This was the question posed to me by a friend over some Starbucks this evening after she told me she wasn't going to donate, and I felt like I was punched in the gut.
The full question/statement she posed went something like this (paraphrasing): "Aren't there more important issues in the world, like hunger, poverty, war, education, culture? How does this help?"
My response, through my dumbfoundedness, was that going to Kashmir is not exactly a dream vacation for many people (although it should be...Srinagar is apparently gorgeous!). I am also not going to pretend that I'm not going to a beautiful region within Jammu and Kashmir that is somewhat removed from the conflict between India and Pakistan, is predominantly Buddhist, in one of the lease dense areas in the world, in the Himalayas. A key point to make is also that Ladakh is NOT Kashmir...they are in the same state, but are very different regions with a different culture, different people, different EVERYTHING. It is important to recognize this before making any inferences and judgments.
At the same time, Ladakh's border is with China, which is also in dispute with India. SECMOL, the organization I am looking to volunteer for, had a recent scandal with a local government official in Ladakh that tried to sabotage the work they were doing, and cut them off from the outside world. It took the outcries of people from around the world that experienced first-hand what SECMOL was accomplishing. The actions of the prior volunteers caused the Prime Minister of India to remove official of his post.
To recount the significance, this is a peaceful, Buddhist village that runs on solar-electricity and bio-sustainable practices, that is trying to provide children from a remote and tense part of the world the opportunity to get a meaningful education and develop a significant culture. Since rice has been subsidized by the government, the staple agricultural industry, rice, has been effectively wiped out.
What that means, is that these are people that have very little income, poor education, governmental corruption, and the potential for war from either side of their state. Those are the problems she identified, right?
I don't have any grandiose images of negotiating border disputes between countries, nor am I looking to ride the coattails of idealists and travel to a foreign land just to shoot a hockey puck.
When I am with the Ladakhis in Phey, I will be a villager. I will be doing at least an hour of labor on the campus, whether it be farming in the greenhouse, or making sure the solar panels work. I'll also be helping the kids and residents learn English, the language of business and of the educated across the subcontinent (other than Hindi and English, there are 17 official languages in India and over 1,650 dialects). I will be teaching them how to ice skate, as well as teaching the ones that can skate how to play hockey (or improve their skills).
As stated in the mission of my program, the goal is to spread happiness and good karma. If I can achieve this, and continue for year to come to achieve the goal of impacting the lives of people I meet, using the foundation and values of ice hockey as my language, I am confident that as a whole, we can all slowly change the world. If I reach 5 people or 5 million people, the pleasure I will take in other people's happiness will be worthwhile.
The important part is trying.
The state of happiness, love, and compassion will change the world. And this starts with every idealist working together to achieve this and share it, since we can't rely on the ignorant, the cynics, or the skeptics.
Let's prove them wrong!