How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part One.

I’m back in the States. This trip, this effort to bring some relief to the people of Yushu, Qinghai, China, has been life-changing.

The other day, one day back, I was doing a boxing session when my trainer said, “Are you okay? You seem …lighter, in some other place, but also calmer.” It feels like a piece of me is still there.

Here are a few excerpts from emails I sent to funder, family, and friends along with videos and some slideshows.


Hello everyone…apologies for the mass email but internet connections are rare here in Kham and, in wanting to update you on the trip, it’s easier if I send out one note…

My fellow travelers and I are two days out of Yushu in a town called Ganzi. We’ve been driving for three days and, because the roads have been so bad (hardly possible to call them roads made worse by terrible rain and mud), it’s taking longer than we anticipated. But I’m learning that’s true about many aspects of life here in Tibet.

The land is startling beautiful…Sara Wheeler, writing in Terra Incognito, has another line I’ll steal; she says, the land has a beauty that is so striking as to be a wound.


Equally startling is the poverty, though. It’s such a powerful experience to connect with people for whom so little means so much.

Yesterday we stopped in a small town, about two hours from Kangding (one of the last large towns in Sichuan before crossing into Kham).

At breakfast, we met with Abu, a monk who’s been friends with Tamdin Wangdu for years. Tamdin, the founder of Tibetan Village Project, runs a number of projects in Tibet…the work we’re doing bringing tents and other supplies to Yushu, is just one aspect of TVP. Abu took us to see the orphanage run by his monastery. The 50 boys include 10 kids who lost their parents in the earthquake at Yushu.

[Here’s a slideshow I put together of images of the kids.]

The Orphanage -Large from Jerry Colonna on Vimeo.

Tamdin was stopping to take measurements for the boys’ clothes. It’s been a year since he could buy the kids clothes and they all need new things. We walked into the classroom  (a square of plastic sheeting held up by tree branches and surrounded by muddy puddles) and were greeted by the boys’ chanting of their morning lessons. They were precious in their happiness to see us. They got a break from lessons because visitors had come.

We spent time with the boys and spoke with the monks about what the boys needed and Tamdin realized that one of the two types of tents we’re bringing to Yushu would be perfect for a new classroom. The tents are 45 square meters (and like the other tents, the ones we’ll be distributing to the families) are fully insulated and can hold stoves for heating and solar lighting. We’re bringing about 30 of these tents to Yushu where they will be used for clinics and classrooms and other “businesses.”

We gathered for photos and we all laughed. I’d be shooting pictures of the kids all along and when we finished with the group shots, I showed the boys some of the pictures I took. They ended up crawling all over me and we laughed and I tossed a few in the air. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to have your heart broken with sadness, compassion and joy.

We spent the night in Daofu and, after dinner, walked through town (after watching our driver Tenpa beat Tamdin in pool). Early this morning we hit the road again and made it to the plateau about midday. The plateau looks like what you’d think of when you think Tibet…sweeping vistas, rolling hills, grasses as far as you can see, stupas, prayer flags, nomads and Yaks every where.

(Speaking of yaks… I have tried yak, yak butter, and yak yogurt. I’ll stick with the latter, thanks.)

As you can imagine, my companions and I are getting quite close. We pass the hours asking each other questions. I ask about Tibet and their lives and they ask about America.

(Of the seven of us, Tamdin and I live in America and one of the others has been to the US: Yeshe, a river guide when he’s not volunteering to drive trucks of supplies into Yushu, has rafted the Colorado through the Grand Canyon!)

This afternoon, I began telling them about all of the people who have supported this effort…from small donations to large…every dollar has meant so much. And not, as we all know, just because of the money. They were moved nearly to tears when I said that my friends really do care about what happens here and that we wanted the people here to know that.

So thank you all, thanks for listening to me (or reading me) jabber on about this for months now. Thanks for all the ways you’ve supported this effort and the people of Yushu.

I don’t know when I’ll have another strong connection to the internet or when I’ll be able to post pictures. But I’ll do my best. Rumor has it that the internet connection between Yushu and the rest of the world is up again. If it is, I’ll send a report from there.

We should begin distributing and assisting the setting up of tents in three days. The current plan is for us to stay there for several days to complete that work and then I will begin making my way home again on the 13th.

With love and enormous gratitude to all of you…Tashi Delek.


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  • Peter Cranstone

    This puts a whole new perspective around “not letting your wants get ahead of your needs”. We’ve become a nation of “instant gratification junkies” and have stopped living our lives. It’s no wonder your lighter – you shed pounds of unneeded “stuff”.

    • jerrycolonna

      Amen Peter. I can’t tell you much “unneeded” stuff I see around me all day these days.

  • panterosa,

    I think it is unnerving how natural disasters can put poor but working communities into poverty, and worse, so quickly. I realize that you probably traveled in China through many different economic zones, and that their descriptions of their situations differ from our descriptions of them. The notion of first and third world have been blending more in my mind. Living in NYC in 2010, I think those notions are ever more fluid than we’d like to believe.
    I do wish for a global network of local resources and personnel like peace corps/NGO’s etc to have a more forward thinking approach to situations, like the one in Tibet, which you went specifically to remedy with personal intention, which need fast mobilization. I don’t understand why we don’t have that yet. I think while it’s fantastic you went to help, and I’m sure the community won’t forget you, that it shows we are still a piecemeal operation in having a safety net for our whole earth population.

    But then this is our continued fascination with superheroes in cartoons – they sweep in and fix things.

    • jerrycolonna

      All great questions, panterosa.

      • panterosa,

        Having watched the Chilean miners being rescued after all that time, and so far things are ok, it makes me think that rescues and disaster relief are tied to strong community, passion, determination, and drive. Will=way. Imagine if the same effort went to the Tibetans after the quake.

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