My first impression of 11 year old Namgay was one of remarkable sadness. Dressed in the traditional red robe that monks wear, his tiny frame appeared younger than his years. Surrounded by the noisy pre-op room filled with patients and their families, he seemed nervous while he waited to be evaluated by the Surgicorps doctors. There was something magnetic about this little boy, and when I looked into his eyes I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I had somehow met him before. Knowing that he had been through so much pain and trauma in his short life, I stayed with him to ease his fears.
Namgay was severely burned as a toddler, after crawling into an open fire while his mother was outside milking the yak. It took two days, on foot, for his family to reach the hospital in Punaka, near his hometown. After 7 months of treatment, he was transferred to another hospital in India where he would spend the next year being treated for burns all over his body. Our team thought it was a miracle that he had even survived, given the nature of his wounds.
Namgay’s father entered the monastery to become a monk at the age of 5 and left when he was 17 to care for his aging parents. His father explained that years ago it was common for a family to have at least one male enter the monastery. He went on to say that times have changed and now it is a choice for a child to become a monk. Namgay entered school after returning from India but was teased relentlessly by the other children, making it too painful to continue there.
At 10 years old, Namgay made the choice to become a monk and has been living in a monastery for a year. His father says that now Namgay is happy and often prefers to stay at the monastery, even during break times when he can come home to visit. Namgay’s parents are overjoyed that their son will have the opportunity to learn, and grow, in an environment where others accept him with open arms.
Next year, Namgay will return to be seen again by our surgeons. We will wait, with anticipation, to see this young monk; one who will surely be a little taller, and a little wiser. His gentle nature and piercing eyes have left an indelible mark on all of us, one that will stay with us until we return to the Land of the Thunder Dragon in 2017 for our 11th mission trip. Until we meet again…