The Journey to Dharamsala: Tibetan Children’s Village (part 2)
By WRIC Jing Zhang March 2010
In Dharamsala, one important question is whether the children of Tibetan exiles are able to receive a proper education and what their future prospects are. To find the answer to this question, Women’s Rights in China interviewed a Dharamsala nonprofit organization called Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV).
The car ride from the bustling town took twenty minutes. We saw several different-looking buildings. The prominent ones are grouped together on the side of a grassy mountain. Further up, you can see the snowy peak. It is difficult to describe how beautiful this is. The interior of the building is clean, well-built, and spacious, and the facilities are well-designed. The total effect is the opposite of the small, crowded houses in the street.
Currently there are about 2000 children, ranging from preschoolers to high schoolers, who receive education. Their uniforms are knit sweaters and navy blue slacks. The school is staffed by more than a hundred full-time teachers, not including part-time staff and volunteers, and each teacher must be comfortable teaching multiple subjects. Most of the children came from beyond the mountain, making an arduous journey with parents. When they were newly arrived, the youngest ones only knew how to speak Tibetan, while some of the older ones could speak a bit of Mandarin as well, but no English. But after attending the Children’s Village dual-language program (Tibetan and English) for a few years, nearly all the children can speak English. Chinese language, explains the principal, was going to be offered as well, but finding a Chinese teacher was difficult because many found the living situation too uncomfortable. To be fair, few people can do this job long-term.
A view from the school; a dormitory, shaped like a small braided basket and to the distance, a white protective screen. (Picture taken by WRIC Zhang Jing)
This is the Tibetan six syllable mantra written on a wall that children study under.
In June 1959, the Dalai Lama arrived in New Dheli, India to pay a visit to then-prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and resulting in the Indian government’s declared a “Tibetan Learning Conference”, and subsidizing the creation of boarding schools for Tibetan refugees, the newest of which is the West Indian Mussoorie branch school. In April 1960, Tibet’s government in exile also built its first school in Mussoorie. At the outset, it only boarded fifty children of different ages, but since it was the earliest example of a working educational system, it was a modest success.
The same year, another group of fifty one refugee children also came to Dharamsala. Many were infants. The Dalai Lama, only twenty at the time, brought them to his own mother and sister, who is named Tsering Dolma, to take care of. He also established the “Tibetan Refugee Children Nursery”, the precursor to the TCV, from which more than 1.5 thousand children have graduated.
These three programs have helped to educate numerous Tibetan children of different ages and learning abilities.
“Because of Tsering Dolman’s compassion, she accepted all of the children. She arranged for the older ones to study in Indian boarding schools. The younger ones and the infants stayed in Dharamsala with her, to be taken care of by her personally. To save gasoline, she refused to drive, so she would get up early and walk with them to school. In the afternoons, she would pick them up and they’d get back very late. Rain or shine, day after day, until she no longer had the strength to climb the mountain” (Li Hongjiang, “A Childhood Among Snowy Peaks”).
In 19664, after the older sister died, the Dalai Lama’s younger sister, Jetsun Pema, took on her responsibilities. Hers is a task that never gets easier or diminishes, and to see that, one needs only to look at how large the Children’s Village has become.
Dalai Lama’s sister, Tsering Dolma, who died years ago, is commemorated by a photo where she stands together with the children of the Village.
A large portion of refugee children have parents who are still in China’s Tibet, Sichuan, Gansu, etc. They have been sent on difficult journeys to India so that they can receive education from one of the centers of Tibetan and Buddhist thinking, and to transmit them to later generations. A boy named Jiaxi Dongzhu (Sinocized Spelling) who is 8 years old was sent here along with his sister. They came with some Tibetans who were fleeing to Nepal and India. After a hard journey, surviving on the goodwill and aid of local people, they finally arrived at Dharamsala and joined and the community of teachers and students at the Children’s Village. A woman named Li Xinghua, who had been living in New York before she moved to China in 2008, sponsored Dongzhu, sending forty US Dollars a month to Dharamsala to pay for his school fees. The Children’s Village is filled with well-intentioned people like her, but Li is the first Chinese person to volunteer, which is probably related to her long term work researching Tibetan exile and its hardships. When she discovered that I was going to Dharamsala, she took me aside and stuffed a box of chocolates into my hands to give to “her son”. Calling him that confused me at first. She had only one daughter, who was currently attending college, so I wondered who she meant. Only when she explained that Dongzhu was like a son to her, did I realize how much she cared about him.
These Tibetan children have all found homes with adoptive families. Like any other family, the children share responsibilities, the eldest having the greatest burden and taking care of the younger. They live in houses paid for and built by well-meaning people from different countries. China is not one of those countries.
Ms. Li’s son is called to the principal’s office, where nervously looks on at a group of strange Han Chinese,
This is a household established by a group of German people.
Historically, the Tibetan government in exile has frequently tried to pass educational laws. In 2004 it passed the “Basic Education Policy”, and consequently built an experimental school to as a test case. From 1972 to 2009 the committee on education has convened five times to amend the policy, adding measures to increase the amount of religious education.
All of the programs and facilities have Tibetan cultural transmission at their core. The basic classes taught at the school are Tibetan language, history, language arts, English language, Indian language, math, science, society, and computer skills. Elective Chinese classes will also be offered. Courses like History of Tibetan Religion, Tibetan Grammar, and Social Science are required. Math and science textbooks are available in Tibetan. The school has also offered clubs on flagraising, brain competitions, Tibetan festivals, debate, and a campus magazine. They also plan to build an arts and crafts center and introduce a program of study for traditional Tibetan medicine.
Today, in India, five Children’s villages have been built, 7 boarding schools, 6 day schools, 9 daycares, 4 occupational schools, 4 nurseries, and 3 nursing homes, all of which have given refugees and their children a measure of security. The old are taken care of and the young educated. And these are only the government sponsored facilities. There are still many vocational colleges and nunneries scattered across India, Nepal and Bhutan. The governments in these countries have allowed the nuns religious freedom, and subsidies prevent various temples from becoming, like Lhasa’s Jokhang temple, centers of tourism.
Despite the low budget and the poor offices of the government in exile, they have given tremendous support to the next generations of Tibetans, to help them feel more confident about the future.
This child, a bit of a troublemaker, is one of the gifted students.