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: