[Wednesday 5 October] We awoke to a warm, sunny day though the mists still veiled the mountains above and the valleys below. The first stop for the day was the Tibetan Transit School near Lower Dharamsala.
The Transit School houses and educates young Tibetans, aged between 18 and 30, who have arrived from Tibet. As the Director of the school showed the delegation around the campus, we dropped into a number of classes, which aim to give the students employable skills by the time they graduate. Students are enrolled for up to five years. Classes we saw included computer training, tailoring, and art.
The MPs then met 12 students, all of whom had fled from Tibet within the past few months. The students introduced themselves and explained why they had decided to take the huge risk to flee Tibet. There were a number of reasons given, such as to receive a better education, to see the Dalai Lama and to learn more about Tibetan culture and language, however there was one common theme, which was to escape the oppression inflicted by the Chinese regime. Several of the students had family members or friends who had been arrested, so they had decided to flee to avoid a similar fate. One student had escaped with his pregnant wife, arriving just a month ago.
Riki Hyde-Chambers (Chairman of Tibet Society) explained to the students the purpose of the MPs visit and Simon Hughes recounted the MPs’ audience with the Dalai Lama. Both the MPs and students were then invited to ask questions to each other. Though initially nervous, the students gained confidence and explained in further detail the repression they faced on a daily basis in Tibet. Half the students came from nomadic backgrounds and told the MPs how the Chinese authorities were placing restrictions on herding and how the traditional way of life is under threat from government resettlement programmes. The students were particularly keen to emphasise that Chinese government propaganda should not be believed and asked how the situation was perceived internationally.
After tea, the presentation of khatags and a group photo, the delegation departed for the nearby Reception Centre, which receives newly arrived Tibetans who have made the perilous journey from Tibet. Unfortunately for us, the new arrivals had been granted a last-minute audience with the Dalai Lama, so had left just before we arrived. (The Dalai Lama meets all new Tibetan refugees.) Nonetheless, the delegation toured the new Centre, which opened in February 2011 in Lower Dharamsala replacing the the old Centre in Mcleod Ganj.
On entering one of the female dormitories, one young Tibetan woman was present. She stood up and we immediately noticed she was heavily pregnant and we realised it was the wife of the student we had just met at the Transit School. Having already met the Dalai Lama she had remained behind. She greeted us warmly and showed us her dormitory. She then talked about the reason’s why she and her husband had escaped (essentially to allow their baby to grow up in a free society). Her story was heart-breaking and many tears were shed. Being seven months pregnant she is unable to enter school, so she is worried about her and her baby’s future. Tibet Society will be monitoring her situation and encouraging the exiled government to help with this unique case.
The next destination was the Norbulingka Institute, which was named after the Dalai Lama’s Summer Palace in Lhasa and set up to preserve Tibetan culture by educating, training and employing Tibetans in traditional artistic and literary practices.
The Institute’s Secretary, Mr Dolkar Kyab, showed the group around the beautiful grounds, courtyards, workshops and the main temple. We were allowed into workshops and met the students who were learning thangka painting, wood carving and decorating, screen printing, metalwork and sculpting. Mr Kyab then hosted a lunch in the Institute’s cafe. (If you are in Dharamsala the Institute is definitely worth a visit).
Dolkar Kyab, himself, is fascinating. As well as the Institute’s Secretary, he was elected this year to parliament. He is also a former political prisoner, having been imprisoned for three years in 1994 for distributing leaflets on the teachings of the Dalai Lama. Once released he escaped into exile.
The group then paid a quick visit to Dolma Ling Nunnery, run by Rinchen Khando, a former Kalon (Minister) in the exiled government. Dolma Ling was the first nunnery to provide a higher educations for Tibetan nuns from all Buddhist traditions.
Currently, there are over 200 nuns fully engaged in study, practice, nunnery work, and self-sufficiency projects. Ms Khando then had tea with the MPs and explained how nuns had historically not received the same education as their male colleagues. However the current Dalai Lama had decreed that all monks and nuns should receive the same level of education, so Dolma Ling is providing nuns with a full education.
It was then back up the hill to Mcleod Ganj and a meeting with representatives of NGOs based in Dharamsala and several government organisations. After brief introductions the representatives and MPs had the opportunity to interact one-on-one, allowing MPs to learn about the work of Tibetan NGOs and have in-depth discussions on issues of particular interest.
Both the reps and the MPs came away saying the session was very productive. The organisations represented included: Tibetan Women’s Association, Tibetan Youth Congress (both regional and international reps), Students for a Free Tibet (India), Gu Chu Sum, China Outreach, Tibetan Centre for Conflict Resolution, Kunphen, National Democratic Party of Tibet, plus the government’s Settlement Office and Environment Desk.
The day ended with an informal dinner at Restaurant McLlo with some of the representatives and government officials.
Links of interest:
Norbulingka Institute: http://www.norbulingka.org/
Dolma Ling Nunnery: http://www.tnp.org/nuns/dolmaling
Tibetan Youth Congress http://tibetanyouthcongress.org/
Tibetan Women’s Association http://tibetanwomen.org/
Students for a Free Tibet (India) http://sftindia.org/
Gu Chu Sum http://9103.org
National Democratic Party of Tibet http://ndp4tibet.org/
(Apologies for the delay in getting the blog updated – our internet access has been extremely limited. As we’ve been working on the visit during the day and evening it has meant we’ve had to rely on hotel systems, which both in Dharamsala and Delhi have been unreliable at best! Hopefully the rest of the blog will be up soon!)