I would like you to give my readers and me an overview of the Tibetan
Children's Village. Dr. Norbu, the Dalai Lama's brother, was insistent that
when I got to Dharmasala I would visit TCV. He is looking forward to my
report when I return to the States.
His Holiness' sister personally shouldered many of the responsibilities of looking after these children. Everything was in short supply from food to medicine to clothes-to everything. His Holiness' entourage took very good care of the children, and His Holiness visited the children very frequently. These children were then housed in the old Common House left over from the British period and isn't very far from where we stand today. The children were sleeping on the floor along with the adult members that were helping them. You would find twenty children living under one blanket on the floor. It was a very bleak and terrible situation, but it was a period of emergency.
We had help coming in from different parts of India and from abroad. We had volunteer teachers, nurses, doctors, and all different types of people that just offered assistance. His Holiness' sister unfortunately passed away not many years after she had started TCV. Her younger sister then shouldered the responsibility. The Tibetan's Children's Village assisted all the children that flooded into the village. We have today over 14,200 children in five residential schools.
Al: What are the locations?
Tashi: They cover a large part of India.
Al: I was in Kathmandu and visited the refugee camp in Paton. Is that part of the TCV?
Tashi: It could be a private school-a school run by Tibetans for Tibetan children. That is what I guess.
Al: So, TCV is basically in India. Where are the major funding sources from?
Tashi: We have a scholarship program and sponsors come from more than twenty-six different countries. Then for major projects different NGO's or individuals support us.
Al: Can you tell us something about what a day in
the life of a child would be like?
When they get up in the morning at 5:30, they wash up and then they do their chores around and then they have classes. By 7:00am, they have to be on the school premises for morning prayer followed by one-hour of studies. We have two different programs; we call it the summer program and the normal program. This time of the year is the summer program, which means school starts already after 7:00. One-hour period of study and then a break followed by another two-hour period of school. Then it is lunch break and then there is no school in the afternoon. In this way, the children get more time for cultural or other activities after the school period. About 4:00pm, we have tea and then we go back again on the grounds for games or whatever. By 6:00pm, they eat and by 6:30 they are ready for another one hour self study. By 9:00pm, lights should be off.
The housemother is always in the house with the children. If you were working on a fine sunny day, you would find even the very young children peeling potatoes. That is a sight to see, because that shows that they are a part of the family by sharing in the responsibilities. We do not want our children to grow up just being able to read and write. We want them to grow up a wholesome, responsible youth being able to take reins of their life whatever situation they are faced with. If young boys go off to college, they are not alien to kitchen utensils.
Al: At what age do they go to college?
Al: Are there many refugees still coming here from Tibet?
Tashi: In most cases, we have in a year an average of five hundred that come across the border. In most cases, children are accompanied by Tibetan traders between Nepal and Tibet. Sometimes, young boys have come on their own. They come in groups or with somebody who has a little knowledge about the route. In most cases, other Tibetans bring in children. Traveling between the two nations is very difficult. It is quite sad to listen to the stories of young children and how they escaped. It is a treacherous trip whatever the age. They start out not knowing whether they will survive and arrive in India safely. In addition, seeing some travelers die on route, it's very difficult. They come and have to endure all that difficulty.
Al: It's not just the transit from Tibet to India;
it's living in Tibet today that can be frightening. When I was in Tibet, I
was afraid to say anything to anyone because I didn't know who they really
were. I wasn't even sure about our Tibetan guides.
Tashi: Most children do not feel so comfortable at all or adjusted to peace or just being safe until they have had His Holiness' blessing. I feel that in all cases they are just waiting for an opportunity to have his blessing or just to see him speak. After that moment, all feel safe, and they just feel that they can now talk. Until then, everything around them seems suspicious. It is just living under that fear of being watched and followed that troubles them. So His Holiness' blessing is the opening to a new life for them.
Al: How does His Holiness maintain his presence in Tibet in such a closely controlled society? They can't even have pictures of him.
Tashi: They just keep him in their hearts. That is the safest, because one would never want to trust anybody. I think that is the only way to be safe and survive in Tibet by keeping his presence in your heart.
Al: Dr. Norbu is interested in perpetuating Tibetan
cultural and lifestyle. How can you keep religion, culture, and dance alive?
I'm troubled by the fact that Tibetans have two handicaps: one Chinese and
the other is the Internet, television, radio from the West. Society is going
to change. I'm trying to wrestle with what is the essential; you are not
going to save everything in Tibet the cultural things here even if you were
back in Tibet. What are the essentials to make you really Tibetan other than
something else and then how is that carried our here with the children,
because that is really the future.
And if we are not strong living in and if we do not build on our cultural values in our children, when we die, then the identity will die also. So that is why we want our children to live in a Tibetan environment, grow up as Tibetans, and leave TCV as Tibetans and carry the Tibetan identity with them. That is what we try to do. We give them more than the academic or general knowledge. We give them the ability to go out as literate young Tibetans and be able to live as Tibetans so that they can teach their children to live as Tibetans and grow up as Tibetans. That is what we try to do here.
Al: Tashi, you have provided me an excellent
overview of TCV and its mission; it is quite inspiring. I've been truly
Al: I'll call Dr. Norbu on his birthday. I know he will ask me if I got here. Thank you also for permission to see some of classrooms and student housing. I will put this interview and the photos on the Internet. Tashe Delek.
Tashi: I'm glad that I could talk to you. If it can help the Tibetan cause and the Tibetan Children's Villages, I'm glad. Tashe Delek.
Tenzine was once a student at the
TCV and now works for the Tibetan people in exile.
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