Tagong Monastic Orphanage is a home and study center for 48 orphans and disadvantaged children from the Tagong area of Kham, Tibet. Sonam Dhargye (better known as Apo), an accomplished monk, teacher and respected figure of the Pa Lhakang monastery, started the school in 2006. After years of studying and subsequent completion of his three-year retreat, Apo decided to do something practical: care for and educate children. Apo received permission from his monastery to start a monastic school that is part of the monastery but operates independently. A local Tibetan offered to rent a home; two monks volunteered to become teachers; and an elderly man offered to become the cook. In that way, Apo began to care for the boys aged 6 years old to 16 years old. He also asked a nearby nunnery to look after young girls in need of similar support.
TVP’s Involvement: In May 2006, a group of TVP volun-tourists were on a mission trip to Kham and passed through Tagong. The group had brought school supplies and clothes, and became aware of the tremendous needs of this school. Since then, TVP has been returning there annually on Conscious Journeys with volunteers and has been working to improve living conditions. Among other projects, we hired carpenters to make beds; purchased warm blankets, clothes, pots and pans; prepared meals; cared for and played with the kids and built a strong bond. In addition, we built two greenhouses that provide fresh vegetables for the children and provides an ongoing stipend for the two teachers. Ultimately, the Tibetan family needed the rental home returned and the children had to move from one temporary home to the next, even living and studying in tents during Tibet’s freezing winter, as they simply did not have a place to go.
New Home in 2011: Ever since TVP began organizing trips to Tagong, we had a number of prospective donors who made promises to build or a buy a home for the school. In 2011, this dream became a reality. Jerry Colonna, who now serves on the TVP Board of Directors, and his friends contributed $75,000 toward purchasing a two-storey building with detached kitchen and courtyard. Children were able to move into this permanent home in 2011, before Tibet’s cold winter started. The school has been named the Tagong Thangka Center.
The goal of Tagong Monastic Orphanage is to provide general education for children with an emphasis on monastic curriculum, as most children intend to become monks at the monastery. However, for the purpose of sustainability, TVP and the monastery agreed to add vocational curriculum with an emphasis on Thangka Painting. A class of about 10 students will learn Thangka Painting and will showcase their paintings on the main floor of the school. About 300,000 tourists visit Tagong annually, and this exposure to tourists will benefit the students. The best student artists can hope to create a traveling Thangka exhibit in Chinese cities as a way of creating an appreciation for Tibetan art and culture and generating support to preserve it.