By Lori Howell, L.Ac., DAOM Fellow
When Mark Sobralske graduated from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, Chicago and went to Kathmandu to volunteer in an integrative medical clinic, he anticipated gaining acupuncture and herbal medicine experience, deepening his Buddhist meditation practice, and certainly finding a little adventure. Mark didn’t anticipate founding a Tibetan medicine school for youths in the remote Nepali mountainous region of Dolpo. When you mix medicine, mountains, and meditation, many things may happen: what is anticipated, and what is unanticipated.
After volunteering for three months at the Shechen Clinic and Hospice in Kathmandu, Mark accepted an invitation from his friend Lhakpa Dondrup to visit his “hometown” in the mountainous and remote region of Dolpo in western Nepal. Before embarking on the trip, Mark met with Amchi Namgyal Rinpoche, who told him of his improbable dream to create a Tibetan medicine school in Dho-tarap Valley. Dhotarap Valley lies in the heart of the Dolpo region of western Nepal, adjacent to the Tibetan border. Tibetan pastoralists have inhabited this valley since the 8th century. Here, everything, every breath, is infused with Tibetan Buddhist culture.
Fortunately, Mark brought a supply of acupuncture needles with him to Dolpo. Due to the scarcity of medical care in Dolpo, Mark continued his volunteer work by treating the local Dolpopas. In all of Dhotarap Valley there are only two amchis (Tibetan medical practitioners) to treat the entire population. People suffer and die needlessly from treatable disease due to this desperate lack of healthcare. Mark developed a deep love and understanding for the Dolpo people and their way of life. He carried Amchi Namgyal’s improbable dream of creating a Tibetan medicine school with him and once there, he saw the dream’s potential to manifest as reality.
Back in the States, with the support of the Dolpopas and Amchi Namgyal and local amchis from different areas of Dolpo, Mark embarked on an altogether different and difficult trek, navigating through the formalities and legalities of starting a non-profit. Himalaya Project was created on January 08, 2011 with the goal of providing Tibetan medical education and healthcare to under-served communities in the Trans-Himalayan region. The non-profit is headed by Sobralske and includes six other volunteer members. The volunteer board meets monthly and communicates regularly with advisors in Nepal.
Himalaya Project endeavors to educate and train 14 children from age 12-13 for a period of five years. Two children from each of the surrounding seven villages will be admitted with the goal that at the end of their education they will return to their village to provide healthcare. To this end, healthcare will be more accessible in the Dolpo region. The healthcare provided, Tibetan medicine, is that which is desired and understood by the population, allowing the region to remain self-sufficient without relying on expensive Western medication and foreign trained physicians.
Be a part of manifesting the dream. Donations are gratefully accepted to help provide room, board, and tuition for Dolpo’s future amchis. Fostering and preserving traditional Tibetan medicine in Dolpo directly benefits the people of the Dolpo region and benefits our world by keeping traditional medicine alive and relevant. For more information about Himalaya Project and how you can help, please visit: www.himalaya-project.org
Lori Howell, L.Ac., DAOM Fellow is a faculty member of PCOM, Chicago and maintains a private practice in Evanston, IL. She is a board member of Himalaya Project who believes that access to healthcare is a human right and traditional medicines should be valued and preserved.