Retired and seeking a new challenge that would help less fortunate people in a secular setting, Don Morrison responded to a news article he read about volunteer work overseas. This led to his traveling to India to work with Cross-Cultural Solutions, an organization with venues for volunteer work around the world.
From the many locations offered, Morrison chose Dharamsala, a small town in extreme northern India. This community’s cultural diversity includes the Hindu majority, a Muslim minority, and the exiled Tibetan Buddhists led by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
Morrison’s adventure in service began on March 6, 2008, when he flew from Chicago to New Delhi.
Morrison will share from his experiences and show slides during a travelogue at the Blount County Public Library at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 5.
From New Delhi, the group traveled east to Dharamsala, in the foothills of the Himalayas, by auto caravan, arriving at midnight. The next morning the jet-lagged volunteers from America, England and Australia walked from their flats to the first meeting at the “home base,” marveling at the snow-capped mountains looming above them and the teeming bird life of the area.
That afternoon the volunteers were organized in pairs and taken to the “placements.” These assignments included teaching conversational English and women’s empowerment classes at a local youth center, working with addicts at a detox center, assisting at a daycare center, serving as teachers’ aids, helping the medical staffs at clinics and hospitals and others.
The volunteers worked mainly with the Hindu citizens of Dharamsala because the Tibetan Buddhist refugees receive help from many sources around the world. The CCS staff said that even small acts of kindness and sharing of the volunteers’ expertise were much appreciated by the local people. Morrison found this statement to be abundantly true.
Volunteers worked in the mornings until early afternoons. Then, after lunch at the home base, the organization invited local officials to share and explain their culture, and scheduled field trips for the volunteers. Because driving in India is an adventure under the best of circumstances, and public transportation in Dharamsala is sketchy, volunteers were driven to and from work by CCS drivers.
Don and his partner, Arlene, a legal assistant from San Francisco, were to teach conversational English. They found over 20 children in a 12-by-12-foot room with no desks, chairs or other learning aids except for pencils, small notebooks and a rollup chalkboard the size of a towel.
The students and instructors sat on the floor on mats and throw rugs. The volunteers were immediately impressed by the eagerness and warmth of the students, and the kids’ respect for them as their teachers. The young people ranged from age 4 to 22, so Arlene and Don saw the need to split the group for a part of each lesson. Arlene taught the younger group, mostly girls, and Don took the teenage boys.
The youngsters’ English comprehension was better than expected, but they needed help with pronunciation and sentence structure. They had never studied with native speakers of English. In another room at the youth center, two other CCS volunteers held women’s empowerment classes. At the end of the three-week experience in Dharamsala, the volunteers found it difficult to leave the young people. Most of the CCS volunteers in Dharamsala said they expect to join another volunteer trip in the future.
Don Morrison was born and raised in southern Indiana. In 1964 he took a teaching job in Seoul, Republic of Korea, at the American Military Dependents’ School. He worked there seven years, and spent summers doing various educational projects for Korean students and teachers.
He took time to return to Indiana University for a master’s degree where he met and married Suzanne Puryear, from Tennessee. They went back to Korea, and later to Germany, working in the same school system.
In 1973, they returned to Indiana where they taught in the public schools, owned and operated a farm and welcomed their daughter, Beth, to the family in 1976. In 1983, the Morrisons moved to Suzanne’s home state and settled in Maryville. Beth and her husband now work as architects in Charlotte, N.C.
Free and open to the public, the program is at the Blount County Public Library, located at 508 N. Cusick Street, Maryville.
For further information about other library programs or services, call the library at 865-982-0981 or visit the Web site at www.blountlibrary.org.