This is my very first blog entry for ATMA SEVA and I hope to be a regular contributor as our evolving global non-profit organization continues to expand and grow through David and Nid’s leadership. I recently spoke with Tameer Barnslee, one of our other co-founders who has recently relocated back to Vancouver, Canada after spending several decades living in Asia. When we first started ATMA SEVA back in 2000 with the help and support of our local partners, Toy & Achaarn, Mor Boon, and many of our monk friends – we had no idea our work would draw in friends and supporters from Mexico, Connecticut, Arizona, Hong Kong, France, India, Venezuela, & Spain.
Our founding team is now spread all over the world, as are the ATMA SEVA Ambassadors who have all spent time working directly with the monastic & indigenous communities who we serve in Northern Thailand. Last year, our youngest Ambassador, Arya Sitra, age 18 months traveled with me to Seoul, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Paro, and Thimphu to meet with all of the fantastic people in the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan and Thailand who have made ATMA SEVA what it is today.
I was apprehensive at first about taking Arya with me to Thailand, worrying about what she would eat or whether she would adjust OK. Truth is SHE loved the food. Nid Peng was exceptionally great with Arya. If there are any travelers who are looking to do a unique program along with your children, toddlers, or infants – I highly recommend this experience. I had no worries with David looking after Arya as well, given his background as an EMT trained professional back in the United States.
All said and done, Arya came with us to Wat Doi Saket as well as The Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan – (She rode up the mountain on her dad’s back) so she got the best view from the top until we came back down from TakShang. She made best friend’s with our fantastic driver Sangay, who we wanted to take back to Arizona with us! We actually went to see an immigration lawyer, in the end, as soon as we got home but it would take year’s before he would be able to come.
Our team in Bhutan is also growing. Sonam Lhaden, a Master’s Graduate from Columbia University, is currently our woman on the ground! We LOVE and adore her, and hoping to send over some volunteers from Chiang Mai soon to help with some programming she has been working on in Thimpu. I have spoken with Sonam about potentially organizing a Women Investing in Women Summit in Bhutan that ATMA SEVA would, of course, be involved in once our frameworks are in place. More updates on this in the near future!
I recently met with Raghav Aggarwal and his father Dr. Rajeev Aggarwal, who had a custom trip designed last summer to meet with both the traditional healers we work with as well as a number of the high-monks at Wat Doi Saket. Raghav worked with David most recently in setting up monk chat’s at Phoenix Country Day School, which was very well received from his peers and teachers. Patrice Register, from PLR Services, is currently helping us with our US 501c3 set-up and once our registrations are complete, we will hopefully be able to apply for grants to help us in scaling our programming to other public and private schools around Arizona.
Another fantastic development on our end is a potential collaboration with the Asian Studies Department at Arizona State University, the largest State school in the United States, in developing a study abroad program for undergraduate students either in the ESL Program, Teacher’s College, those involved in Religious Studies, Thai, or other related disciplines such as International Relations, on Non-Profit Management. We have just started our discussions with Dr. Juliane Schober, Director of the Center for Asian Research and Professor of Religious Studies, so hopefully we’ll make some progress on next steps by the end of the Summer!
David Poppe, our highly-dedicated Programs Director, is currently working with Sunny Malik, our beloved web-marketing and development specialist from NETGAINS India, based in Chandigarh, for updating all of our upcoming programs and materials for University students around the globe interested in joining us in Chiang Mai or Bhutan in the near future.
I hope to return to Thailand with Arya Sitara, now age 2 ½ , who is now more curious than ever about the world around her. I will be speaking at the APEC Summit in Indonesia in September on Women & the World Economy and hope to include some of our team members from ATMA SEVA in Bali to open the dialogue of what the monastic community in countries such as the Royal Kingdom of Thailand or the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan can be doing to promote gender-equality while alleviating gender-bias? Could educating young-male monks and senior monks be a step forward in shedding light on women’s issues such as exploitation, abuse, or sex-trafficking?
As I think about the questions above, I revert to the very reason why ATMA SEVA was created and what it has evolved into today. The service-learning for each of our volunteers is meant to make us think about what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how we can continue to make this world a better place when we leave. Those who have joined our efforts can probably attest that they will find themselves unable to ever leave our growing community of “givers.” We hope that everyone learned valuable lessons and life experiences that they took with them on their personal and professional journeys but ultimately it is the smiles and soft-handshakes that shall bring you all back! A big thank you to each and everyone of you for making ATMA SEVA for what it is today. We are forever grateful for having you in our lives and look forward to sharing our journey forward.