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May 04
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Munsel School – Surviving the Earthquake

Khenpo Gawang Teaching in Yushu via SKYPE

Khenpo Gawang Teaching in Yushu via SKYPE

It is Tuesday night at 11PM. Khenpo Gawang is in Memphis at the computer waiting for a Skype call from Yushu. This is the third week of giving dharma teaching to a group of villagers. Time goes by and no one comes online for the scheduled teachings. He is not worried since there had been electrical problems the night before.

Around midnight the phone rings with the news of the earthquake. “Half the people are dead in Yushu!” Khenpo starts calling every number he has collected. Nothing works except the Munsel School’s phone which just rings and rings.

Finally he reaches the Munsel Foundation’s vice-president, Lopon Tsewang. Yes, it is true. Everything has collapsed in a horrible earthquake but he can’t give any details.

Staying up all night calling and calling Khenpo finally gets through to the school’s house father, Ngawang Kunga. He can hear children crying loudly in the background.

“Two children are dead, two are in the hospital, and two are missing of the 35. All the rest have injuries.”

Ngawang broke down in tears several times as he told Khenpo Gawang the story of the earthquake.

“Tseptra and I were inside the dining room along with most of the kids having breakfast. Medkyi, our cook, was outside with a few children when the earthquake happened. There was a loud noise, the ground shook, and everything fell down. There was no time to run, no time to do anything.

Medkyi began to dig at the rubble with her hands. I saw a little light between two roof beams and was able to pull enough stuff away to crawl out. We both started digging. Tseptra was knocked out but when he came too he began digging from the inside and got out.

Munsel School Students

Munsel School Students

We started calling to the children and digging them out. We couldn’t see the kids under all the dirt and bricks but we could hear them screaming for help. As quickly as we could we found one after another and got them into the middle of the courtyard to safety. The children were crying and screaming in terror running here and there. My greatest fear was that the little ones we had found would be hurt while we were digging for the others.

People started yelling as they ran by the compound that the dam was going to break and to run for your life. We three ignored them and kept digging until we found the children. That was all we could do.”

Evening of Day One: Four of the Munsel School children died during the earthquke and one later in the hospital. The littlest girl, Ashe Motup, has been medivaced to a hospital in Qinghai Province near Xining with serious injuries. Leaving Tseptra and Medkyi in charge of the remaining children, Ngawang, unable to speak Chinese, has gone with her.

Day two: The children and staff are sleeping in the courtyard of the school in tents made of plastic they found. Tseptra and Medkyi have pulled out the bedding and clothing they can find to keep everyone warm. All the furniture and the kitchenware are smashed. The food is unusable filled with dirt and plaster. Everyone is cold, hungry, scared, and in shock.

Khenpo Gawang 2007 Visit

Khenpo Gawang 2007 Visit

The land line and telephone continue to work. Khenpo is calling all through each day reminding them that people are supporting them, praying for them, and ready to help when the time comes. Hearing his voice in the dusty broken shaking world gives the staff hope and strength.

Day Three: A village member from Nangchen City has come in a car to drive the five little kids along with four others to Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s monastery for last rites and a sky burial. It will take one day to get there.

Medkyi and Tseptra find a truck bed and pull it into the courtyard so the kids can sleep off the ground. Food is in short supply. They are able to get ramen noodles but not enough for everyone to get full. Tseptra goes out all day looking for where to get food and tents.

Day Four: Twelve kids are left in Yushu. The others have been moved back to the villages. Still looking for help – living on ramen noodles.

Day Five: For the first time Khenpo Gawang does not hear children crying in the background. The staff has been given relief blankets, more ramen noodles, some barley flour and tarps. The kids are warm, have full stomachs and the tarp is big enough to cover the truck bed. It is snowing.

Each day gets a little better for the people in the Munsel School courtyard. Now they have tents, a new cooking stove, plenty of wood, drinking water and a little stash of food.

In true Buddhist view, they have accepted the situation as “our karma” and are thankful only five kids died. Medkyi and Tseptra keep saying on the phone, “We are alive and we have food. Almost every family lost someone. Some places, no one walked out.”

Ashe Motup has returned from the hospital with her casts and gifts given to her at the hospital. She has lots of stories. Ngawang says that she was able to understand the doctors and tell him what they were saying. The months of study paid off in a way no one expected.

Our children are from villages high in the mountains of Eastern Kham, not far from Surmang as the vulture flies. In the last couple of days Khenpo has gotten calls from parents saying they still want their children in the Munsel School environment. In the three years since it started, they can see how much their children have learned.

Munsel School needs help to rebuild. We own the land but everything else is gone.

Please consider donating to the rebuilding fund:

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1 response to “ Munsel School – Surviving the Earthquake ”
  1. Linda V. Lewis
    Jun 1, 2010

    Has money come in as of this date, June 1st, to help rebuild Munsel School? I imagine this is the time to rebuild, summertime. Or are all the children now re-located? Please let us know the specifics of the situation and the best way to help. Thank you.–Linda

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