On January 21, 2018, a team of seven (three teachers/staff and four students) from Crystal Mountain School left for Ladakh. After a night in Delhi on January 22, we got at Students Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) campus, where we spent the next two weeks learning and exchanging many skills and knowledges with students from Ladakh.
SECMOL is known for its alternative approach to education in Ladakh and for initiating key reforms in the education system in Ladakh, notably through the formation of village education committees (VECs) who were given the ownership of planning and developing programs, as well as through their teacher training program that has benefited over 700 teachers from the region so far. New textbooks which depict Ladakhi culture and environment were developed in simple English language for primary classes. They have also developed bilingual Ladakhi/English educational materials in the forms of story books and charts. Their results were very promising: the number of students who passed in the state matriculation exams increased to 50% from a time when 95% of students failed in the same examination.
SECMOL campus, an eco village where students, teachers, staff and volunteers live, work and learn together, was established in 1998. It is not a conventional school but a place to pursue practical, environmental, social and traditional knowledges, values and skills. There, students learn Ladakhi local knowledge and history, songs and dance alongside modern academic knowledge and the students manage, run and maintain the campus by themselves like a mini government which is indeed very inspiring.
There were three different groups of students. The foundation students are the ones who have finished class ten or some of them who are failed in government exam and are taught and guided for a year at SECMOL. The college students go to college in the Leh, capital of Ladakh, and participate in SECMOL life in the evening. The third groups who were right in their internship outside Ladakh when we were there are those who pursue two-year passive solar building course.
The buildings are all solar powered with excellent insulation. Shockingly, most of the buildings have a temperature of 15 degree Celsius when the outside temperature is -15 degree Celsius. The buildings are built with earth which act as a thermal heat bank and keep warm in winter whereas act as a natural cooler in the summer. The toilets are all compost toilets similar to the traditional toilets in Dolpo or Ladakh which do not require water. There are two chambers along with a pair of manure chambers at the base of each toilet. The chambers are used alternated each year which helps to compost the manure easily. It is then used for fertilizing fields and green houses. They have many greenhouses (most are semi-underground) which provide them a plenty of vegetables including in the winter. Some types of leafy green vegetables can even be grown in their greenhouse with a special insulation from the floor. The bathrooms and washing areas are so well managed under the greenhouse with the water supply drained three feet under the ground from the underground well and stored in the tank without freezing throughout the winter. The waste water from the kitchen and bathing block known as greywater runs to canals supplying water to willow, apricot and apples trees below the campus.
Along with these things we enjoyed learning a little bit of skating and ice-hockey every morning. We are planning to start ice-hockey at Crystal Mountain School in Dolpo through collaboration with and technical support from SECMOL.
In the afternoon and evening, CMS students participated in all aspect of SECMOL life such as one-on-one conversation classes where our students shared about Dolpo and learned many things about Ladakh and other parts of world in the fields of education, culture, lifestyle and environment and of course hear from the student; how they are enjoying and how blessed they are being in SECMOL campus. We also interacted in Dolpo and Ladakhi language and perfectly understood each others language. More than an educational exchange, this became a platform to meet and build a network between two young generations of the same culture but who are now living in two separate countries.
Outside SECMOL Campus, apart from visiting some famous monasteries and historical sites in Leh and Shey, we visited the ‘Ice Stupa’ and ice storage site which is a true game changer for Ladakh. The beauty of this Ice stupa is that during winter when no one needs water, water is brought to lower place using an underground pipe. Due to gravity, the water in the pipe rises in the lower altitude and is sprayed into -20 degree Celsius thus forming a small ice cone and ultimately a big ice block, similar to stupa shape which solves the problem of water scarcity in Ladakh for irrigation and drinking during the dry spring months. This year there are four ice stupa and grounded ice storage. Ultimately this initiative will help to green the vast desert of Ladakh.
After two weeks of an eye opening, very enlightening and a life changing experiences in SECMOL, we came back to Nepal with a big hope to replicate these wonderful ideas in Dolpo and share with other Himalayan communities so that we all can fight back the common challenges faced by the mountain people in the areas of education, cultural and environmental preservation, livelihood and politics, together.
We would really like to extend our deepest gratitude to Sonam Wanchuk leh, who kindly invited us for the visit and funded part of the trip. Despite his busy schedule, we got an opportunity to share with him for hours about Dolpo, and learn from his vast knowledge and expertise on education and livelihood in the high Himalaya. We are equally thankful to Becky leh, and Norgay leh, and the whole SECMOL family for the kind hospitality and everything else. We already miss SECMOL, the morning skating, the foods, the Ladakhi zhunglu and everything. We really wish to come again in the coming years, and hope someday some of you will make it to Dolpo!