Click here to view the 2016 LHA Annual Report.
Humble Beginnings Almost 2 Decades Ago
In 1997, an American social worker who saw how far a dollar goes to help Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal, and how much he learned each time he was exposed to the resilient, fascinating Tibetan community, formed what became LHA in a tiny room in a monastery in Dharamsala, India. His endeavors yielded immediate results and attracted volunteers and supporters from around the world. By 2000, LHA’s Board of Directors had formed. One member led the successful effort for them to receive 501c3 nonprofit status from the U.S. government; another developed LHA’s first written communications, while the rest of the team organized fundraisers in New Orleans which became annual events that continue today. In 2001, LHA moved into a metal shed in Dharamsala which housed an English language class, a medical supply room for a leprosy treatment program, a craft shop, and an office with two computers. (The computers were donated by author Hunter S. Thompson!) It became clear that to truly serve Tibetans, LHA would need Tibetan partners. Jampa Tsering, a refugee from Amdo, began managing LHA's Dharamsala operations and enlisted help from his friends Kelsang, Pema, Yeshe and Ngawang.
Years of Expansion, Group Trips to India
In 2004 LHA moved to a location owned by the Tibetan Handicraft Co-Op., a group of more than 300 Tibetan families. LHA finally had space to expand, and using Tibetan-owned space meant that rent went directly to the Tibetan community. Just prior to this, in 2002, LHA partnered with the Tulane University School of Social Work to bring a group of MSW students to India to volunteer with LHA while learning about Tibetan culture. Documentarian Lee Rubin made a film, Journey to India, about this group, the first of many groups to come. Currently, student groups come from Tulane University, Loyola University and Louisiana State University Med School. In addition, other groups coming are now organized by individuals and organizations including the Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (LMHPCO) and Ochsner Medical Center of New Orleans. For information about organizing a group trip to India or joining one of the groups, see Group Trips.
Lha Charitable Trust
One of LHA's original goals was to create a self-sufficient, sustainable, Tibetan-run organization. In 2005 that happened – our Tibetan friends at LHA received official recognition from the Indian government as a registered non-profit, and our partner organization Lha Charitable Trust, was born. LHA's Tibetan staff had learned to run the organization and earn income by offering Tibetan language and cooking classes, yoga, massage, and translating services to tourists. They were able to cover the utilities, miscellaneous repairs and/or maintenance, and their 7 full-time salaries. The building's rent, $10K annually was still covered by LHA's American team.
Big Step: A Building in Dharamsala
In 2007, a newly-built 4-story building alongside the home and temple of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, perfect for LHA/Lha Charitable Trust, became available. For the first time, a direct request for donations went out to all our past supporters and volunteers. Amazingly, donations poured in and the 10 year mortgage was paid fully within 2 years! The original Handcraft Co-Op location was kept to house the service center offices, plus all the language and computer classrooms. In the new building, the lower floors were transformed into a commercial kitchen/dining hall that houses a soup kitchen which provides healthy lunches to 75 needy Tibetans each day and breakfast and lunch to volunteers and groups. The top two floors accommodate volunteers and groups whose donations for room and board have become the lifeblood of the organization. Funds generated from the new building are enough to cover the 10K rent of the social service building, the salaries for all 13 Tibetan staff members, plus general maintenance and utilities. Excess funds are project-focused. Self sufficiency and sustainability!
For a list of some of the other projects completed by LHA click Completed Projects in India.
New Orleans Welcomes the Dalai Lama!
In 2012-13, with the Tulane School of Social Work, LHA invited and hosted the Dalai Lama for his first ever visit to Louisiana. A full year of planning and preparations preceded the visit, which received support from the Louisiana senators, the Mayor of New Orleans, the Catholic Archbishop, and other political, religious, social service and business leaders throughout the state. A massive volunteer coordination effort was undertaken and projects related to the visit sprung up. During his visit, the Dalai Lama addressed more than 30,000 people at the Superdome, another 12,000 at the UNO Lakefront Arena, and more that 500 at a 3-day event in the New Orleans Conference Center. Thousands watched on TV while others listened on the radio. It was an honor for LHA to play a part in this incredible event. Click here for a transcript of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teachings in New Orleans.
Lha Charitable Trust now has 13 full-time Tibetan staffers, serves more than 250 people per day with a wide array of social services, and coordinates approximately 500 international volunteers from more than 40 different countries annually. LHA and Lha Charitable Trust remain close partners: LHA provides consultations and supports new and ongoing programs/projects, while our Tibetan friends of Lha Charitable Trust assess community needs and manage programs, starting new ones when necessary. In Louisiana, LHA hosts Tibetan scholars, organizes cultural events, fundraises and collects resources needed to support Projects in India. As per the organization’s original mission, LHA maintains a cross cultural bridge which paves the way for volunteers and resources to reach the Tibetan refugee community in India while at the same time giving Tibetan wisdom a passageway out of the Himalayas back to Louisiana and out to the world. Also in Louisiana, LHA maintains a community center in New Orleans which provides a space for Buddhist lectures, seminars, films, mindfulness training, meditation, yoga, music and other contemplative practices. As per the organization’s original mission, LHA continues to work alongside the Tibetan refugee community building a cross cultural bridge which provides volunteers a way to assist Tibetans and bring the ancient wisdom cultures of the Himalayas back to Louisiana and out to the world.
Message from President/Co-founder,
I return to Dharamsala for half of each year to live, work with, and learn from Tibetan people in their beautiful Himalayan community. Involvement with LHA has been a joyful, humbling experience filled with friends and many wonderful moments. Tibetans have endured tragedy yet remain peaceful, compassionate, and generous. Watching them work and accomplish so much with so little stress or drama is amazing. I sincerely believe our efforts on both sides of the globe has reduced some suffering. It has also been fun. Cooperation is what makes it all possible. The community of friends that have grown together around LHA is one of our biggest accomplishments. So many people have played a part, some small and some big, in the LHA story, and each one made LHA what it is now. Big, big thanks to all of you who contributed. Special thanks to Susan, who helped get LHA started, and to Jampa whose vision, dedication, and grounded personality set the foundation upon which LHA was built.
:0 ) Neil
Neil Guidry, Yeshe Phuntsok, Jampa
Tsering, Kelsang Phuntsok and Pema Namgyal (who
took the photo and is not pictured) were the start-up team.
Refugee Tibetan Ngawang Lodoe was determined to help
victims of leprosy he met in Dharamsala. LHA sponsored
his travel to and tuition for nursing school, stocked and
maintained his medical supply cabinet, and the afflicted
came to rely on his thorough, regular treatments.
Some members of LHA's Board of Directors visited
Dharamsala, India for the first time in 2001.
The Tibetan Women's Association with Tulane
of Social Work Dean Ron Marks (back row, center), LHA's
President and Founder, and the first Tulane student group.
The new building: teamwork was abundant on moving day!
The new building houses a soup kitchen and generates income
by housing volunteers and groups - this helps keep
Lha Charitable Trust self sufficient and sustainable.
The current full-time Tibetan staff of LHA Charitable Trust
now manages four websites, a language school, a computer
school, soup kitchen, fair trade shop, library, environmental and
health programs. They publish a monthly magazine and
coordinate more than 500 international volunteers each year.
LHA Charitable Trust has become the largest social service
provider of it's kind in the Tibetan refugee community .
LHA's President and Founder greeted the Dalai Lama
when he arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana.