Lha, the Tibetan word, means divine. And to the Tibetan community in India, it is no less than a divine blessing. Branching out from the mother organization of Louisiana Himalaya Association(LHA) based in New Orleans, LHA Charitable Trust in Dharamshala turned out to be one of the biggest success stories of the Tibetans in exile. Started by a social work professor from New Orleans in collaboration with his Tibetan refugee friend, the organization’s main motive is to help the Tibetan community to survive in their new home while preserving their culture.
Neil Guidry and Jampa Tsering along with a handful of others started the organization in a tiny room in the Zilnon Kagyeling Nyingmapa Monastery, Dharamshala. Their first project was to teach the refugees Communicative English and with that in mind, they outsourced volunteers from Louisiana to Dharamshala. With the passing years, LHA expanded their work field and is now running many successful programs like Soup Kitchen, Contact Magazine, Clean Water, Clear Vision, Tibetan Smiles Dental Care, environmental initiatives, HIV/AIDS awareness, etc. Not only the Tibetan communities but now even the locals and other Himalayan communities are the beneficiaries of the trust.
The organization also provides a cultural exchange program with educational institutions all across the globe. The tradition of this exchange started in 2002 when Dean Ron Marks of the Tulane School of Social Work, where Neil Guidry was a professor as well, brought a group of graduate students to volunteer and gain a hands-on experience in non- profit, community social work. Since then this exchange has become a tradition in the organization where students from all across the globe pair up with a student of the Trust learning their lifestyle and familiarizing with the Tibetan culture and their life in exile. This experience is often so moving that many of these students who once visited for a cultural exchange program go on to volunteer in the organization to contribute to the community. As for the students of the trust, it plays a crucial role in their learning. Most of the students in the Trust are underprivileged Tibetan refugees who barely ever got the exposure. This program opens them to the outside world. It also benefits their language classes as often the only common language is English and they get a practical hand in it. By the end of their program, everyone finds a friend in each other.
Though, Lha’s exposure to the world does not limit to the cultural exchange. It is one of the leading NGOs to use social media to its benefit. Technology has made the world a global village making information accessible to everyone. Keeping that in mind, Lha uses an array of communication channels for various purposes. It has a website dedicated to preserving the Tibetan culture and heritage and another to the environment of Tibet. Information about their latest projects and their progress can be easily found on their main site. They have a news site, the Contact magazine, with international and national news as well as posts written by volunteers. There is a monthly publication with the same name as well that just completed its 20th anniversary of publication in 2017. In total, the organization has three bilingual websites, two English websites, six social media pages, one photo gallery, one Sound Cloud, two YouTube channels, one I-Book, two Twitter pages and six Facebook pages. In fact, LHA Charitable Trust won the second place in the category ‘Best Practices of Social Media Usage’ and second place in the NGO Challenge Award – Celebrating Digital Information Tools for Communities in 2014 and the first place award for the ‘Best Use of Website and Internet Tools’ in 2015 making it the first ever Tibetan organization to win the award.
This vast network social media is not only meant for information and awareness but is a necessity for communication with its wide distribution of volunteers across the globe. LHA currently is the largest volunteer host and coordination organization of the Tibetan community. Between the years 2003–2016 there were a total of 7,421 volunteers from 43 different countries. It promotes voluntarism, the opportunity to serve a social cause as a tourist. Based on the foothills of the Himalayas, Dharamshala is a must visit place for all the nature lovers. And organizations like LHA provide them an opportunity to be useful to the local communities in more than one way. It gives them a glimpse of the local lifestyle while they learn about and impact the lives of the Tibetan refugees. One might work here for a week or for several months; LHA has a job for both skilled and unskilled volunteers granting everyone to make contributions in their own way.
On November 11th, 2017, LHA Charitable Trust completed its journey of 20 years starting from a small room in a monastery to a multi-leveled educational and social service organization globally recognized for its work. In collaboration with thousands of volunteers and the local organizations, LHA has impacted not only the Tibetan community but other underprivileged local Himalayan communities as well.