Day 5 – Dinner with the Kalon Tripa

[Thursday 6 October] Today, the delegation met the recently inauguarated Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) Dr Lobsang Sangay, the first secular political leader democratically elected by Tibetans. Dr Sangay’s role has become even more important since the Dalai Lama decision to retire from politics earlier this year.

However, the meeting for the Kalon Tripa was not until the evening. At the beginning of the day we awoke to a beautiful clear sky with the mountains behind Dharamsala visible for the first time on the trip, the mist having lifted. The sun and blue sky made the visit to the Tibetan Childrens Village School (TCV) in Upper Dharamsala all the more timely, as it has stunning views both down the valley and to the peaks above.

The General Secretary of the school, Thubten Dorje, showed the delegation around the campus, which has a capacity for over 2,000 students, and includes a temple, a baby unit, kindergarden and classrooms for students up to the age of 18. There also dormitories for orphaned children and those who have left Tibet without their parents.

TCV runs residential and day schools in Tibetan refugee settlements, with currently over 16,000 students. Approximately 80% of the 500 students graduating from TCV schools each year go on to higher education. Much of the money raised to run TCV schools comes from donations and sponsorships from the public (for more info contact Tibet Relief Fund).

The MPs then paid a visit to the offices of the China Outreach programme, also known as Drewla. The programme started in 2006 and aims to educate mainland Chinese about the reality of the situation in Tibet using social network tools. Thubten, Drewla’s manager, explained the process to the MPs over tea.

After Drewla, a series of meetings with prominent Tibetans took place before, during and after lunch, at the Common Ground Cafe. The cafe itself was of great interest to the delegation, as it is part of a non-profit venture which aims to bring Chinese and Tibetans together via forums and social media to promote an understanding and share experiences between the two communities.

First the MPs met Kaydor Aukatsang, Advisor and Special Coordinator on Development for the Tibetan government in exile. Kaydor is a newly appointed advisor to the Kalon Tripa. One of Kaydor’s main areas of focus is education, as the Kalon Tripa has a long-term goal for the community to produce 10,000 Tibetan professionals within 20 years. The MPs recognised this tied in with the Dalai Lama’s request for scholarships for Tibetans, and pledged to look into the matter upon their return (Tibet Society will be assisting and monitoring this action). Other areas discussed included technolgy, think tanks and increasing the capacity and resources of the exiled government.

Next the MPs met Ama Adhe, an 83 year-old former political prisoner who has been in exile for 27 years. Ama Adhe recounted her story of how in the 1950s she had been sent to a labour camp with 300 other Tibetan women and experienced horrific conditions and starvation. By the end of her internment she was only one of the 300 left alive. She appealed to the MPs to pressure China to end the ongoing repression in Tibet.

The MPs also had the opportunity to speak in depth to three young Tibetan men; Zorgyi, who works as a researcher for International Campaign for Tibet (ICT); Jampa, who has just started work with Human Rights Watch and previously worked with ICT; and Tsewang, who was shot during the 2008 protests in Tibet but managed to evade capture and escaped into exile.

The final meeting before dinner with the Kalon Tripa was at the office of Gu Chu Sum, the ex-political prisoners association. Vice President Lukar Jam welcomed the MPs and explained the work of Gu Chu Sum, which was set up to look after the welfare of former political prisoners in exile and to campaign for those still in prison. The MPs were shown the facilities, which provide education and vocational training for ex-prisoners. The unit also includes a restaurant and a shop selling goods made by Gu Chu Sum members.

The evening programme began with a formal meeting with Kalon Tripa Dr Lobsang Sangay in the new Kashag (Cabinet) building. At the entrance to the Kashag, which officially opened in June, was a vintage car used to transport the Kalon Tripa. James Gray was particularly fascinated with the car. At parliament James had sat in the Kalon Tripa’s seat, so he felt it was only right that he should be allowed to take the car for a drive around Dharamsala. However, it was pointed out that if he did he would be mistaken for the Kalon Tripa’s chauffeur rather than the Kalon Tripa himself!

Fabian Hamilton, on behalf of the delegation, congratulated Dr Sangay on his election as Kalon Tripa, and as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet invited Dr Sangay to a meeting at Westminster during his planned visit to London in early December. There will also be requests submitted for the Kalon Tripa to meet David Cameron, Nick Clegg and William Hague. (Tibet Society will keep supporters informed of any possible public events with the Kalon Tripa.)

A discussion was held for an hour with Dr Sangay, which covered issues such as education (and the proposed scholarship scheme), long-term strategies to strengthen the exiled Tibetan community, negotiations with the Chinese government and the exiled government’s continued commitment to seeking genuine autonomy for Tibet.

Members of the Kashag then joined us for dinner, which was hosted by Dr Sangay. MPs were able to have one-on-one discussions with Kalons (Ministers) Dicki Chhoyang, responsible for the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR); Tsering Wangchuk, Department of Health; Dongchung Ngodup, Department of Security; plus Cabinet Secretary Migyur Dorjee (a former UK Representative of the Dalai Lama),  DIIR Secretary Thubetn Samphel and Kalon Tripa Lobsang Sangay.

The evening concluded with presentation of khatags and mementos. The Kalon Tripa presented each MP with a genuine sample of Tibetan currency, used prior to China’s invasion in 1950. Dr Sangay said this was a reminder that Tibet had been an independent country prior to the occupation. Fabian Hamilton, in return, presented Dr Sangay with a Portcullis clock (from the Houses of Parliament). Philippa Carrick, CEO of Tibet Society, presented Lobsang Sangay with a small gift and an information pack about the work of Tibet Society and some small gifts to distribute amongst the Kalons.

Fortunately, Dr Sangay’s chauffeur was present when we departed so James Gray was unable to take the Kalon Tripa’s car for a spin as he had hoped!

Links of interest:

Tibet Relief Fund – http://www.tibetrelieffund.co.uk
Tibetan Childrens Village – http://www.tcv.org.in
Common Grounds project – http://www.commongroundsproject.org
Gu Chu Sum – http://9103.org

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About tibetsociety

Founded in 1959, within weeks of the flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet following the uprising against China's occupation, Tibet Society became the world’s first ever Tibet support group. Today, Tibet Society continues to work for the freedom of the Tibetan people and their right to self-determination.
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