First Trip to Manjushree Tibetan Orphanage High in Himalayas

Tawang, India. Waking up my first morning in Manjushree, I hear the children already up and practicing their spirituality, chanting in Tibetan. Their soft voices can be heard chanting across the mountainside.

IMG_6507A little girl from the Manjushree Orphanage off to Delhi for an operation.
It was successful. Photo: Stewardship Report.

With our helicopter fogged in, we drove – over nine mountains. The cancelled 45-minute helicopter ride over the mountains was a two-day adventure by Tata jeep. The journey was not unlike being on an amusement park ride – for two days. What an incredible odyssey, passing tea plantations and rice paddies – all a deep, vibrant green.

We passed the border with Bhutan and overlooked its majestic mountains. Yaks stared at us passively as we continued ever higher towards India’s Se La Pass – 14,000 feet up (Mt. Fuji, by comparison, is 12,000).

IMG_5547The guys. The author joked he wanted a red sweater as well, and three boys
immediately offered their own; ‘Others before self.’ Photo: Stewardship Report.

IMG_5563Like Shangri La, Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India, formerly Tibet and
in India on the border of China adjacent to Bhutan, juts from the cliffs.
Photo: Stewardship Report.

Indian troops protect the Tibetan people on the Chinese border of Occupied Tibet – 20,000 of them. As we drove ever higher yesterday, we passed army convey after army convoy, army base after army base, and army check point after army checkpoint. No photographs allowed.

IMG_5497The author in front of the main academic building he played
a small role in building. 
Photo: Stewardship Report.

Out of breath. When I climb the steps – five flights – of my Roosevelt Island subway station, I feel out of breath. That is how I feel when I walk to breakfast my first day. I feel like I am gasping for air like a fish out of water. Indeed, as New Yorker in the Himalayan Mountains, I am.

IMG_6221The enormously fulfilled author with kids. Photo: Stewardship Report.

What grounds me here is the children. Smiling, innocent, hungry for knowledge, they are the same as kids around the world. But there are a few differences. Noticeably, these kids seem to be both more intelligent and more compassionate than any children I have ever met.

I am here with our dear friend, Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura. She discovered this home and its founder, Lama Thupten Phuntsok, eleven years ago when he was a young monk and the home was a wooden shack. Since then, she has been the driving force of a million dollar academic building designed pro bono by the premier Tibetan architect. Dormitories, dining halls, prayer rooms and guest residences have followed.

IMG_6171The uniform is gray slacks, blue shirt, red sweater and gold jacket.
Photo: Stewardship Report.

Today, there are 220 orphaned or destitute children here.

IMG_5896Campus on a mountainside, 8,000 feet up. Photo: Stewardship Report.

The academic building is the most impressive feature of the campus, followed by the building that contains the prayer hall, dining hall, and guest rooms. We toured the academic building and it is a sight to be seen. Truly impressive. Designed by Tibet’s ranking architect, it was built to be earthquake-proof and last a long, long time. Indeed, it resembles a Japanese castle to some extent, perhaps reflecting the architect’s appreciation of Dr. Kazuko, its primary patron.

The science and physics labs are currently empty as funds are not yet in place to hire senior high school teachers where these facilities would be used. The children attend the local Indian government school after passing though Manjushree’s junior high level. The library is particularly impressive, stacked with Tibetan theological works, but lacks enough books in English for broadening the students’ horizons. We need to figure out how to get them engaging English books that will make the difference for these students.

IMG_5830A very sweet little girl. Each child has or needs a sponsor for only $36 per month.
Photo: Stewardship Report.

It is indeed a rush to touch the plaque that lists the nine donors of this four-story, million dollar facility. In addition to Dr. Kazuko and her Gaia Holistic Foundation is Orphans International Worldwide. My mom’s name was on a plaque of a home for mentally disadvantaged adults where she served as president of the Board. The name Luce is on buildings across the world, and the name Dudley prominent at Harvard. But this is the first semi-permanent structure with Orphans International. And there is so much more to do.

IMG_5612On the girls’ side of the Prayer Hall. Photo: Stewardship Report.

At Manjushree, the day begins at 5am, gets dark at about 6pm, and ends at about 9pm. To a New Yorker, this appears brutal. One simple trick: adjust your watch three hours. Then, you will be delighted to attend morning prayers at 8am, followed by a leisurely brunch at 11am, 4pm Continental lunch, enjoy the 9pm sunset, have a 10 pm Continental dinner, calling it a day around midnight. Much better!

IMG_6202Infectious smiles at Manjushree Orphanage. Photo: Stewardship Report.

Today, the kids have a cultural performance, and after three full days of sharing their morning prayers and classes, playing together with their dogs, watching them play soccer and conduct their outside morning assembly, it will be time to leave tomorrow.

IMG_5648Boys playing soccer in the field. Photo: Stewardship Report.

We still do not know if the cloud cover will break and the helicopter will arrive, or if we will need to journey back down the often-dirt road, over nine mountains, taking two days to reach the airport.

This institution was the dream, the blood, sweat and tears of Lama Thupten Phuntsok. At five years my junior, he is indeed a grounded and impressive man. I pledged to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala that I would continue Dr. Kazuko’s work in supporting Lama Thupten and this campus in Tawang. This will be an undertaking, but one I am committed to taking on.

IMG_5621Shoes and more shoes outside the Prayer Hall.
Photo: Stewardship Report.

To see how bright the future is for these children compared to what would await them if they were not enrolled here is sobering. To see graduates of Manjushree becoming nurses, doctors, teachers and government employees is impressive. To know that our work with these young lives could propel them into universities in Delhi, as well as America, Europe and Japan.

IMG_5470 2The author is proud that Orphans International Worldwide played a
small role in Dr. Kazuko’s grand vision. Photo: Stewardship Report.

IMG_5599Envisioned by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura, and designed by the
preeminent Tibetan architect in Delhi, the main academic building 

is built like a Japanese castle. Photo: Stewardship Report.

Manjushree orphanage is committed to Raising Young Global Leaders and the Gaia Holistic Foundation, Orphans International, and the J. Luce Foundation are committed to helping make that possible.

IMG_6409Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura and the author receiving the Buddhist Goddess of Wisdom,
Manjushree, from the orphanage’s founder,Lama Thupten Phuntsok.
Photo: Stewardship Report.

Series on/from Tibet in India, September 2019 in 20 Parts

  1. The Dalai Lama & Dr. Kazuko: A 47-Year Friendship
  2. Tibetan Children’s Village: Step One to Success
  3. India: Great Protector of the Tibetan People
  4. With Incredible Tibetan Orphans, Reflecting on How I Got Here
  5. Meet Japanese Grandmother of Tibetan Orphanage in India
  6. Lama Thupten Phuntsok: Tibetan Monk’s Life Outside Monastery 
  7. First Trip to Tibetan Orphanage High in Himalayas
  8. Dharamshala for Americans: His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Hometown
  9. Himalayas: From India/Pakistan to Bhutan & Nepal + Chinese Tibet
  10. Himalayas: Once Greater Tibet, Now Tragically Divided 
  11. Meet American Lobsang Sangay, President of Tibet
  12. Dr. Kazuko: Planning Nine Orphanages Globally Through Gaia
  13. Viewpoint: Whatever Faith Tradition, It’s All About Kindness
  14. Orphanage Burns in Indonesia; Matt Luce Pledges to Rebuild
  15. At Fifty, I Gave Away My Wealth; at Sixty, My Possessions
  16. Autumn Elegant Evening to Highlight Charity Efforts Around World
  17. New Look: Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness at Tenth Year
  18. Luce Leadership Experience Looks to Israel after Greece, Indonesia Trips
  19. Charities at Twenty Confer Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Kazuko
  20. New Look: Orphans International Website Refreshed for 20th Anniversary

Series On Pilgrimage: Following Footsteps of Buddha Across India in 15 Parts

  1. On Pilgrimage: Following the Footsteps of Buddha Across N.E. India
  2. Under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya Where the Prince Became The Buddha
  3. Photo Essay of Bodh Gaya, Where Buddha Became Enlightened
  4. Next Step of Indian Pilgrimage: Vultures’ Peak Where Buddha Preached
  5. Touching the Untouchable in a Rural Indian Village
  6. Rediscovering the World’s First Great University in Buddhist India
  7. Buddhism for Beginners: Insights from a Non-Buddhist
  8. Buddhism and the Universal Concept of Social Responsibility
  9. Help Me to Support Education & Orphan Care in Bihar, India
  10. Most-Photographed Man in the World Prepares to Retire
  11. Yoshimitsu Nagasaka Photo Exclusive: The Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya
  12. Varanasi: Holy City of Buddhists – As Well as Hindus, Jainists, Jews
  13. On the Banks of the Ganges: Reflections of a Journey in Time
  14. My Pilgrimage Complete: Life Continues Like a Wheel
  15. Pilgrimage Postscript: Pneumonia and Possible T.B.

See Also

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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

View all posts by Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce ( writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (, he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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