Journey’s End

We are home now from India now, but the journey is by no means finished.

We have journals to write, interviews to do, presentations to make, a curriculum to finish and a movie still being filmed. Perhaps though it is ok to bask for a short minute in the afterglow of so many unforgettable moments strung together like prayer beads on the Tibetan malas we saw so often in Dharamsala. I know those memories that will continue to pass through our minds over and over in the days to come.

We will feel the texture of such special moments

Photo by Shmuel ThalerHow can we forget the Harijan school children at Kingsway Camp in Delhi w ho surrounded us in the round domed temple where Ghandhi used to pray and sometimes rest. They, the poorest of the poor from what is called the scavenger cast enriched our lives immeasurably as they sang with folded palms sacred Sanskrit prayers for us

Photo by Shmuel ThalerOr the excitement of sitting in the palatial Rastrya Pati Bhavan (President’s House) and talking with the President of India Abdul Kalam, wondering how on earth we could be in such a place with this kind and dynamic teacher.

Photo by Shmuel ThalerOr the gift of seeing instant friendships formed between the students of Mount Madonna School and Sri Ram Ashram, the children’s home we sponsor in India; two branches of one family meeting for the first time. It was love at first sight.

Or the kindness and wisdom of Nirmala Deshpande as she recounted stories of the Gandhi era and brought forth the simple wisdom of someone who has dedicated her life to service, and the delight of her asking us to come visit her for tea after our trip to see the Dalai Lama.

Photo by Shmuel ThalerOr sitting in the lovely garden of the Ambassador’s residence at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi speaking to the dignified yet very personable Ambassador David Mulford who clearly understands the importance and challenges of the relationship between our two great democracies.

Photo by Shmuel ThalerAnd how special it was after months of exchanged the emails we finally met and discovered the wonderful personalities and deep qualities of the students of the Tibetan Children’s village who are part of this unique culture in exile. It was another case of love at first sight.

Photo by Shmuel ThalerAnd of course, the grand finale, our meeting and conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama , and doing so with grace, humor, kindness, and compassion. His laugh, his warmth, his generosity of spirit – automatic teachings rising to the surface of a deep and ancient spiritual reservoir that is inspiring the world to more human and sustainable way of thinking.

Photo by Shmuel ThalerThese memory beads and so many more strung on the energy of our group in constant motion: study sessions, interview preparations, endless writings for the blog, gift shopping for loved ones back home, bus rides, jeep rides, overnight trains, volleyball, performances, newspaper and television interviews, and friends, so many friends, helping serving, feeding, encouraging, caring just because we took the trouble to come.

And now we are home. We have much to do to respond to what we have been given. We have the opportunity and responsibility to put our deeds with our gratitude to demonstrate to everyone who aided our journey that we have done more that just traveled to a distant place and returned. We have stories to tell, promises to keep and a sacred journey that has just begun.

-Ward Mailliard

Day Twelve

Walking the Kora

Photo by Shmuel ThalerThe Kora is a path that leads around the Dalai Lama’s residence and temple complex. As we walked along the path, enjoying the views of the beautiful Himalayas spanning the horizon, I could feel a deep and powerful presence on this path. We walked as a group, passing monks left and right, all of them with mala beads in hand. There was a feeling of prayer on the path, almost as if it held the devoted energies of every practitioner that walked in silence along it.

We walked through a dense forest filled with carved stones all holding the holy mantra “Om mane padme hum”. Coming out of the woods, the path opened into a courtyard lined with Tibetan prayer wheels. I spun the wheels, focusing on a prayer as the clinking of wooden cylinders filled my head with the melody of concentrated cacophony.

Photo by Shmuel ThalerUp from the prayer wheels was a hill filled with Tibetan prayer flags hung between poles and trees. The belief is that the higher up you tie them, the luckier you will be. We were led up the hill and came to rest in the middle. It was here that I took a moment to think. Standing amongst a literal field of colored prayer flags, I let the feeling of tranquility and mindfulness that exuded the beautiful pieces of cloth enter my body and calm my mind. I have always had a fascination with spiritual practice. My parents raised me with a sense of religious freedom; they always let me know that they would never pressure me to go to church or temple. I was always given the freedom to choose whichever religion worked for me. So far I have yet to make a decision. The result of this, however, is that as I stood amongst the prayer flags I felt that I was able to see straight into the spiritual and meditative intent of each prayer. It would not have mattered if the prayers came form someone of a Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, or any other religious perspective, because the intent was the same. The practice of mindfulness was consistent throughout each flag.

I made a connection from the flags to our project. In Project Happiness no matter where we are coming from, California, Nigeria, or the Tibetan Children Village, we have to remember that just like the prayer flags that come from people with different beliefs and backgrounds, our intentions for this project are the same: to be happy, and not to suffer.

-John-Nuri Vissell

Another Goodbye

Photo by Shmuel ThalerYesterday we had to say goodbye to the kids at TCV. The hardest part of this trip has been all of the goodbyes. It was astonishing how close we became over only four days. They gave us Katas as gifts, we gave them Mt. Madonna T-shirts, and we all exchanged friendship bracelets. There were lots of smiles for pictures, and tears on and off camera. They were so sad to see us go, and we were sad to leave. I thought about how many times they have said goodbye. Goodbye to their families, goodbye to their country, and yet they took us in with welcoming arms even though they knew that we would all have to say goodbye once again.

-Emily Crubaugh

Pain of Goodbye

Photo by Shmuel ThalerOnce again we leave another fantastic group of people. And once again my entire being aches for our return. This must be why I spent so many years trying to be removed from it all. It hurts too much to lose something that you hold so dear. Each time I touch the bracelet or pin that was gifted to me, remember their faces, or more importantly, how they made me feel. They were so happy. Only once did I see a hint of sadness in any of their faces, and that was at the mention of the Dalai Lama interview, which some did not get to attend. There is something about the Tibetans I encountered that left a lasting impression that they were happy, that they were genuinely excited to be in our company. I wish I could go back. I wish I could freeze time so I could spend more of it with them.

This project has given so much to me. It has changed my way of thinking so that it is geared more towards happiness. It has brought me all the way to India where I have been exposed to new cultures, and it connected me to so many new people. There are so many new people that I will now miss. Whoever said that the leaver feels no pain? This trip has just been a series of connections and separations, and soon we shall be separated from the place as well as the people. Less than two days left. That is al I have in the heart of India.

-Jeremy Thweatt

The Colors of Tibet

Photo by Shmuel ThalerRed, Orange, Green, White, and Black. These are the colors of Tibet and those that have become so much a part of me. Our time here has been incredible. Sharing laughs, tears, stories, and friendship…but finally it has come to an end. Leaving Dharamsala was something that I never anticipated to be so hard. Leaving the landscape and the culture is one thing, but the kids is another.

I’ve never been very good at goodbyes. Beginning with our family and friends at home, to the kids at the Ashram, and now finally the kids from the Tibetan Children’s Village…there have been so many goodbyes on this trip and with each it seems a progression of difficulty for me.

Sitting in a circle in the cultural arts theatre of the TCV, each of us said something to what our experience here has been…each with a special moment or moments that have had particular meaning for us. After that we exchanged friendship bracelets with the Tibetan colors threaded through them, gave hugs, and finally ended in group song lead by Yeshi, the TCV teacher, with all of us joining in. I could never forget these people, the laughs, the singing, and our final departure from Dharamsala. It’s bittersweet. We are leaving them forever but they are forever in our hearts And forever wrapped around my wrist will be these colors, the colors of Tibet and of friendship.

-Naomi Magid

Day Eleven

Photo by Shmuel Thaler

Spiritual Euphoria

I am coming down off of a spiritual high. We just left the room where, only moments before, we had sat in conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I’m on the verge of tears, my mind feels light, and my spirit feels lifted. I remember the way his eyes looked, soft and gentle, the way his voice sounded, booming and powerful. I have been placed in a state of spiritual euphoria, better than anything you could get from any drug. I remember a moment, at the end of the interview, when we were getting our scarves blessed, that I looked into his eyes. People say his laugh is contagious, I found that his laugh was beyond any words that could be used to describe it. When I looked at him he smiled, his mouth split, and the beautiful sound of his laughter entered my ears. There was nothing that I could do to stop myself from laughing along with him. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was in the worst mood of my life because at that moment, I was truly helpless to not be happy.

My favorite part of our audience with His Holiness was when we asked him what brings him lasting happiness. Up until this point, this has been the question that has formed the backbone of Project Happiness. We have asked everyone we have interviewed the question, “What brings you lasting happiness?” Everyone has given different answers, all in some form of profundity. But when we finally reached our climax, our audience with His Holiness, and asked him the question of what brings him lasting happiness, he paused, thought for a moment and then answered with a smile, “I don’t know.” I thought that this was exactly the answer we needed to hear. There is such a simple lesson to be learned from this wisdom. We cannot be given the answer to what brings lasting happiness. In a way, His Holiness was telling us that in the end, we just have to find out the answer for ourselves. In this way, whatever comes along in our life that gives us lasting happiness, we will be in the moment, living it for ourselves.

Photo by Shmuel ThalerI still am waiting for my heart rate to return to normal and for the amazement of what I have experienced bring me back to Earth. But as I return to my body, my soul coming back to rest, I deeply want to remember how I feel in this moment. I want to carry with me some aspect of my experience, so that wherever I am, I can always come back to this moment and remember what it meant to me. However in this moment, the moment I am experiencing in the present, I am living in a state of spiritual euphoria, feeling truly happy.

-John-Nuri Vissell

Spiritually Recharged

Photo by Shmuel ThalerI couldn’t believe it was happening until I saw him in the flesh. It didn’t matter how many security checkpoints we went through, it just seemed too good to be true. Everything moved along at a good pace, and before I knew it we were assembled in the beautiful room awaiting His Holiness. The air was tense, and we all let out an audible sigh of excitement and apprehension when he finally walked in to the room. He came in with all smiles, and drew our respectful attention as tight as a vice. He started talking in his methodically insightful way, throwing in comedy as well as philosophy. One of my favorite moments were when he declared himself a Christian, and then quickly corrected his verbal blunder, much to our hilarity. It was a wonderfully light-hearted moment, and added to a very deep and varied interview. He was able to say with confidence that he didn’t have an answer to some of our questions, something that simultaneously established his humanity and how truly he respected our questions.

Being able to present His Holiness with a gift of a Mount Madonna School embroidered hat meant a lot to me. He slapped it on his head, grabbed my hand while looking in to my eyes, and thanked me. I left feeling empowered and happy, still recounting the events of the interview in my head. The photo we took on the steps of his abode will immortalize our time with him, and I am just staggered every time I think about how lucky I am.

-Mark Hansen


Photo by Shmuel ThalerMeeting His Holiness was like a dream. All the people who had met His Holiness told us that we would feel something special when he walks in. I didn’t take that comment seriously.

Naomi, Maddy, and I woke up and were freaking out that we were actually going to meet His Holiness. I was in a very bad and grumpy mood. I was mad at everything, so when we got to His Holiness’s residence, which is five minutes away from our hotel, I sat in the very back. I did not want to be there. The residence was very simple, which was the opposite of what I had thought. When His Holiness entered the room, the first thing I said was “Oh my god!” I couldn’t believe he was there, and that I was there too. I started crying and basically cried throughout the whole interview. All my life’s problems seemed to dilute in the air and he made me smile at the most random things. His smile was the most adorable thing and I wanted to capture it and make it a Kodak moment. I kept imagining his Holiness hugging me and kissing my forehead, which was so touching that I cried every time that thought came to me.

After the interview I stood in line to be blessed. It was very touching to see him bless the Tibetan kids because they all have been in exile and His Holiness is their father figure. He hugged them patted their cheeks which just made me cry even more. When it was my turn to be blessed, the first thing he said to me was “Indian?”, and just patted me on my cheeks. I was crying and he kept saying it was OK. I walked out of the room soaked in tears.

His Holiness has made me a stronger and more compassionate person. I have loved this day and will always remember it. I love love love love love the Dalai Lama.

-Prabha Sharan

An Audience to Remember

Photo by Shmuel ThalerAwe, charge, contentment. These are the three impressions that the Dalai Lama left on me in succession. When he entered the room, I felt a sense of awe at the power of his presence. This sense of awe stuck with me throughout most of the interview, but when it came time to ask my question, I found that I wasn’t nervous. His answer however, did set me back, for the question I was asking, dubbed “the Happiness Question,” is one that we’ve asked everyone that we’ve interviewed and is usually something along the lines of “What is it that brings you lasting happiness?” Of all the people we’ve interviewed, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama was the first to tell us that he didn’t know. At first this answer was a let down for me, but upon further inspection, I’ve found that this is consistent with the Buddhist principle of living in the moment.

My wonder at the incredible presence of this man lasted until he departed. Then I was left with the residue of the room, which amounted to a sort of electrical charge, which lasted until I sat down to eat lunch back at the hotel. The final state was contentment. I was simply very happy to just sit and reflect on the amazing opportunity that I’d just experienced. I don’t have any regrets about the audience and I feel like it really was a climax to our trip.

-Daniel Nanas


Photo by Shmuel ThalerThe audience with His Holiness is over, but the feeling of surreality is still there. While for others the impact of the interview has been immediate and obvious, I am left thinking, “Wait… oh! Snap! I just met the Dalai Lama!”

The interview itself is little more than a blur in my memory. Star-struck to the point of reeling like a drunkard, I was too enraptured by His Holiness to actually remember exact quotations of anything that was spoken.

Still echoing through my head and heart, however, is his dangerously contagious laugh. Contagious because its childlike mirth and authenticity is infectious, dangerous because it wreaks havoc upon your jaw muscles. Indeed, by the end of the interview we were all massaging our cheeks, which were rosy and sore from so much laughter and smiling.

His laugh I remember perfectly, as well as his presence. What presence! The sound of his footsteps alone was enough to make the room erupt with wide smiles and eager whispers. Everything about His Holiness added to this presence: His grey-black hair, his wide, thick glasses, and his insatiable eyes. When he unleashed his gaze you could feel it searching your being. The intensity and profundity of His Holiness’s eyes can be too much to handle, and many of us had to bashfully avert our own. But it was through this purging gaze that he made you feel important. His Holiness sees your identity in its barest state, and this nakedness can leave a person feeling extremely uncomfortable. But it also has the ability to open the individual up to the world through the exposure of their true self.

The surreality remains with me, but the clear memory of His Holiness’s laughter and presence will stay with me forever.

-Jonji Barber


Photo by Shmuel ThalerLying in my bed at our hotel, I let my face rest on the katta scarf, blessed just an hour ago by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Waking up after a short nap, I can feel the soft threads of the katta bring me back into reality. I am in a state of euphoria, glowing, from what just was. When he first walked into the room, my heart stopped. I couldn’t breathe, and yet I was pouring with tears. I felt so blessed, so honored to be in the presence of this holy man. But my true feeling of honor came at the end of the interview when His Holiness individually blessed the katta scarves and draped them over our shoulders. Watching the Tibetan children blessed before me, I was overcome with emotion. He hugged them each and held them as they cried on his shoulder. Over the past few days I have grown close to many of them. I listened to their stories, and I could see in their eyes at that moment what it meant for them to be there. To be with their leader, their father in exile, and a reincarnation of Buddha was so visibly powerful for each of them. I was already crying once it was my turn to present His Holiness with my katta to be blessed. My hands were shaking. I bowed to him, felt my hands in his, and melted…as though I was being touched by a part of God. He touched my face and smiled at me.

Hung in my room when I get home will be a picture of his Holiness smiling, that same smile, with the katta hung above it so that I will never forget the blessings of this day.

-Naomi Magid

The Dalai Lama

Photo by Shmuel ThalerToday we had an interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and it was everything that I could have hoped for, and then some. We started off the day with anticipation of the interview taking over our usually lively personalities. People wandered around like the walking dead because no one was able to get any sleep the night before. Personally, I kept trying not to think about the next couple of hours because I was afraid that something bad would happen, and what I had spent so much time planning and waiting for would be gone. I blinked, and we were at our first checkpoint at the gates of His Holiness’ residence being patted down by very “friendly” security guards and being ushered to one waiting room after another. Before entering each one I would think, “ok this is it”, and then more couches and SN saying, “ok if you have to go to the bathroom go now!” Of course when I decided to actually get up to use the restroom it was time to go to “the room”.

Right before entering the interview room at one of our “reality checkpoints”, a woman who was working with the Nigerian students said, “Are you ready kids? This is the dénouement.” For reasons unknown to myself, I frantically scanned the room looking for Melissa’s face, which would have undoubtedly been lit up while nodding with her smile saying, “I taught you that.” Once I realized that she wasn’t there, and neither were any other parents, I had a sudden feeling of longing. Even though this was my time to seize the moment that I had been working for, I missed my family, and more than anything wanted them there with me. To fight my feelings of homesickness I started thinking more and realized that even though my parents helped me to get here, it was me who worked to open another locked door in my life. This door happened to have His Holiness on the other side.

The Dalai Lama, of course, came fashionably late, and I didn’t let myself believe that we were actually going to see him until I saw him walking in the doorway. I knew then that it was safe to get my hopes up. His Holiness had a charmingly genuine tone throughout the interview, and approached each question as if he was making sure that we would learn a new truth once he finished giving an answer. That’s not to say that there weren’t questions to which he didn’t have answers, and one of those was Jonji’s. He asked His Holiness if he had any questions that he was still searching for an answer to, and to that his holiness replied, “What the weather will be tomorrow”; and when Daniel asked what brings His Holiness lasting happiness, he beat around the bush for a while and then said “I don’t know, next question.” (This was all with an addicting laugh by the way).

Photo by Shmuel ThalerI kept my composure until the end, when I realized that the Dalai Lama would be leaving soon and that would be the end. Before he left, all the students circled around His Holiness and presented him with our Katas to be blessed, hoping that he would remember to touch our mala beads as well. Then it was my turn, and throughout the entire interview I wanted so badly to reach out and touch him so that I would know for sure that he was there. When I presented His Holiness with my Kata, he stopped and looked at me for a while then said, “Your ancestors are they from” and then proceeded to point towards the Himalayas, and I said quickly “Mexico”. It may not sound like such a monumental moment as I took it to be, but if it was the only thing that could get the Dalai Lama to notice me, then so be it. Apparently, he didn’t believe me after I told him that I wasn’t Tibetan, and went to ask the Tibetan student’s teacher Yeshi if I was one of her students. When it was time to pose for pictures I was ecstatic, because His Holiness was still under the impression that I was Tibetan and held my hand while posing for pictures, and every time I squeezed his hand he would squeeze mine back. Meeting the Dalai Lama is definitely an experience that I will never forget, and one day I know that I will come back. Hopefully he will stay around until then.

-Nina Castañon

From the TCV Students

Today was a moment that I lived in fully with my heart and my soul. I felt ultimate happiness within myself. A priceless moment of my life that I could have never have imagined to live in. The laughs I shared. The talks we had. The peace we felt. The sense of happiness. It was all I can ever ask for. Happy! Happy!


This is the most precious reward and unforgettable moment in my life. I don’t know how it happened and end with such cute smiling of His Holiness. It was also an unexpected thing for me, and during the audience my mind wandered and I thought “Is it real or am I dreaming?” So, I will really cherish this moment in my life and try to implement what he has told us. Lastly, I really want to thank all the members of the Dalai Lama Foundation for giving me such a wonderful opportunity.

-Ngawang Paljor

The very short moment I heard His Holiness talking to me is a dash to the seventh heaven. It took me back to a past, twelve years ago, when I first saw His Holiness. I was only six then, and I was with my father. It was the day when I made up my mind to leave my parents behind. My heart beat when I felt his touch and it lasted. It’s a moment with lots of unexplainable emotions.


Day Ten

My General Experience in Dharamsala

24 March

Photo by Shmuel Thaler We boarded a train in the evening to Dharamsala from Delhi. This was a very nice experience. I had thought that the train would be noisy in transit, but everything was cool, calm, and comfortable. I slept and woke up several times, looking through the windows to behold the beauty of India.

At the train station in Pathankot we were warmly received by the President of the Dalai Lama Foundation, Tenzin Tethong a very humble and kind Tibetan, and gentle man. We drove from the train station and a little bit out of town, where we all had breakfast and drove down to Dharamsala. The journey took us through high mountains and deep valleys creating so much fear, which later transformed to excitement.

We visited the Tibetan children in Upper Dharamsala in the evening for a cultural show. There we met Yeshi Khando and her students and a number of other guests.

26 March

We went back to the Tibetan Children’s Village for a study circle with all the students from the US, Nigeria and TCV, along with their teachers. We dialogued, shared, and exchanged ideas. This experience was great and wonderful. I also made a good number of friends and taught the entire group some Nigerian dances.

From there we traveled back to town along with the other students. We went to the market to see the shops and meet the local residents. It was indeed a nice experience that cannot be forgotten in a hurry.



Photo by Shmuel ThalerToday we made a journey down from Upper Dharamsala to the temple complex of Norbulingka. The temple housed some of the most beautiful Tibetan art work I had ever seen. Before entering the temple we had the privilege of seeing the craftsmen and women who create the wonderful tonkas (Tibetan murals). The tonkas, they explained, take a huge amount of discipline and training to create. The amount of detail that went into each rendering of Buddha was incredible. Every inch of the art had to be exactly to scale. Seeing the Tonkas made me think a lot about the art of patience. One of the masterpieces that we saw in the room took the artist an entire year to produce. If that doesn’t show an immense amount of patience and commitment, then I don’t know what does.

Entering the temple my jaw dropped open. In the center of the temple sat a solid bronze statue of Buddha sitting in his peaceful moodra, towering over the room. For a moment I literally lost all train of thought. In my mind all I could take in was Buddha, and all I could think of was how at peace I felt. In front of Buddha was a seat with a picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. There was a very surreal presence in this temple. I know that I felt very privileged to be in the presence of such an impressive idol.

We were definitely in the presence of masters of their crafts when we entered Norbulingka. We got to meet the man who built the massive Buddha that sat peacefully in the temple. He is known as the “Michaelangelo” of his time, a true inspiration. I have so much respect for a man who has worked so hard and so long to create truly beautiful works of art that bring an immense sense of meaning and spiritual power for so many people.
-John-Nuri Vissell

Drawing Near

Photo by Shmuel ThalerTomorrow is the interview with His Holiness, and yet everything remains so surreal. Our journey’s purpose, the reason for this amazing trip, lies merely hours away, but I still haven’t come to terms with its actual occurrence. How can I have legitimate questions for the Dalai Lama when I still have questions about the interview itself: What will be the effects of this incredible opportunity? Am I really prepared for this opportunity? Do I deserve this opportunity?

It is this last question that causes me the most apprehension. What have I done that makes me worthy of this once-in-a-lifetime experience? Out of the hundreds of millions of teenagers in this world, how was it that I had the fortune to be born into the vessel of Jonji Barber, interviewer of the Dalai Lama?

I ponder these questions while time rages on, and I am forced to accept the inevitability of tomorrow’s event. My questions remain, but my apprehension has been transformed into recognition of my mission. I am still not certain what I have done to deserve this, but I am certain that it is happening, and this certainty has pushed me into acceptance.

-Jonji Barber

Day Nine


Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardToday during lunch I had time to speak with a few Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) students about dance. They showed me some footwork for traditional dance, and I showed them some break dance moves. It was difficult to compare moves when our styles were so different. Despite the differences, it was nice to talk about dance, which is a major part of my life. I think this conversation brought us closer together because it was something that all of us could relate to and share. It was not profound or life changing, nor was it the reason for our visit, it was just light conversation, which is something also to be valued in the midst of contemplating lasting happiness.

-Xander Crawford

A Day in Dharamsala

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardI woke up at 7:30 am to a chilly, but beautiful morning. Dogs had been fighting outside our window at four in the morning and were so loud that when Maddy and I woke up, we both commented on how annoying they were. As a result, we were tired from the moment we got up and complained about it most of the day.

Despite being tired, we had to go join the TCV kids to work on our Guidebook to Happiness. We all sat in a big circle for an introduction and then divided into group. I had a little bit of a mental breakdown (or perhaps I should call it an attitude breakdown), so I did not participate fully. But for our closing circle my mind woke up. The question we were asked to address was very interesting and the answers were very thoughtful. The question was “How has the book changed you?” The kids from the TCV had really outstanding answers. I could tell that reading the book really affected their family, friends, and, most of all, themselves. Behind their answers were honesty, pride, sadness, compassion, and inspiration. I could feel that we all were sharing a universal laugh and smile. It was very sweet. The kids are just adorable.

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardOn our way back down the hill we got dropped at the main shopping area in town. Maddy and I are buddies for the trip, so we took off together. We are the best team to go shopping with and are very hard core. I speak the language and she does all the bargaining. We both sometimes helped others with their negotiation, but mostly we walked down the strange streets of Dharamsala all by ourselves. I have met so many strange and interesting people on the streets here, and it keeps making the trip more interesting.

P.S. If you want to go shopping in India, call Maddy and I and we help you shop till you drop.

-Prabha Sharan

My Experience of Dharamsala

We left the train station at about 9:15 pm from Delhi on 24 March and arrived at Pathankot in the morning. This was my very first time in the train. I have had a number of firsts already as a result of this trip. First time to travel out of Jos, first time on an airplane, first time to India, and so on.

I’m in Dharamsala right now, but I cannot forget the roads and houses, the mountains and tall beautiful trees passing by in a hurry. Dharamsala and indeed India presents a sharp contrast with Nigeria. In Dharamsala difficult terrain has been positively transformed to human advantage. Beautiful roads and magnificent buildings have been so carefully erected beneath, and right at the tops of the famous Himalayan mountains, which I am told are among the most beautiful and tallest in the world.

On 25 March we went to the Tibetan Children’s Village school situated at the top of the upper Dharamsala in the mountains. At the school we had a wonderful display of the rich cultural heritage of all three groups of students- the Tibetans, the Americans and the Nigerians.

On the morning of 26 March we returned to the Tibetan Children’s School for a learning and exchange session based on the Ethics for the New Millennium. Students were grouped into threes to learn and listen to one another and then share with the larger group, what they learned and understood about one another and the book. We also had breakfast and a great feasting of the rich Tibetan food. It was also an opportunity to make new friends and cement the bond of unity among us.

Then came another interesting moment. We all went into the market and streets of Dharamsala to meet the people and places of interest. I visited a number of shops, visited some famous temples and then went to Chonor House for dinner. Later it was back to the Kashmir Cottage for sleep.

-Mercy Bisi Olatunji

Homes of Brothers

Jonji, John-Nuri, and I were lead up a pathway of cobblestone stairs by Ngawang toward the boys’ dormitory. As we looked around at the TCV school area, we were joined by Dorji who had TCV’s list of questions for the Dalai Lama. John read them aloud and I found them to be well-written and very thoughtful. Ngawang and Dorji conversed in Tibetan and then asked if we would like to see the school’s monastery. After arriving there, we took our shoes off and stepped in the holy place. The pictures of His Holiness and artwork of Tibetan gods were very pretty. We left and walked up even more stairs and finally stopped at a concrete building that was their dorm. The boys led us through corridors which connected tons of identical-looking rooms. A flitter of sadness washed over me as I looked at the dirty halls and rusted windows, but it vanished as the happiness of the kids lifted my spirits. They lead us through rooms and kitchens as we left the 11th grade dorms and headed to the 12th grade dorms where most of the Project Happiness students lived. As we walked we were joined by yet another TCV student, Dawa, who was excited to see us. We trudged up yet another never-ending flight of stairs as we joked with and about each other and laughed. When we entered the dorm, we were lead through a maze-like structure with so many flights of stairs that one could get easily lost, but these boys knew the way blindfolded. We reached the top of the building and stepped out onto a balcony that overlooked all of Dharamsala. It was beautiful. We could see the Himilayas so clearly that it felt like you were looking at a postcard. We sat on the railing and joked about how Jonji thought that they lived like Harry Potter. The six of us sat and laughed and just enjoyed our new friendship and beautiful surroundings.

-Luke Sanders-Self

Day Eight

Car Ride

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardToday we arrived in Pathankot in Punjab after our eleven hour train ride from Delhi. We all separated into several different four-wheel Toyota vehicles. In my car there was John Sorensen (the documentary producer), Mark, Prabha, and I. The day before John had bought some popular Indian dance music and got the CDs out so we could listen to them on our three hour drive to Dharamsala. It was a lot of fun dancing, singing and laughing along with the songs in the car. We also screamed every once in a while as our driver passed within inches of other cars, people, or animals in the road. It was almost impossible to relax and fall asleep because the roads were very windy and I felt compelled to watch what our driver was doing. Also the scenery was an incredible change from what we had gotten used to in Delhi. The first thing that I noticed was the incredible snow capped Himalayas, and the rows and rows of cut tea on the hillsides. Arriving in Dharamsala was a lot calmer. There weren’t as many people, and their style of living was different. I feel a lot more relaxed up here and just happier in general.

-Madeline Weston-Miles

Worlds Away

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardMy backyard is a view of an apple orchard and oak trees. The kids at Tibetan Children’s Village(TCV) have the Himalayas. We’re in the foothills here at 6000 feet and they are towering above us, natural beauty at a magnificent scale. I am missing my family and friends whom I haven’t seen in two and a half weeks. Some of these kids haven’t seen their families in over a decade. One boy I met told me that his father carried him on his back over the mountains when he was three years old and then turned around and walked back. He has seen his parents only once since. I feel like I am worlds away from the US and India. We’re in “Little Tibet” now and I am loving it. The people aren’t in your face, it doesn’t go along with their beliefs. It’s starting to hit me that we are meeting the leader of these people. What an honor, what a culture, what magnificent people, and what a location.

-Emily Crubaugh

A Story Not My Own

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardToday was the first day that we met and visited with our counter-parts in this project from the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV). As we arrived we were greeted with friendly faces and a short, but intense, game of basketball, before we quickly filed into their assembly hall for a cultural presentation. The Tibetan students performed several dances for us, and one in particular was choreographed by a boy who also was playing a Tibetan guitar during the performance; he prefaced the dance by saying he woke up every morning happy because of this dance, and it wasn’t until later that I found out why.

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardWe took our leave after the assembly and managed to get a few minutes of rest before we sat down to dinner. It was a surprise to me when we were joined by the 12th class (12th grade) from the TCV. I sat down at a table occupied by none other than the boy who choreographed the dance and played the Tibetan guitar.

“My name is Tom,” I offered in greeting. He was quick to reply: “I am Ngawang.” We sat down and chit-chatted over soup. He spoke about what his classes were, and we explained what ours were, and how the systems in our two schools were different. At some point we even compared our heights, at which point I learned that I stand at 66 cm tall against his 67. Even among a culture of shorter people I’m short! But after a little bit more food he started to tell me about his past:

“I come from a village very near to the border to Nepal where I lived with my family until I was about 11 years old. We had a house with a beautiful pasture where we used to gather in small groups and dance and sing. This is where the dance we performed for you at the assembly came from. It reminded me of home.

Photo by Sadanand Ward Mailliard“When I was in Tibet (he refused any pretense that it was China), I had no idea that our people were under Chinese rule. I don’t understand why my parents kept it from me, but none of the other children in my village seemed to know either. When you come from Tibet, you are granted an audience with His Holiness Dalai Lama, and he asked me if I had known about the Chinese occupation, but I had not.”

Curious about his life, I asked him how he got to the TCV where I met him.

“One day in Tibet my father told me that we were going to cross the border into Nepal. Our village was very close, but it was still a 3 or 4 day walk to the border. We could only walk at night; we slept during the day.

“Right before the border there is a very fast river. Normally we throw ropes across and help each other across, but it is still very dangerous. Two people from the group I traveled with lost their lives. I remember the water being very cold that day. But when we were across the river it was still very dangerous. The Nepali people at the border are asking us Tibetans for money, because if we do not give them enough money, they turn us into the Chinese who will give them money. We reached a check-post and we got enough money together in our group to go past the Nepali guards.

“My father and I walked to the bus station and took a bus to my Auntie who lived in Nepal. From there she sent me to Delhi and I went to one branch of the TCV schools until class 10, where I decided to take the stream of science (the three streams are: science, commerce and art) so that I could study medicine, and that is how I came to be at the (Dharamsala) school today. I have not seen my father since I left Nepal; he went back to Tibet to care for my mother.

“Some time ago we started writing letters to each other. He tells me that he has until June of this year to demolish his house and rebuild it in the Chinese style.”

I sat and listened to his story in awe. Both by the magnitude of the story itself, but also with his openness in telling it. He did not seem sad at any point; in fact, quite the opposite. He smiled at times during his story. Time was running out though, and they all had to go back to their Hostel soon, but I was focused entirely on him by this point.

“How is it now, being so far away from home?” I asked, emboldened by his openness.

“When I first reached the TCV, I shared stories of home with the other nomads (the name that was given to those who crossed the border). Many nights I cried in my bed, as did many others. It is sad to be so far away, but I know I am here for the better. Back in my home village, there is very poor medicine; people lose their lives from simple things that can easily be cured. I’m going to become a physician. I am going to learn how to help all my friends and family back home.”

-Tom Shani


Photo by Shmuel ThalerDinner with the 12th grade TCV students working on the Happiness Project with us began in the same way all introductory meals do: people glancing over their water glasses to analyze their new acquaintances, the awkward restlessness of hovering forks waiting for the “polite” moment to eat, and strained silence.

We danced in this uncomfortable tango, waiting for the ice to be broken, but not daring to tread upon it. Then, recognizing the discomfort of the situation, Tenzin, a member of the Dalai Lama Foundation, proposed a question to the TCV students. When Tenzin asked the girls at the table what they were interested in doing after graduation, the group elicited an all too familiar groan. They, like us, have undergone a year of being pestered and probed with questions regarding the future, and it became clear to us that the profound distaste for these questions is universal.

With that, the tension between us was broken. We conversed in universal teen-speak, we smiled universal smiles, we laughed universal laughs. Once we established our first connection, our similarities began to emerge and shine. The dialogue carried on in this way, reaching the peak of our newfound comfort when the girls asked me to sing an Enrique Inglesias song. But before their goads and prods could convince me to imitate the Latin pop-star, the TCV students were required to return to their dormitories.

Despite the abrupt end to our bonding session, we were able to make tremendous progress tearing down the divisions between our cultures in just one day. I can’t wait to see what else we can achieve in the rest of the time we spend here.

-Jonji Barber

Day Seven

Old Delhi — A Poem

Keep your arms and legs inside the cart at all times
Don’t make eye contact, don’t lose your passport
If someone bumps into you, check your pockets

Isolated inside the crowded shell of the Capital city
The dirty, exotic, rough,
And exhilarating streets of Old Delhi
Twist and snake tightly
Through shops and food stands
The alleys growing progressively smaller with every turn

The conflicting smells of different street goods
Waft eagerly through my nose
Already exhausted by the nasal overload
Of new experiences

I turn left, then right
Then come to stop at the Brass market
The looming figures of metal deities
Fill my optical frame
Forcing me to step back and take a breath
Trying to take in the magnitude of the spiritual giants

I see a miniature statue of Hanuman
400 rupees, barks the store owner
About 10 dollars
200, I report back, eyes fixed, stare steady
In this manor we haggle for a bit
I keep by eyes intense and focused
I get the Hanuman for 200

Photo by Sadanand Ward Mailliard

The sounds and smells of Old Delhi meet me
Like a wave as I step into the street
Playing dodge ball with the passing carts and cycles
Frantically avoiding the blurs of people
Packed into the alleyways

The crowded streets are alive
I feel the pulse beat heavily
Just below the pavement

As I emerge from the winding labyrinth
Passport still in possession
Wits still about me
I look back at the writhing mass of people
Growing smaller and smaller
I feel the pulse of Old Delhi
Fade from its crescendo
And with a long smooth exhale
I feel my our heart beat

Slow and return to normal
-John-Nuri Vissell

Day Six

My Experience of India

Photo by Shmuel ThalerI am Mercy Bisi Olatunji. Traveling to India has been a first time experience. This is the first time I am traveling out of Jos and out of Nigeria.

We have left our home in Jos, Nigeria on Tuesday 20th March 2007 and traveled by bus for almost 13 hours to Lagos. It was indeed a very hectic journey, but also one full of excitement. We spent the night at the ECWA Guest House in Lagos. The following morning we drove to the Murtala Mohamed International Airport in Ilceja, Lagos.

This was my first experience flying in a plane. I was so afraid of flying, having heard so much about plane crashes or air mishaps back home in Nigeria. As the plane increased acceleration and gathered further momentum my fear suddenly turned to joy and excitement as I watched through the window and beheld the great clouds. This actually brought me closer to myself and to my God. I also listened to the rich variety of Ethiopian music in the plane watched different videos.

We arrived Delhi International Airport in the morning of Thursday, from where we were taken straight to the YWCA Family Hostel at Ashoka road, New Delhi, India. We enjoyed a lot of Indian food and music as we awaited the arrival of the American students. The American students arrived on Friday afternoon. We had lunch together at the YWCA and then visited the American Embassy for an audience with Ambassador Mulford, the US Ambassador to India. He was such a frank, nice, sincere and attractive personality in the company of his very beautiful wife. He listened to and responded to a number of questions from us. I was also privileged to ask him a question on what makes him feel happy.

From the US Embassy we were all hosted by a very wonderful and nice Indian friend called Arif. He gave us a lot of food, drinks, and gifts. I met a lot of people of Arif’s house and I also took photographs with two of his beautiful daughters. I cherished this experience and will recall this for a very long time.

Today will be traveling by train to Dharamsala where we shall have an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

-Mercy Bisi Olatunji

Creative Capital

Photo by Shmuel ThalerWe’re leaving the U.S. embassy after a very interesting interview. Ambassador Mulford did his homework and was prepared for us. He was quick to make it clear if he disagreed with anything we said, which was good because it kept us on our feet.

Some of his ideas I found very interesting. One that rang true for me in particular was that creativity is a kind of energy that can be expended and recharged. Ambassador Mulford called it ‘capital’ and suggested that it is an essential quality for all public servants. As such, public servants should spend time out of office to recharge their creative capital; otherwise their ability to problem solve becomes limited and falls into a state of stagnation. I did have trouble with his ideas about the environment, as he spoke about challenges involving India’s reliance on coal, but I don’t believe the answers to our global energy crisis lie in non-renewable fuels. In the past, I might have let something like this cloud my overall impression of the ambassador, but I was successful in seeing past this and came out of the interview positive.

Later in the interview, I asked him what advice he had for those of us who were interested in public service. He recommended that we not specialize in political science and not go straight to Washington D.C. to get a permanent job there. This knocked me back a step, as I’d been thinking I might do just that. He advised that those of us who were interested in politics specialize in other areas and work in other fields, so that when the time came we’d have diverse experiences and possess the kind of perspective that is essential to any job in government.

The interview was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Ambassador Mulford was genuine and obviously cares about young people and what we plan to do with our lives after school. Given his vast amount of personal and professional experience, he was willing to talk about just about anything with some authority. I always feel good after meeting with a political leader who has these qualities, as it reaffirms my belief that positive change in the world is possible.

-Daniel Nanas

Arif’s Feast

Photo by Shmuel ThalerAfter our interview with Mulford we were graciously invited to a dinner at Arif’s house. Arif, a friend of Babaji’s, is a very succesful merchant, and he invited us to spend the evening with him in his carpet showroom. It was a truly magical experience to spend a nice meal in the presence of Babaji once again, and to experience Arif’s wonderful hospitality. Arif’s English was excellent, and he made it a warm and celebratory atmosphere with his staff and family taking very good care of us. After the meal he gave all the students gifts, India key-chains, which cemented the good feelings that were in the room.

-Mark Hansen

Day Five

Gujar Village

Photo by Shmuel ThalerToday we went to the Gujar Village. The village was extremely isolated from the rest of India, and therefore showed very little influence from the outside modern world. In fact, going to the village was perhaps the closest thing you could get to going back in time.

Once we arrived at the village, the people all showed us a warm welcome. I was impressed by their style of life. They lived a quiet, simple life free of most of the stress and chaos of our modern lives. They didn’t work long hours; they didn’t worry about a morning commute, or being late to an important business meeting. Everything seemed to move at exactly the speed it needed to; they had more free time, more time to relax, more time to be in the present moment.

They lived with virtually no electricity. The only power they needed came from several small solar panels that they used to charge their flashlights for the night-time. The houses were made out of a simple form of plaster made of mud and cow dung, and the roofs were made of tightly packed dried grass. We were invited into one of the houses by the villagers where it was much cooler than standing in the hot sun. Inside the atmosphere was warm and inviting. The whole house had a natural smell that soothed me and made me feel like a part of the Earth and ground.

Being in the village and seeing the beautiful simplicity of their day-to-day lives made me think about how ridiculous our lives can be. So much of our lives are spent trying to catch up with our technologically blooming society. I can see how it would be nice to escape the rush of my life and get back to the roots of what is really important: self-reflection. I have learned a lesson from the villagers: that it is important to simplify our lives so that we can really take a step back exist in a state of reflection, living for the present moment.

-John-Nuri Vissell

Too Little Time

Photo by Shmuel ThalerI never thought that I could get this close to so may people in such a short amount of time. Three days. These three days were all the so-called orphans needed to solidify themselves in my heart. Three days of jumping on me, running between my legs, and just being with me. And now we are gone, evaporated into the five a.m. mist just as we had appeared three days before.

So many of them asked if I would come back. Would they see me again? The best I could say was that I would come back if I could. I pride myself in thinking I am the most stable in my class when it comes to goodbyes but, I found myself chanting Jai Jai Ma under my breath from the moment I woke, until I got to the train station, frantically fighting back the ocean of tears welling up behind my eyes. One of the kids said that she wished that Prabha had not brought her classmates because it would be sad to see us go, but I think that it is worse for us because it is we who are doing the leaving.

But enough sadness, for we now take one more step towards the reason that brought us to India, the interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. With each rock of the train we move closer, closer, and further away.

-Jeremy Thweatt

Goodbye, For Now

Photo by Shmuel ThalerI have been told that when you stay at the Ashram, you are adopted by the children. Mom, Dad, I’m sorry, but you may just have to sign me over. Today is our last day at the Ashram, but I am not yet ready to leave this family.

As we prepare ourselves to leave, I notice how much the children are lamenting our departure as well.

“You leave tomorrow?” asks Parama, a small girl with large inquiring eyes. When I give a solemn nod, she pulls on my arm and exclaims, “No!”

As night approaches and with it comes the foreboding morning departure, we find ourselves soaking up the little time we have left with the kids. We play games, take pictures and bathe in the love that our relationships exude.

Parama, my Ashram companion, grabs my hand and skewers me with her eyes. “Jonji-bhai,” she starts, making sure she has my attention, “will you come back?” Pondering her question, I survey the scene around me. The girls are taking pictures with the youngest of children, Jeremy is being chased around the courtyard, Xander is teaching the kids to break-dance, and everyone else is engaged in a friendly but competitive game of basketball. My class is happy here. I am happy here. I look back down at Parama, whose unwavering stare is fixated upon me, awaiting my reply. “Of course,” I affirm. We smile together, content with this conclusion and join in on chasing Jeremy.

-Jonji Barber

Day Four

Ultimate Frisbee Destruction

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardWe were destroyed. I usually don’t play ultimate Frisbee, but I never considered that I was particularly bad at it. I was wrong. It was a six-on-six match that pitted Americans against Indians. It ended with a staggering loss for us. The final score: 12 to nothing. We never even got close to scoring. Although it was a friendly game, I can’t help but think that they really enjoyed destroying us. Yesterday we did the same thing to them in volleyball, so now the competition is tied one to one. Tomorrow, the sport is basketball and a winner will be decided, but I don’t really care who the winner is. I am simply glad that we get to compete with friends.

-Xander Crawford


Photo by Shmuel ThalerLaughter. That word was so strange to me two years ago. I hated that laughter even existed. Laughter was miles away from me and the fact that people loved to laugh made me angry. I stopped hanging around people just because they had laughed around me. But last year those dark days started to fade away. Laughter was slowly creeping into me. Now it seems that all I want to do is laugh. I’m glad I was open to it, because now that I’ve returned to the Ashram, I can see how loving and funny my home is. Since I have been here, Photo by Shmuel Thaler all I have done is laughed with my brothers and sisters. No matter where I sit, I am surrounded by kids. Again and again I make fun of them and we laugh together. My sisters and I call each other VIPs because everybody makes room for us, and if we ask for something, the other kids run off to get it. I have cherished every single moment of my stay with the kids and every moment that we have shared laughing.

-Prabha Sharan

Dancing Fiend

Photo by Shmuel Thaler

Today, our second day at the Sri Ram Ashram happened to be Babaji’s birthday. The day started out normally but after breakfast everyone broke into a birthday frenzy getting ready for their performances. We Mount Madonna students practiced “Jai Jai Ma” and “Seasons of Love” and were all very nervous about performing in front of a large crowd of Babaji’s friends. Especially since were already in awe of the talent of the students from the Ashram who would also be performing. I went from room to room finding people, scurrying around to get their costumes just right, or trying to put on that last bit of lipstick before running out the door. I was busy trying to find someone to tie my sari for me which I had bought a Photo by Sadanand Ward Mailliardcouple days earlier in New Delhi and was dying to wear. A kind woman who was very skilled at tying saris helped me out and her tie made it past Babaji’s very experienced eye. We performed our songs and quickly took our seats to watch the rest of the performance. Just when we thought that our time on the stage was over, Ranu, a college student at the orphanage, invited us up on stage to dance with the Indian students. A brave few ran up quickly and within a matter of seconds the two schools were performing together in what I think was a better dance then we could have ever hoped to choreograph. I myself was cutting a rug and had a great time. Hopefully that won’t be the last time that we dance together.

-Nina Castañon