Scal­ing plateaus

Teacher un­de­terred by work­ing far above sea level in Ti­bet

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By PALDEN NY­IMA in Tsongyi, Ti­bet palden_ny­ima@chi­nadaily.

Be­ing a kinder­garten teacher can be a real chal­lenge — es­pe­cially if your job in­volves work­ing at 5,000 me­ters above sea level, high on the Ti­betan plateau.

Tsongyi county, in the vast north­ern Changth­ang Grass­land, is lo­cated 800 km north­west of the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion’s cap­i­tal Lhasa.

The area is a haven for rare high­land species, such as the Ti­betan an­te­lope, wild yak, ar­gali, Ti­betan wild ass, Mon­go­lian gazelle, and black­necked crane.

But harsh liv­ing con­di­tions, a lack of ac­cess to ba­sic ameni­ties and tem­per­a­tures that rarely rise above freez­ing for more than 280 days a year make the county al­most un­bear­able for its hu­man res­i­dents.

Yet Jam­pal Thobthen, who grad­u­ated as a teacher from the Ti­bet Na­tion­al­i­ties Col­lege last year, still chose to work in Aru Shangchung Kinder­garten in the county’s Kartso town­ship.

The school, 150 km away from the county town, is sur­rounded by sweep­ing grass­land.

It caters for 12 chil­dren ages 4 to 7, two of whom have speech im­ped­i­ments and an­other who has dif­fi­culty walk­ing.

Jam­pal Thobthen en­cour­ages the lat­ter, a 6-year-old boy called Kon­chok Tashi, to prac­tice with a bal­ance board that im­proves his gait.

“It up­set me to see him fall­ing over all the time, so I learned on the in­ter­net how to help him with the bal­ance board,” the 24-year-old teacher said.

Since be­gin­ning the ex­er­cises, the boy’s bal­ance has ad­vanced to the point that he now falls far less often and can some­times even run.

Ev­ery day, Jam­pal Thobthen spends three hours in the morn­ing and two hours in the af­ter­noon, teach­ing the chil­dren un­der his care cour­ses of study rang­ing from lan­guage, com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, arts, sports and games to cog­ni­tion.

He not only plays the role of teacher, but also acts as the kinder­garten’s nurse and res­i­dent chef, pre­par­ing two nu­tri­tious meals for his stu­dents ev­ery day.

Many of the teach­ing ma­te­ri­als he uses were made by him, as were some of the toys — from masks to mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, in­clud­ing a toy shaped as tra­di­tional Ti­betan guitar and made of pa­per.

“There are very few tra­di­tional Ti­betan toys on the mar­ket, so I make most of them my­self,” he said. “The toys made in other places are pro­duced and de­signed ac­cord­ing to the needs of chil­dren in other places, Ti­betan kids on the grass­land needs to have toys which are closer to their way of life.”

Jam­pal Thobthen is proud of his work at the kinder­garten, even if it has been dif­fi­cult at times.

Mo­bile phone sig­nal is vir­tu­ally nonex­is­tent in the area, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to keep in con­tact with friends and fam­ily.

His for­mer girl­friend left him soon after he started work­ing in the re­mote school and he has lit­tle to oc­cupy him in his spare time, ex­cept chat­ting with the lo­cals.

“I have lost many con­ve­niences and op­por­tu­ni­ties since mov­ing here, but I feel proud that I can do some­thing for th­ese kids,” he said.

“It’s not easy to work here, but I am will­ing to work with them and I will keep work­ing here.”


Two stu­dents play their toys shaped as tra­di­tional Ti­betan gui­tars and made of pa­per by Jam­pal Thobthen.

Jam­pal Thobthen helps a phys­i­cally im­paired boy to walk on the bal­anc­ing board at the kinder­garten.

Tra­di­tional hand­i­crafts

for no­mads have been used as toys for stu­dents at Aru Shangchung Kinder­garten in Tsongyi county, the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

Stu­dents of the kinder­garten in their class­room.

Chil­dren play in the kinder­garten’s court­yard.

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