hostel teachers. The family atmosphere of the hostels is important to all. For most of the children it is their first experience of a secure family life.
The hostel children attended the local Dayanand School and their achievements have been outstanding. All of the children receive good marks and many are top in their class. Two of the children, a boy and a girl, were placed in the top five out of almost a million students in their grade 5 State Board Exams.
Tong-Len has gone on to become a flourishing and vibrant organisation with a number of such hostels, as well as providing health and education services within the slum communities. The Mandala Trust is proud to have been a part of their success story.