Greetings From Beautiful Ladakh!

“Our ambitions are higher. Our commitments are deeper. Our dreams are bigger. Our efforts are greater.” — The Siddhartha School Motto

Dear Friends,

Greetings from beautiful Ladakh! My son George and I are delighted to be back in Stok village with our summer volunteer, Linnea Westerkam, a student at Barnard College—and equally excited to have a seemingly sound wifi connection at the school. What is more, we brought Tsewang Chuskit and Stanzin Angmo with us. You may recall that both girls are Siddhartha School graduates currently completing their high school education in the U.S. thanks to generous scholarships from the Rockland Country Day School in New York and North Yarmouth Academy in Maine, respectively.

Both girls are doing exciting work while they are in Ladakh, volunteering with the Lamdon Medical Clinic in Leh, and giving their own ‘For Girls By Girls’ outreach program to remote village girls. Their project is the culmination of work both girls did with the support of Dr. Leslie Jaffe of Smith College and Chuskit’s ANNpower Vital-Voices fellowship award to design a relevant presentation for ‘Ladakhi Girls Health and Leadership Empowerment.’ The girls had this to say about their summer project work:

“We’d like to thank everyone at SSP USA for encouraging us to return to Ladakh this summer. With your help, we’ve given seven talks to girls at remote village schools on adolescent health and leadership empowerment. Our talks have been so well received, we’ve been invited by the District Department Head for Education and Teacher Training Programs to give our presentation to over 50 government school teachers.” — Tsewang Chuskit and Stanzin Angmo, Siddhartha School graduates

Profound thanks to all who gave to the vital campaign to bring running water to the school. We are including a short video clip of the new sinks in action below. We promise to share many more details about new constructions in the next issue.

In the meantime we hope you are enjoying reading this installment from Ladakh. It is rich with details of student life at Siddhartha and demonstrates the dedication of the faculty to providing meaningful cultural programming, such as a student curated museum exhibition at Stok Palace as well as a glimpse into a rigorous 8th grade algebra class taught by Mr. Tsering Phuntsog, Siddhartha school mathematics teacher.

With heartfelt gratitude,
Laura Kozaitis
Executive Director
Siddhartha School Project

2014 GivingTuesday Campaign Funds In Action for School Building Improvements:

Wash Rooms are Done!


Student Music and Media Camp: Report from the Field

We are very happy to report that it has been a very productive summer for artistic and cultural programming at Siddhartha School, as it continues to find innovative ways to celebrate Ladakhi heritage and history. We completed another successful Kickstarter campaign to fund our DVD Music and Media Camp 2.0, in which the children will produce a new dvd to share with our friends showcasing the great strides they are making in mastering traditional and contemporary song and dance under the tutelage of our new music teacher, Mr. Stanzin Dawa. Meeting him personally now has been a real treat as we can see that he is a very gentle and inspiring music teacher for the children. If you have not seen his video introduction to the SSP community, you can watch it here.

Mr Stanzin is teaching an array of Himalayan musical instruments and dance styles and is an accomplished singer formerly with the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). The children enjoy working with him very much and are blossoming with his care and attention. What is more, our older students will be mentored in the editing and design process for the upcoming DVD by designing the jacket and apprenticing with the professional staff at the Ladakh Arts and Media Association (LAMO). LAMO is our production partner and collaborator in the new LAMO-Siddhartha School Sound Studio currently under development. Our aim is to provide valuable opportunities for our students and the greater community to record, produce, and archive Ladakhi music for future generations.

At this moment the staff of LAMO is at the school filming the children’s performances. There is a buzz of excitement as Mr. Tashi Morup slowly glides through the halls with his video camera, capturing the “behind the scenes” costume and scenery preparations.

Siddhartha School Children Curate An Exhibit of Material Culture at Stok Place

In May, Augusta Thomson, Siddhartha School’s Fulbright Scholar in residence, worked with the students on their very first exhibition of Ladakhi culture at the Stok Palace Museum. The event was the culmination of weeks of work of which the children are so proud. Not only are these young people creative and artistic (as the hero portraits shared regularly here can attest), but many are natural anthropologists, observing cross-cultural interactions and exchanges on a daily basis between travelers and locals, pilgrims and professionals.

While Ladakh’s remoteness and topography may call to mind an isolated moonscape, for centuries the region has served as a crossroads for traders, travelers, missionaries, military soldiers, and religious pilgrims alike. Ladakh is a cosmopolitan axis point for the Indian influence emanating from the Kashmir valley to its west and the more eastward-looking inflections of Tibet. Thanks to Augusta’s innovative exhibition program, our Siddhartha School children had the opportunity to examine these strands of influence and ask: “What is Ladakhi? What is tradition?” And, perhaps most critically, “What is important to me?” According to several teachers, as the authors and curators of their own exhibit on Ladakh, students came away with greater confidence and curiosity about their culture. We hope you enjoy Augusta’s report below and photos from the historic exhibition, which is the first of its kind in Ladakh—child curated, with hands on interaction with objects from the Stok Palace, and within the incredible setting of the palace courtyard.

The School of Inspired Things: Learning from Objects

by Augusta Thomson, Fulbright-Nehru Research Scholar in residence at Siddhartha School

On and off for the past nine months I have been privileged to work with Siddhartha School, in Stok Village outside of Leh, Ladakh, as a Fulbright-Nehru research scholar, joining the staff as a teacher and friend. It has been a remarkable experience— challenging, engrossing, and giving. Through teaching English language, creative writing, and a foundation in both museum studies and material culture studies to the sixth and seventh standards, I have learned a great deal about Ladakhi culture, the Indian education system, and each student’s learning process. Over the course of my time with the school I have seen a marked improvement in the students’ writing, and it has been an honor to watch them engage with the material, digesting and re-working it.

While there have been many peak moments throughout this process, one memory stands out: kindly sponsored by Her Highness, Queen Spalzes Angmo, the sixth and seventh standard students spent a morning exploring Stok Palace museum. As we walked up the stairs and into the museum I watched them process their surroundings. Their confidence blossomed as they took me through each room, explaining the objects— their uses and material components. In the traditional kitchen, I was led from chabskyan (a kettle used to pour chang, or barley beer) to dik (a large pot for storing water) as the students repeated each object’s Ladakhi name and function. In the prayer room, three wide-eyed girls showed me delicately-carved conch shells, “Lamas blow these during special occasions.” They pointed to a human skull stored behind a glass case, “Look. That’s also used by lamas during special rituals.”

Afterwards, I asked them to write short paragraphs about their favorite museum objects. I wanted several sentences; they gave me multiple paragraphs. Each student had remembered his or her favorite object in great detail, and I watched each pen skip down its paper, line-by-line. Many of the students wrote about the gold-embroidered traditional dress, or kos, of the king and queen. Stanzin Jangchup, a twelve-year-old girl noted, “On the king’s dress, dragons were embroidered, and on the queen’s dress, there were small flowers. As a result, they attracted me a lot.” Tsawang Morup (twelve years old) said of the king’s royal kos, “It was very beautiful and took a lot of hard work to make. It was made of small golden threads. It was shining.” But, twelve-year-old Stanzin Dolma’s comment about the royal costumes struck me deeply: “I chose these objects because they are made by hand … they look very beautiful behind the glass, but if both kos look that nice behind the glass, just think what they will look like outside of the glass. Their beauty will double or triple.”

Two weeks later, the students hosted their own museum exhibit of Ladakhi cultural objects, modern and traditional, and Stanzin Dolma’s comment was carefully integrated into the arrangement. Each student placed his or her object into a semi-open glass box, to simultaneously pay tribute to the origin of museums as ‘Cabinets of Curiosity’ and to allow viewers to touch the objects— engaging and interacting with them tactilely. The children’s illustrations were pasted onto the back of each box. After a small competition between students to determine the museum layout, Stanzin Jangchup’s floorplan was chosen, and the objects were arranged by typology: religious ‘things’; followed by ‘things’ that attract people from all over the world; old kitchen ‘things;’ samples of Ladakhi dress or animals; and modern, useful ‘things.’ On May 29, the student-titled museum exhibit, “Welcome to Incredible Ladakh,” opened. Students hosted a day of presentations, traditional dances, and cultural exploration in Stok Palace’s courtyard. The result was inspiring: the children spoke through their objects, and the objects spoke through the children.

There is much left to unpack from this project. But the past nine months have been a sustained exercise in teamwork, patience, and innovative pedagogy. From my work and reading it has become clear that the direct contribution of children to museum-scapes is both under-researched and undervalued. Material culture objects have immense power, but they are made even more powerful when children can become active in discovering, telling, and authoring the stories of ‘things.’

Algebra Class Time at Siddhartha School with Sir Phuntsog


NYC Exhibition to Celebrate the Art, Heart and Heroes of Children and Honor Khen Rinpoche

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