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Supporter blog: Siân Evans in Dharamsala

Emman, Kunsel, Andy and Sian
Kunsel and Emman meet their Pestalozzi host parents Siân and Andy for the first time in 2009.

Emman and Kunsel, host brothers
Emman and Kunsel - Pestalozzi host brothers.

Sian's 'Four Seasons' vases
'Four Seasons' vases, by coppersmith Siân Evans.

Arriving at Dharamsala
Siân's arrival in Dharamsala.

Norbulingka Institute
Beautiful view of the Norbulingka Institute.

Norbulingka temple
Norbulingka temple.

Repousse work
Siân visited many coppersmith workshops during her research visit to India.

Tenzin Kunsel's parents
Siân was able to meet her Pestalozzi host student Tenzin Kunsel's parents in Dharamsala.

Tenzin Kunsel with HH Dalai Lama
Tenzin Kunsel with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

Tenzin Kunsel's family meets HH the Dalai Lama
Tenzin Kunsel's family with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
20 November 2013

Tenzin Kunsel was a Pestalozzi student from 2008 to 2010. Last year, his Pestalozzi host parent, coppersmith Siân Evans, was fortunate enough to visit Dharamsala as part of her own studies, where she met Kunsel’s parents and learned more about his world.

About five years ago a friend of ours, who was working at Pestalozzi, approached me and asked if we would like to become a host family to two students – Emman (from Zambia) and Kunsel (a Tibetan from India). At the moment we agreed, it would have been impossible to predict the chain of events that would eventually lead to me visiting Dharamsala in the Himalayas and sharing lunch with Kunsel’s parents.

The idea behind setting up host families was to form friendship links. Whilst the young people who receive Pestalozzi scholarships learn a lot about the cultures of their peers, there is danger that they can come away with little idea about British life. By becoming a host family, we were able to invite our two students to our home and tell them about our lives. We also had the great pleasure of seeing them graduate from their IB courses at a celebration in the summer of 2010. In turn, we all gained valuable insights into the countries from which our students came. I am pleased to say that we grew very fond of them both and stayed in touch after they left Pestalozzi. Emman went on to study in America, while Kunsel studied at Jacobs University in Bremen until his graduation in 2013. He's now doing a Masters at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

The story of how I came to find myself in Northern India begins in a different place.

I am a coppersmith by trade – an unusual occupation that started when master craftsman Sam Fanaroff took me on as a student in the early 1990s. My placement was to turn into a proper apprenticeship, and after several years away from the forge raising my children, I returned to my craft in 2004 with a QEST scholarship. As the years have gone by I have aspired to hone and practice my craft, but as coppersmithing is a rarity in our country, I have had difficulty acquiring new knowledge. In 2011 I was fortunate enough to win a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, which funded research trips to France and Athens, then finally to India. I had been told of the extraordinary copperwork produced by the Tibetan community in Himachal Pradesh, and so when I found I had not used all my grant money for the European trip, I was able to add Dharamshala to my Indian itinerary.

To begin with I arranged to stay for two nights at Norling Guesthouse in the Norbulingka Institute – a centre dedicated to preserving traditional Tibetan culture and craftsmanship and founded in 1988 under the leadership of Dalai Lama. From the moment one arrives at the Institute one is greeted by exquisite decoration – from beautiful murals on walls to finely painted furniture. The metal workshops were of course what I had most hoped to see. Although quiet during my stay – partly because of the extensive snowfall of the previous fortnight and partly because of the school holidays – eight or so metalsmiths were still working on tiny devotional repoussé statues and were most forthcoming when I asked them about their work and their lives. Thanks to what I had learnt from Kunsel – and my subsequent membership of the Tibet Society, I felt able to have some very meaningful conversations with these men, about their lives and work.

After two days I moved on to stay in McLeod Ganj at Chonor House, a hotel also owned by Norbulingka Institute and similarly beautifully decorated. I had remembered that Kunsel’s home was nearby and so I emailed him in Germany to ask if his parents would like to meet me.

I am delighted to say that the following day Kunsel's parents called for me and we went together on the walk they do twice a day around Dalai Lama’s own temple.

They showed me how to rotate the prayer wheels outside, explained about the exiled Tibetan government and shared the story of their own lives, specifically about the circumstances which led to them leaving Tibet in 1961. They made me feel very welcome indeed. In return I was able to tell them about how very fond we were of their son and about his life in England during his time at Pestalozzi.

The following day I was invited back to their home for lunch and enjoyed momos whilst we shared stories about our various sons and daughters. As in every family home, there were pictures of all the children on the walls – all five of whom had achieved considerable academic success.

Being a refugee in India means that one cannot own property or a business and so the prospects that come with a good quality education cannot be underestimated.

All the children’s certificates were proudly framed – doctorates and masters amongst them, and I had to smile when I spotted a Hastings half-marathon medal added to the end of the row by Kunsel. The miles between us suddenly seemed very small at the sight of something with my hometown’s name on it – halfway up the Himalayas!

When it was time to go, I thanked them profusely, whereupon Sonam, Kunsel’s father, stood up and said some words in Tibetan, which his wife translated as a formal thank you for being family to his son for two years in England. He then put a white silk around my neck, took out his prayer beads and chanted quietly before touching his forehead on mine. He presented me with a box of incense, thanked me again and saw me to the door. I was so profoundly moved by this gesture I was almost shocked, and I left their home with an extraordinary sense of peace.

In true Buddhist style I realised another circle had been completed.

As a postscript to this meeting, which took place almost two years ago, I was delighted to learn that Kunsel's family was granted an audience with Dalai Lama this August. The first image here shows Kunsel receiving his blessing and the second shows Kunsel second from the left with his family. He is the youngest of five children, all of whom have achieved extraordinary things, but Kunsel is the only Pestalozzi graduate.

The Pestalozzi family reaches all around the world. Read about Helen's visit to the USA, the Hudsons in Nepal and Jenny's trip to Thailand.

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