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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 LHA with the help of his close friend Jampa Tsering, a newly arrived refugee from Amdo, Tibet. From a tiny room in a monastery in Dharamsala, India, their endeavors yielded immediate results, and attracted volunteers and supporters from around the world. By 2000, LHA’s Board of Directors, a small group of friends from New Orleans, Louisiana, had formed. One member secured 501c3 nonprofit status from the U.S. government; another developed LHA’s first written communications, while the rest of the team organized fundraisers which became annual events that continue today. In 2001, LHA moved from the monastery to a metal shed in Dharamsala, which housed an English language class, a medical supply room for a leprosy treatment program, a craft shop, and office with two computers donated by author Hunter S. Thompson! Jampa Tsering 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, the first of many groups to come. Since that time, Lha Charitable Trust has hosted annual educational/volunteer groups from Louisiana and others from countries around the globe: Tulane University undergrad, Tulane Med School, Tulane School of Social Work, Loyola University undergrad, Loyola’s Nursing Program, Louisiana State University Med School and Centenary College of Shreveport. In addition to these Louisiana universities, other volunteer and or/cultural exchange group trips from Louisiana were organized by individuals and organizations including the Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (LMHPCO) and Ochsner Medical Center. Other independent groups were organized for Mental Health Practitioners as well individuals interested in Yoga, Mindfulness, Buddhist studies and Himalayan Nature Retreats. 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 also to earn income by offering Tibetan language and cooking classes, yoga, massage, translating services to tourists and hosting groups. 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 through fundraising events.
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 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 building was fully paid for. The final 20% of the building's cost was raised by the Tibetan staff of Lha Charitable Trust. 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, lower floors were transformed into a commercial kitchen and dining hall/soup kitchen which for 10 years provided healthy lunches to 75 needy Tibetans each day, plus breakfast and lunch for volunteers and groups. The top two floors accommodated volunteers and groups whose donations for room and board became the lifeblood of the organization. Funds generated by the new building covered the rent cost for the downtown social service building, plus general maintenance and utilities for both buildings. Surplus funds are project-focused. Self sufficiency and sustainability were achieved with ownership of the new building! 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 than 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 9 full-time Tibetan staffers, serving both Tibetans and the local Himalayan people while coordinating international volunteers from more than 30 different countries. LHA and Lha Charitable Trust are partners: LHA provides consultations and support for new and ongoing programs/projects. 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. LHA maintains two Louisiana community centers, one in New Orleans and another in Lafayette. Both centers focus on fund raising while providing space for Buddhist lectures, seminars, films, mindfulness training, dharma recovery, meditation, yoga, music and other contemplative practices. As per the organization’s original mission, LHA continues to build and maintain a cross-cultural bridge – international volunteers who assist Tibetans in India discover the ancient wisdom and cultures of the Himalayas which they bring home and share with the wider world.
Message from President/Co-founder,
Returning to Dharamsala each year to live, work with, and learn from Tibetan people in their Himalayan community is a joyful, humbling experience. 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 believe our efforts with the Tibetan community has reduced suffering on both sides of the globe. It has also been fun. Cooperation is what makes it all possible. The community of friends that have grown around LHA is one of our biggest accomplishments. So many people have taken part, some small and some big, in the LHA story, and each one made LHA what it is now. Big, big thanks to all 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
For the full LHA Charitable Trust 20-Year report, click here.
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 on moving day! Owning this building
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 trade school,
a cafe, 30 water filtration systems, plus other environmental
health programs. They
coordinate international volunteers
from more than 30 countries. LHA Charitable Trust has
become the largest social service provider of it's kind
in the Tibetan refugee community.
LHA's President and Founder with His Holiness the Dalai Lama
during his 2013 visit to New Orleans, Louisiana.
LHA Board member Daniel Winkert meets with His Holiness
The Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India during LHA's 20-Year
Anniversary celebration on Nov. 2017
Hundreds of Tibetans of all ages attended LHA's 20 year anniversary celebration
which took place at the Tibetan Institute For Performing Arts.