Our kids come from some of the most remote and highest Himalayan villages of northern Nepal, from villages that have no electricity, no toilets, no sanitation, no hospitals, no telecommunications and no schools. They come from northern districts with romantic names like Mustang, Dolpo, Humla, Mugu, Manang, Gorkha, and Solu Khumbu. Some of the villages are four to 14 days trekking away from the nearest road and may be as high as 14,000 feet (over 4,000 m.). Getting to and from the villages is often dangerous because of treacherous trails, falling rock, landslides and avalanches.
Culturally, the people of these mountain villages are Tibetan, but they were born in Nepal. We know the children before they come to us. They are younger siblings, nieces or nephews of our students or of Rinpoche’s monks and nuns. In any case, their backgrounds are usually well known and Rinpoche personally decides which child may attend the school. The kids are means-tested by virtue of their Himalayan origins.
We are very crowded at SMD. In fact, we’ve had to rent a flat outside the school compound to relieve the crowding. Hundreds are on the waiting list! When we have a free bed, a Himalayan child can come to school and we send word up to the villages. The messages have to be delivered in person, most often by our nuns or monks. Sometimes it takes a few months to get word into the mountains. Occasionally, the family sends a different child than the one chosen. We try to be flexible about this, and ask that sponsors are as well.
Once the children come down to SMD, they may see their families once a year, generally in the winter. Many families come down to the Kathmandu valley to do pilgrimage, and to escape the heavy winter snows and the punishing cold. In the other seasons, the parents are busy with their animals (yaks and goats) and the summer crops (barley, potatoes and maize). Winter is also when we have the long holiday of the year as our unheated classrooms are too cold to study in.