Rotarian anticipates return trip to India

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By Kevin Rushworth


An overseas trip late last year saw High River's John Andresen visit the remote Jhamtse Gatsal children's community in northern India, with the local Rotarian stating his desire to return this fall.

In an interview with the Times, he said he traveled to the community—home to orphans and children who are unable to be supported and given away—to see the site and sponsored child Dorjee.

“It was emotional,” Andresen said, noting the kids range from ages five and six through to those in Grade 12. “Every kid (was) there to welcome me in sort of a receiving line.”

The community, located in Arunachal Pradesh province, opened in the Himalayan region in 2006 and was founded by Buddhist monk Lobsang Phuntsok. The site first welcomed 34 children.

Some 90 youth now call the Jhamtse Gatsal community home, according to the website. Andresen said the young people who were the first residents are now graduating and moving on.

The community was featured in the 2014 award-winning documentary film Tashi and the Monk.

“I needed a special permit to go to this area in addition to the visa you need to go to India,” he said, noting the region is the centre of an ongoing dispute between China and India.

The Monpa people, described to be ethnically Chinese/Tibetan, call this area home, Andresen said. He added the province has a massive Indian army military presence with it being a disputed territory.

Andresen flew by helicopter to the town of Tawang and was driven to the Buddhist community.

“They always chant a prayer before every meal,” he said. “They emphasize their Tibetan roots a lot as well. There's no cell phones, no TVs, they don't have laptops, but they can speak four languages.”

Languages spoken include English, Hindi, Monpa and Tibetan, Andresen said.

“The monk who runs it wants the kids’ time in this place to be transformative,” he said, noting Jhamtse Gatsal means “love and compassion” in the Tibetan language.

As a lawyer, Andresen said he was provided the opportunity to teach.

“It was fun for me to work with the kids,” he added. “I was asked to judge a debate.”

Having worn his robes that he typically dons for trials at Court of Queen's Bench, Andresen said the class was divided in two and the topic was whether the Chinese invasion of Tibet was justified.

He expressed an interest in returning as he felt the kids are skilled and could become excellent at debate. In a written piece provided to the paper, Andresen described the wonders of nearby temples.

“It was a very spiritual place,” he said, noting the site as a quiet place for meditation surrounded by deep gorges and the mountainous landscape. “There were prayer wheels just down the road.”

Andresen said he was living in the community's staff quarters for two and a half weeks.

Upon his leaving the children's community, he finished his international trip by visiting the Rotary Club of Pokhara Fishtail in Pokhara, Nepal—the second largest city in that country.

Members of that service club had extended an invite to the Rotary Club of High River to one day visit their country, as local Rotarians had provided financial assistance after the 2015 earthquake.

“Within two days I was there, they were handing out scholarship moneys,” Andresen said, noting the recipients were youth identified through their schools as being good students requiring financial help.

Chris Wilson, a High River Rotarian, is credited as one of the fathers of the program, Andresen said.



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