In the streets of Dharamsala we found a new café, small and clean, full of happy cheerful volunteers: Rogpa Cafe. Actually a German girl had directed us to the shop, saying they sold fair trade items. I had noticed it before because it was one of the restaurants that looked cared for as we walked by.
We walked in and were greeted warmly by two people working behind the counter who were definitely British. I ordered some flapjacks and mint tea. I had always thought flapjacks were pancakes, but it turns out they are some delicious sweet British dessert.
We met Pema who cofounded Rogpa along with her husband. Pema explained a few things to us: Rogpa means helper in Tibetan. Rogpa offers free baby care for the Tibetan women while their mothers work. Pema and her husband started the foundation because they saw the problems the Tibetans were having adjusting in Dharamsala. Rogpa is not a charity. They wanted to do something to help the Tibetan community become self-sufficient and saw there was a need for free daycare. That’s why they focused there first.
A few days later we meet up with Pema at Rogpa’s headquarters. It is a pretty building painted a bright blue, a bit off the main path snuggled into the side of the mountain. Pema explained that ninety seven percent of the Tibetans in Dharamsala rent property. They do not feel like they can fit into Indian society. They can’t go home. There is not enough work in Dharamsala to support them. They are overeducated. They feel their future is bleak. It’s hard to grow without roots.
We met Yeshi, a man sitting behind the desk, weaving large pieces of thread into thick chunks of handmade paper: binding for journals. Yeshi hopes to help addicts by teaching them this trade and helping them to support themselves. The work is so fine and labor intensive that you cannot be on drugs to do it.
We came into a room of ladies and a head tailor actively involved in sewing on a few large, old-fashioned sewing machines. We were told they were making our order.
We had ordered a few makeup bags and some shoulder bags that said “peace” on them. There is something humbling about watching your items being made by an actual person. We as consumers are so separated from the making of the product, what it means, the effects our purchases have. Now here I was facing the lady making my makeup bag. “Thank you!” the lady said, with quick English. “Thank you,” the rest of the ladies and the head tailor, all nodded at us and smiled.
“You are welcome. Thank you.” I said. I suddenly realized that so many people’s hopes rode on this order, and how small decisions like where we purchase our gifts can make such meaningful changes in other peoples lives, people who live halfway across the globe.
Pema explained Rogpa is a micro lending program. They are not training the women to be employees, the women are being trained to start their own business. Pema also explained that the quality of the products are good (which I can attest to), because this is not a handout. Rogpa is here to help others become self-sufficient.
You can visit their website and Pema says so much more in our video below:
I heard about Rogpa Cafe and Shop from Brigitte von Bulow and thought how wonderful if i too could have such a shop at the Nalanda Monastery in Lavaur, France. The monastery promotes the study of the Mahayana tradition and of course is blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
I live in Singapore and am on my way to Nalanda Monastery in January 2012. There is plenty to do before i get there. So with blessing from a divine god i shall set foot there and enjoy a calm and peace.
Thank you Pema and i hope to hear from you one day.
Warmest regards and big love from Singapore
Hi Marianne. I had a great time meeting Pema & have forwarded your message to her. You may also visit her website directly at http://www.tibetrogpa.org and her contact info is there. Best wishes with the monastery in France! May you have a wonderful adventure. Blessings, Krista
Thank you for the encouragement and for forwarding my message to Pema. Am very excited over Lavaur and the monastery and working towards this dream. I have a 10year old dog and have to make arrangements for his transfer to Lavaur among a dozen other details.
Warmest regards and blessings from Singapore
I never want to go anywhere without my dog, too! Good luck, I wish the best for you. If you feel like it, would love to hear updates on how your dream is coming along.
Lived just down the road from this cafe for many months and often had a stopover there – either coming up or going down the hill. Think the work they do is fantastic
Thanks Karina, I agree. They are pretty amazing & such an inspiration!
i came across your blog and this post while researching for a trip im planning to dharamshala.
i have a few questions, what kind of volunteering can i do at rogpa while im there?
is it safe for a girl to travel and stay alone in dharamshala? any advise on where to stay and getting around would be great.
Hi Mallika, it’s been a while since we stayed in Dharamsala, but I did feel safe there and I did meet some German women wandering about on their own, so I believe you would be okay. We flew there & and took a taxi to our hotel but after that we did a lot of walking to get around. We stayed for several days at the Chonor House, which is in McLeodganj a short distance from Dharmasala. I got a Tibetan massage there through the hotel that was excellent (I still think about it!). Chonor was close to the Dalai Lama’s place. We also stayed at another Tibetan run hotel for a few days that was okay, but I cannot seem to recall the name. We were on a modest budget since we were traveling for so long, and only had the recommendations of our guide book, so I’m not sure if there are better or more luxurious options available. As I remember, Dharmasala was a bit louder & busier & we were looking for a quiet break so we enjoyed McLeodganj, but you may want to stay closer to Rogpa in Dharmasala. When we visited Rogpa there were volunteers working with the babies & in the cafe, but I am not sure what their needs would be now. You can get in touch with them at tibetrogpa.org or there is the Rogpa Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/43042693267/ I do hope you enjoy your trip! Would love to hear how it goes. Everyone at Rogpa is wonderful and we found the people of Dharamsala to be nice & friendly and we really enjoyed the fresh mountain air! Best wishes.
Thank you for your reply. Im looking up the rogpa site and figuring out what I can do for them. Unfortunately 15days is a long time fr me to stay there the way I see it right now.
Im on a wee budget trip as well so will be checking out the hotel names youv given me.
Thanks loads for your help. Love and luck.
Hi, I recently visited the cafe during a two week stay in dharamsala. It is lovely little cafe with a relaxing ambience and an amazing selection of well made and thoughtful products. I had taken fancy to a few products in the cafe as gifts but regretfully did not purchase then as I had thought to return with more time (yoga class was fast approaching). I returned on my day of departure to discover the cafe closed but still would like to purchase a few things. Is it possible to order online or a way to contact them and place a order for international shipping?
Hi, sorry the link to their website on my blog seems to be off & I will fix it soon. Here is the contact info from their webpage http://www.tibetrogpa.org. I’m sure they’d be happy to talk to you and hopefully you can order that way. Hope you had a nice time in India & glad you found such a lovely place!
Telephone: +91 9816 659 549