About Tong-Len USA
Tong-Len USA is a charitable non-profit organization dedicated to funding programs that serve the poor in north India. We are allied with Tong-Len Charitable Trust based in Dharamsala, India, the non-governmental organization that implements the programs we fund. Our other partner organization, Tong-Len UK, is a major fundraiser based in Scotland. All three partner organizations strive to help displaced communities in northern India achieve a secure and sustainable future by addressing the root causes of their poverty and ill-health through a range of education and health-based projects.
The people served by Tong-Len are internally displaced low-caste tribal people who were driven from their traditional homes in many parts of India due to environmental shifts, government policies, or for other reasons. They were compelled to drift around in the search for work, and they have ultimately settled in slums in the mountain region of Himachel Pradesh. Uneducated and lacking access to health care and education, this population is locked in a cycle of poverty. Through experience with an array of pilot projects, Tong-Len has developed a series of projects intended to help these people achieve a more stable, healthy, and sustainable existence.
Living conditions hazardous to health are the norm for the displaced communities. Most settlements lack clean water and any form of sanitation. Where water is available, a lack of understanding of health and hygiene issues leads many people to use dirty river water rather than undertake the walk to a more distant well. Soap and toothbrushes are unaffordable luxuries. There are no facilities for waste disposal, and the resultant garbage attracts stray dogs and vermin. During the winter months, temperatures can drop below freezing, and the heavy summer monsoon rains cause flooding, exacerbating all of the other problems. The basic form of shelter, consisting of make-shift tents of plastic draped over flimsy wooden supports, is unable to withstand these extreme climatic conditions.
The Indian government provides free initial medical consultations in their hospitals, but medical tests and treatment are too expensive for the very poor to afford. The average cost of a simple prescription is almost $2.00, way beyond the means of impoverished people. People often die as a consequence of being unable to afford essential treatment and surgery. Dental treatment is also expensive, and therefore not accessible. After several years of providing medical services in one particular slum, the Charand Khat, Tong-Len has gained a clear picture of which services are required by this population. Definite strategies have also been developed to promote these services, in the face of superstitions and misunderstandings.
In 2008, a partnership was developed between the Noon Rotary Club in Greenville, NC, the Rotary Club of Dharamsala, India, and Rotary International. A Rotary Matching Grant permitted Tong-Len to purchase a vehicle for a mobile clinic and provide for operating expenses and staff salaries for a year. Beginning in 2009, Tong-Len USA assumed full responsibility for providing the funds for the Tong-Len Mobile Clinic. As a consequence, Tong-Len is now able to offer service to seven slums throughout the region, providing critically needed medical services to 3000 people.
Three types of clinics are provided in each slum on a rotating schedule:
- Immunization Clinic: Extensive educational efforts are needed to overcome cultural resistance to immunizations, but these simple efforts help to eliminate the most easily prevented causes of death among the very young.
- Under-Five Clinic: Almost 100% of the small children in the slums suffer from malnutrition and a failure to thrive.
- General Clinic: Starting out a simple wound care clinic, the general clinic has expanded to provide general care to all ages, including pre-natal care, wound care, and chronic care.
More than three dozen displaced communities with a combined population of over 30,000 people have been identified throughout the region, so there is a desperate need to expand medical services to a broader population.
While Tong-Len's medical work is necessary to address the most critical needs of displaced people, their long-term sustainable well-being can only be achieved through educating the younger generation and providing vocational training to the adults.
In the summer of 2009, His Holiness the Dalai Lama provided funds from his Charitable Trust to initiate a pilot project that now feeds one nutritious meal a day to the smallest children in the Charand Khat. The project also enhances Tong-Len's ability to do outreach to these children, providing a venue for education and healthcare.
Education for all children, regardless of their circumstances, is a goal to which every society aspires. The United Nations has declared this to be one of its development goals, stipulating that by 2015 every child should have access to primary education. Tong-Len is committed to this goal and runs a wide array of educational programs in one of the homeless camps.
Child Education and Sponsorship
Under Tong-Len's Child Sponsorship program, scores of children are given the opportunity to attend one of the best local schools full-time where they can access a highly effective, accredited curriculum. Unlike many child sponsorship programs, all money raised in sponsorship goes directly to the support of the children concerned. Accommodation is provided in the Tong-Len hostels. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of the children are able to participate in this program.
Primary Tent School and Nursery Tent School
In the Tong-Len Tent School there are free elementary classes in Hindi, English and Math. For the under-five population, the nursery tent provides a focus for child development and educational play. Here children have the opportunity to learn the skills that they will need if they have the opportunity of full-time education.
Tong-Len organizes community information seminars, encouraging families to become aware of issues relating to public health, hygiene, and environmental management.
A pilot project provided training to a select group of adult participants in managing the sales of umbrellas. Tong-Len is studying other projects to offer training in skills such as sewing or basic manufacturing. This is the least developed area of our work.