Zach and his girlfriend Aimee recently participated in a Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation (TCEF) service trip to open a hospital in Zanskar, India. Zach reflects on lessons learned.
Well, it’s official, and I’ve just sealed the deal with an official stamp of approval courtesy of an ice cold beer and a round of perfectly fried, golden brown cheese curds in the Heartland of America. I have effortlessly assimilated myself back into the good ol’ U.S. of A. like a fish takes to water.
But, fret not, I have not travelled to the ends of the earth and back without learning a thing or two about myself and the world around me. As the tendency is, India has left her mark on me. What that is, exactly, I’m not quite sure yet. Needless to say, when I run into friends on the street who ask me, “How was your trip to India?” I’m never quite sure what to say.
There is of course the immediate gratification of the overall experience – I saw a LOT of absolutely beautiful terrain, the diameter of my comfort zone was stretched extensively, and I met some amazing people along the way. On the surface I can say without hesitation that this was an incredible and simply unforgettable journey, but I think the true impact of this adventure is going to reveal itself to me slowly and in subtle ways as days start to pass by, and I settle back into old routines but experience life through a newly modified lens.
For now what’s most important, and cause for celebration, is that the opening of the clinic was an overwhelming success, and the Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation (TCEF) should be proud of its efforts. By the time we pulled out of Padum to begin our journey home, the clinic had been visited by more than 1,700 patients in the 15 days we offered care. That’s an average of more than 115 people per day.
Each morning, our team of volunteers was met with a long, continually compounding line of Zanskaris seeking treatment at the clinic, and each day we were met with new challenges. Those challenges were met head on, and as each one was progressively ticked off of our list, another three were added. People got tired, people got cranky, and people got fed up, but we got the job done and mostly with smiles on our faces.
My volunteer role was that of the trip’s carpenter, which sounded fun and relatively easy, but it proved to be a Sisyphean-sized exercise in futility. Without going into too many details, let’s just say that I came to discover that India is so riddled with frustrating inefficiencies it almost made my head explode. Multiple times.
Add to that a lack of power tools – or the electricity to power them – and a hardware store that looked like something from an episode of “Hoarders” and you get the picture. I will say though, having a good sense of humor about the whole thing and taking a Buddhist-type approach of resigning myself to accepting “what is” created its own brand of fun. All I could do sometimes was laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. So, with a confused brow-furrow and a shake of my head, that’s exactly what I did.
But that’s just one part of my story, a glimpse into the experience of my trip to India. Each and every one of our volunteers – including numerous local folks in addition to the TCEF crew – worked tirelessly, facing their own litany of daily obstacles as numerous as the stones on a strand of mala beads. Not having the supplies they needed, not getting enough sleep, not feeling healthy, not being able to communicate effectively, and not being able to help every single person there. They each have their own story of this incredible journey, and, without a doubt, those stories about their time in the Zanskar Valley will never be forgotten.
Zach and Aimee currently call Missoula, Montana home. Aimee was raised in the mountains of Montana and spends her days balancing her love for the outdoors with her passion for building community. She has studied yoga, meditation and mediation practices for over 15 years, and currently runs Core Connections, her own consulting and education services company. Zach works for a fundraising consulting firm helping non-profits grow and flourish. He has his parents to thank for instilling a love of nature. His small-town Wisconsin upbringing gave him endless access to beautiful parks, slow-meandering rivers, frog ponds, and deciduous forests that he spent countless hours exploring.