Seven years ago Buddhist monk Lobsang Phuntsok, trained under the guidance
of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to share Tibetan Buddhism with the West, felt
called to leave a life as a spiritual teacher in the US and return to the region of
his birth to try and rescue children from suffering. Since then he has created a
unique community in the foothills of the Himalayas called Jhamtse Gatsal
(Tibetan for ‘The Garden of Love and Compassion’) which provides a permanent
home for 85 orphaned or abandoned children all learning to live compassionately.
Lobsang has wrestled his own unhappy childhood into an opportunity for these
‘uninvited guests of the universe’ to avoid a similar fate. Driven by a longing to
experience being part of a family, he has become for the children at Jhamtse
Gatsal something he never had – a father.
Perched on a remote mountaintop and surrounded by poverty, today the community is stretched beyond capacity and Lobsang faces the heartbreaking
task of saying no to all the requests he receives for new kids to join. During the
film he is confronted by the very real consequences of his decisions: a local
eleven-year-old boy who he turned down two years ago for a place in the
community commits suicide. In a nearby village another young boy’s father dies
suddenly and his family, unable to cope, plead with Lobsang to take him in.
Within the community he is challenged by concerns from staff that any further
expansion will compromise their ability to help the kids they already have.
Alongside Lobsang’s work, the film tells the story of Tashi Drolma, Jhamtse’s
newest arrival who recently lost her mother and was abandoned by her alcoholic
father. A wild and troubled five-year-old, Tashi Drolma is a big personality in a
small body. Despite (or because of) her challenging personality, she is thrillingly
Tashi struggles initially to find her place amongst 84 new siblings, but gradually
as Lobsang and the community work their magic we witness her transformation
from alienation and tantrums into someone capable of making her first real friend.
The atmosphere of love and compassion at Jhamtse Gatsal provides a backdrop
to the unfolding stories. Full of children who elsewhere might be classified as ‘at
risk’ after experiencing often unimaginable trauma in their short lives, this is the
kind of institution which in the West would be staffed by psychologists and social
workers relying on an arsenal of medication to keep their charges under control.
Here the staff have no formal training and children are simply invited to become
active members of a community, and participants in their own and each other’s
healing. The results are remarkable.
In a region where the only prospects are a life in the fields or breaking rocks
beside the road, the lucky few at Jhamtse are given a shot at something much
greater – the chance to become, in Lobsang’s words, “amazing human beings”.