Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Bow Drill

How can one possibly make a fire in a situation where there is no fire ignition tool?  What if one is gone missing in a jungle where there is no settlement. Imagine how you would react to this situation where there is no matchstick or lighter? This situation is difficult for those who have not heard of ancient ways of making fire, however, it is not challenging for those who have little understanding of friction and its practical application in igniting fire during ancient time.
Making fire using scientific knowledge of friction may seem classical and not so fashionable these days, nevertheless, it is essentially an inherited wisdom that our humanity has survived and succeeded through many generations using it. In fact, we have to cherish this age old tradition that endured generations after generations.
To upkeep traditional and cultural practices intact, Lho Mon Education taught a lesson on how to make fire using a bow drill. The fire was very important paraphernalia for the survival of early people. Deprived of effortless modern tools those days, people had to come up with simple devices to help make fire easily. Bow drill is a simple machine to make fire rubbing two pieces of wood together. It is made using bamboo, wood, branches and string. The tool generates heat after vigorously rubbing and produces fire ember from which fire is lit. We also need some dry grasses and sawdust to turn fire ember into the flame. There are specific soft woods found in our locality (Dewathang) that were used particularly for this purpose, such as phrangshing (a soft local tree) and khartong mancha (special stone).
For students, it was fun trying to rub with their last muscle strength and often break into laughter with a fume of smoke from the tool. With patience and repeated effort, it was a fascinating moment for them to witness fire ember and finally make fire using dry grasses. The experience was not only learning how to make fire but it was a practical demo of how friction leads to fire and understand how early people had to take hardship.

This art of making fire may not be completely useful in present day especially in an era of abundant light equipment, however, it connects previous generations’ cultural practices to the present generation.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Farm as a classroom

Schools provide space for creative thinking and learning wholesome and healthy growth of our children, who are always inquisitive. Schools help children find meaning of their lives and prepare them to live their lives well as good human beings. Students are not in schools just to follow the mundane daily routine of completing the syllabus and passing the exams. Schools help children to find joy in knowing about and exploring the world - simple things like source of water, food, plastics, etc. Students learn through gradual exposure to external world and by connecting the inner self with the outside world. Students learn by doing things themselves.

Here with Lhomon Education (LME), we provide students the opportunity to learn and prepare themselves for their lives and to fulfil their daily needs through practical hands on experience. LME endeavours to make learning joyful to its students.
One of the activities carried out by the students is organic garden, through which we strive to close the gap between knowledge and practical aspect of learning. The garden becomes the classroom. Students make compost; terrace the land and plant vegetables. It is part of their lesson and taught by a local farmer, who does not have a teaching degree. Instead of competition, cooperation and team work amongst students is encouraged. Harvesting vegetables from their garden is a matter of great joy and satisfaction for the students. Learning is taking place simultaneously.
When I was student, we had to do agriculture every Saturday. We did not learn anything from it as we were all focused on production since it was a competition between houses and classes. Learning on the farm and from a farmer was unthinkable then. We must be reminded that students learn more when they are able to connect with the external world, otherwise what they are taught in class remains abstract and irrelevant. And in LME, students enjoy gardening and they do not focus on production. And, I learn more here than during my sixteen years of schooling.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

Small steps towards building mindful schools & communities

The 7 day mindfulness camp held at Chokyi Gyatso Institute Dewathang ended on 26th December, 2016. Its content included meditation, mindful offering of butter lamps, selection of local agriculture produced, waste minimization, cooking, eating & walking, karma yoga (work as practice) & sharing of experiences. SJI as mindful choices, universal human values as a skilful means (by Director, JNEC) & contemplative education (by Dr. Yang Gyeltshen, LME lead teacher) as being integral to mindful teaching-learning were also presented at the camp. Post camp school activities & experiences were shared by the participants of the 2nd camp. The participants proposed about 25 activities, which could possibly be implemented in schools. A platform for continued dialogue among participants, participants-SJI-CGI, etc. has been created.
The camp was resourced by Yangsid Drubgyud Tenzin. There were 43 camp attendees: 22 teachers, 9 lopens from CGI, 3 civil servants, 3 youth from Menchari village (GNH model village) & 6 from SJI. The camp is integral to SJI's education program (LME) conducted annually, primarily targeted for educators. Three camps have been conducted till date with over 100 attendees.
Alongside the camp, SJI focused on waste minimization and served only locally available produce. The 7 day camp produced only few plastic wastes like the wrappers of salt, sugar and atta flour. Compiling with mindfulness practice, the only waste generated in the kitchen of the mindfulness camp was 5 salt packets, 2 sugar packets and 4 packets of atta flour. In other words, only 11 plastics in 7 days. Even if we measure it will come around 150 gram only. If it was not prepared mindfully it would have produced tons of waste in a week which is against the philosophy of SJI and of course against GNH. The meals were all organic and nutritious.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Medicinal Herbs - losing its importance

Manchhhilu (Aconitum patulam)
As a child I lived in a remote place called Bhangtar under Samdrup Jongkhar Dzongkhag. In those days when we had a cut on our body parts, our parents and elders would collect plants called lanyiru (a term in tshangla, a widely spoken dialect in East Bhutan) (botanical name: Rubia cordifolia.) The plant leaves were rubbed and squeezed to stop the bleeding. It would heal the wound. A plant named Juung in tshangla (botanical name: Curcuma longa) heals stomach ache and diarrhoea. People in the villages make use of these herbs to cure illnesses before the advent of modern medical service (though some people still have confidence in local medicine).  Today some elder people continue to use herbal medicine and cure others as well; one of them is meme Karchung, resident of Bangtsho village in Dewathang. He is known as a local doctor and the people of Dewathang go to him to treat certain illness such as stomach pain, fracture, wound, etc. There are few such people left and it has become very crucial for us to preserve this knowledge. LME students study about local herbal medicines with the help of meme Karchung. They have made field trips in the forest to study and recognize local herbs and also collect them.  
The following are some herbs collected by the students:

Botanical name
Local name
Adhatoda Vasica
 Leaves are mixed and boiled together with Artemisia to cure wounds.
Rubia cordifolia
Leaves are beaten and used to cure wounds.
Aconitum patulam
Leaves to be boiled to wash the body to heal the wounds.
Enteda gigantea
Kolokpo Ru

Cures wound.
Phytolacca acinoso
Cures stomach-ache. We soak the tip of the creeper in the hot water and drink it.
Curcuma longa
 Cures diarrhoea and stomach ache.
Leaves are squeezed to stop the blood oozing and also to cure wounds.
 Kiling sey
Cures the cracks of the heel. Used as soap in the past and  also anti-leech.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Richness of nine traditional grains: Lebi (soya bean) to tofu

Ms. Pema Lhadon with students 
Students washing soya bean 
As a part of learning lesson under the topic, “Traditional Ecological Knowledge” the students learned about the nine traditional grains, domestically known as drunagu. One of the nine grains is soya bean or lebi in Sharchop (eastern dialect). This grain had appeared in the traditional folk tale of four greedy friends narrated by Meme Karchung, one of the older men in the Bangtsho community, Dewathang. The folk tale was about four friends who were very poor, had nothing to eat and had weakness in their body parts such as tiny neck, fragile leg, thin cheek and delicate chest. One day, when they went out looking for food, they found soya bean seeds. They were very greedy and wanted to eat all the soya bean seeds.

The story of soya bean continues with Ms. Pema Lhadon, an entrepreneur who visited Chokyi Gyatso Institute (CGI) to train its monks in tofu making in an effort to provide more nutritious food. It was opportune for our students to actively participate in seeing the relationship between classroom learning and application of that knowledge in our daily lives.
Pema said, “Soya bean has higher protein than meat (40% and 20% in meat), and carbohydrate with less fat. It contains small amount of all vitamins except potassium. Besides, soya bean is locally grown and it is free of chemicals, thus avoiding all health risks due to consumption of chemicals. It also contributes to local economy and prevents cash outflow”.
Students enjoying TOFU
We could understand the nutritional value of the traditional grain and its impact on our health. While few students seriously took down notes of what the expert was sharing and the process that was unfolding, rest of the students actively and joyfully engaged in the entire process of making tofu by cleaning dishes, rinsing the soaked soya bean, extracting milk out of ground soya bean, straining water from the warmed soya bean milk and of course relishing the final product (TOFU) with a great sense of pride, knowing well that it is good for their health. It helped broaden their outlook towards traditional grains as being important for food and nutrition sufficiency of our community.
Soya bean milk 
The process also involved learning the value of not wasting any part of the food. Distributing the soya bean paste that remained after the extraction of its milk, students were asked to concoct their own recipes from it.
Later in the evening fifteen different kinds of dishes were made by students, in groups and as individuals. Most of dishes were made using common daily Bhutanese ingredients, viz. chilli, salt, oil, onion and tomato. Bhutanese chilli pickle (eazay) was the most common dishes. One of the students had made porridge; another fried the paste with sugar. Adding different flavours like sweet, salt and spicy, students had tried their best to make their food delicious.

Learning was indeed a great joy for the students. CGI plans to give tofu twice a week. Monks will make it from our own soya bean! 

Dishes made out of soya bean paste 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Mindfulness follow-up with teacher participants

Principal and teachers of Karmaling Higher Secondary School
It has been three months, since a successful 2nd mindfulness camp conducted for 40 teachers of Samdrup Jongkhar district.
The camp was dedicated to help Bhutanese educators express mindfulness in their everyday roles as influential teachers and explore the inner working of their minds so that they may benefit their students through their examples.

Students of Martshala School
As envisioned by Lho Mon Education, a project under Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative, teachers who participated in the camp are playing a key role in imparting the practices of looking inward. 
Following are some of the activities carried out in the schools by the participants:

Mr. Tshering Dorji a teacher from Garpawoong Middle Secondary School started a new club called ‘‘Mindfulness Club’’ with 30 students. He said ‘‘this club is convened to teach the students to be mindful of their deeds.’’ As a part of club activity he also organized a daylong nature mindfulness walk in collaboration with Chokyi Gyatso Institute to encourage students to develop an understanding of the world around them as well as their internal world and how the two are so closely related.

Sonam Dema, a student of Garpawoong School
A vice principal of Phuntshothang Middle Secondary School, Madam Ambikka Homagai and Miss Sherab Zangmo formed a club with 60 students and 6 teachers. They are going to conduct a School Based In-service Program (SBIP) about mindfulness to other teachers in the school soon. Zangmo wrote ‘‘we have divided the club members into three groups of 20 members for meaningful practice.’’

Phuntshothang School: Health and physical class
Madam Tshering Yangzom and Miss Sangay Wangmo from Karmaling Higher Secondary School did School Based In-service Program (SBIP) with other teachers including the principal and started practicing meditation and karma yoga. Yangzom wrote ‘‘I am doing meditation as well as prayer. I too became a vegetarian after I have completed reading a valuable book ‘‘What Makes You Not a Buddhist’’. I have introduced karma yoga and meditation in my School Agriculture Program (SAP) club.’’

Wangmo also integrated the practice in her teaching classes. She wrote, ‘‘I did a trial meditation session in class 9 and 11. Students are very eager to learn about meditation.’’

Karmaling School: Democracy club members
Pelden Drukpa Dorji a principal of Dechen Primary School wrote, “We have started training teachers in mindfulness practice to be able to help children with the practice.”Dechen Choden from the same school wrote, ‘‘we started implementing karma Yoga in our school. Teachers including our principal are busy with Karma Yoga.’’
Sonam Tshering a teacher from Rinchen Kuenphen Higher Secondary School wrote, ‘‘I am practicing daily in the morning about 15 minutes and I am going to integrate the practice in my Dharma club.’’
Phuntshothang School: Mindfulness club members and teachers
Madam Jampa Choden wrote, ‘‘Mindfulness practices has always been practiced in the school, but I am teaching them more on meditation with all the knowledge gained from the mindfulness camp.’’ She added, “I am taking life skill session in four classes and I am integrating the practice in the class.”

Garpawoong Middle Secondary School: Mindfulness club members

Garpawoong School: Karma Yoga practice


Friday, March 25, 2016

‘‘Nature Mindful Walk’’- Connecting the world around us and our inner world

“It is my hope that we can help children develop a broader understanding of the world around them as well as their internal world and how the two are so closely related.”
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

To help the students develop a broader understanding of the world around them as well as their internal world and how the two are so closely related, a day-long ‘‘Nature-Mindful Walk’’ program was organized by Lho Mon Education (LME) and Chokyi Gyatso Institute (CGI) in collaboration with Garpawoong Middle Secondary School, Dewathang on 20th of March, 2016. The program was participated by more than 70 students, monks, lopons and teachers.
The program was organized to provide opportunity for students to experience and learn from their immediate natural environment and to take this experience to another level by integrating mindfulness practices. It was also to promote positive attitudes, sustainable mindful actions and to recognize the nature as learning laboratory in achieving greater goals of environmental conservation.
The students were assigned with different activities in smaller groups such as bird watching, exploring the ecosystem of plants, trees and flowers to develop appreciation for the variety and creativity found in the natural world and moreover to cultivate curiosity and acute observation skills.
The sitting mindfulness practice, walking meditation and still- life drawing were other group tasks assigned to connect the external experience with internal world and to develop sense of positive attitudes broaden their outlooks toward nature and bring in behavioral changes in dealing with the nature.
The karma yoga practice was integrated in the program to inculcate and maintain a sense of responsibility and dignity in performing any kind of work from manual labor involvement to paper and pen work. It was stressed that when working, motivation is so important and if one approaches an offering of service with basic good intention, then one accumulates merit.

The collaboration of students and integration of mindfulness in nature exploration program was first of its kind and we hope to organize such a program from time to time in collaboration with local schools to provide a platform for students to broaden their understanding of the world around them as well as their internal world and how the two are so closely related.