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Tibetan Children's Villages | Why the Chinese are There
The Tibetan Uprising, in 1959, against a decade of occupation was crushed by the vast military resources of the People's Republic of China. Many thousands of Tibetans were killed in the fighting and the subsequent brutality of the Chinese crack down, which led to whole sections of the population, but especially monks and nuns, being starved and worked to death in concentration camps. As many as 1.2 million Tibetans died in the aftermath.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His government were forced to flee into exile in India, through high mountain passes, in deep snow and bitter wind. Many thousands of ordinary Tibetans also attempted to escape, as many as 80,000 eventually reaching India. Entire families left their homes with little more than the clothing on their backs. Many of the elderly, the weak, and the very young perished along the way.
Those who survived the ordeal arrived in India with nothing. They had escaped the persecution of the Chinese; but they had no shelter, nor any means of supporting themselves. The government of India gave them basic shelter and work, organising them into work gangs and sending them to build roads in the mountainous north of that country. This was a tough job, but the rugged Tibetans were up to the task of working hard at high altitude. The problem was that there was no one to care for the young children while the adults built roads.
Recognizing that the children were in dire need of help, His Holiness the Dalai Lama asked that a hospice be provided in Dharamsala, the newly acquired seat of the Tibetan Government in Exile. And on 17 May, 1960, children began to arrive at their new home, where they were cared for by members of His entourage under the guidance of His elder sister, Tsering Dolma Takla.
The immediate crisis of finding a home for the children had been solved. But the number of children arriving in Dharamsala quickly outpaced the abilities of the volunteer staff to cope; and overcrowding soon became a difficult problem. This was made all the more serious by the threat of disease, particularly respiratory ailments, such as tuberculosis. In the high, clear air of Tibet many of the diseases common at lower altitudes were unknown or extremely rare. But in the humid air of India Tibetan refugees were confronted by pathogens for which they had no natural defense.
As children continued to pour in from refugee camps as far away as Bhutan and Nepal, resources were stretched to the absolute breaking point. But the devoted staff, with generous help from the Indian government, eventually began to gain some ground, figuratively and literally, as new buildings were acquired and turned into group homes.
Sadly, Tsering Dolma Takla, the beloved 'Mother' of the first children to arrive, died in 1964. Her responsibilities were picked up by the Dalai Lama's younger sister, Jetsun Pema, who is now the president of an organisation of group homes, schools, vocational training centres, and youth centres, providing care for more than 14,000 children and young adults.
In the beginning, the group home, really little more than a barn, was given the name 'Nursery for Tibetan Refugee Children'. But over time, the original accommodations were expanded to include other buildings in Dharamsala; and in 1972, the organisation was formally incorporated as Tibetan Children's Village.
Growth and Expansionism
It soon became apparent that the needs of the children and the organisational demands of TCV were rapidly outgrowing the resources of the exile community in Dharamsala, even with the generous support of the Indian government. More houses and classrooms were being built, along with a corresponding increase in the demands on infrastructure. The Tibetan Children's Village was truly becoming a village in its own right.
The obvious solution was to look for a broader base of support. This meant establishing contact with international aid agencies and seeking the financial help of private donors. In 1972, TCV joined the Austrian-based SOS Kinderdorf International, the umbrella organisation of SOS Children's Villages, which are the legacy of Hermann Gmeiner, an Austrian World War II veteran who built the original village in Austria with his own modest resources and deep sense of compassion.
Meanwhile, back in China, the moods of the ruling elite continued to swing; and the people of Tibet continued to be swept back and forth at the mercy of changing and conflicting policies. The terror and destruction of the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976) was followed by a period of relative leniency, during which Chinese restrictions on travel were relaxed to some extent. Many parents took advantage of the opportunity to smuggle their children into India and the schools of the exile community, where it was felt they would be safe and free to grow up as Tibetans. They were fully conscious of the fact that this might well mean they would never see their children again. Between 1980 and 1985, the number of refugee children at TCV jumped from slightly more than 4,000 to roughly 8,000.
Parents still feel compelled to give up their children by the pervasive sense of hopelessness in Tibet, where educational opportunities for Tibetan children are extremely poor. There the school system is used to suppress the cultural identity of Tibetan children by teaching in Chinese and punishing children for breaking strict rules governing dress and behaviour which are intended to reinforce the process of sinicization. The drop-out rate from Tibetan schools is high, as a result; and the level of adult literacy is correspondingly low.
Many human rights organisations point to the return of hardline policies in Tibet, where the immigration of Chinese 'settlers' is accelerating: in many parts of Tibet, Chinese already far outnumber Tibetans. Many children become the victims of China's policy to reduce the Tibetan cultural identity to a curiosity, an historical irrelevancy. Tibet Justice Center1, an international group comprising mainly legal professionals, has published a report, titled A Generation in Peril: The Lives of Tibetan Children Under Chinese Rule, which documents some of the very serious concerns many people have about the welfare of Tibetan children.
This is the atmosphere of fear which causes so many Tibetan parents to pin their hopes for the futures of their children on the Tibetan Children's Village.
From the beginning, the philosophy of care in the Tibetan Children's Village homes has been to provide a loving, nurturing environment as close to that of a natural family as possible. Family groups, called Khimtsang, are cared for by foster parents, who raise the children as brothers and sisters. They share in the household chores; and the older childen are encouraged to help the younger ones.
The TCV schools have a dual responsibiltiy to their children. They must provide a complete modern education, to equip the students with the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st Century. But just as importantly they must teach the children to appreciate who they are and understand the rich cultural heritage of Tibet. It is crucially important that the children understand the history of their country, including its tragic recent past, in order to share the dreams of the Tibetan exile community as a whole, and one day take up their own role in a new free Tibet.
The school curriculum follows that of the Central Board of Secondary Education, New Delhi, which is the regional examining board for the state of India. TCV follows the Indian educational system, but tailors its program to suit the requirements of children from varied backgrounds, with varying needs. The emphasis is placed on the abilities of each child, with the objective of providing the best education in each individual case. Some eventually receive vocational training, to help provide them with the skills to find meaningful work, while those with the necessary accademic aptitude are helped to prepare for university. In accordance with the policy of the Government of India and UNESCO, Tibetan children are provided an education in Tibetan.
TCV schools have adopted the Montessori teaching methodology, which emphasizes the inner development of children, as opposed to the traditional approach - familiar to many of us - of cramming information into rows of little captives. The Montessori approach places children in a classroom environment which is designed to encourage their natural curiosity and innate desire to learn. TCV has taken this philosophy and adapted it to suit the specific needs of their children.
School doesn't end with childhood: in keeping with the philosophy of wholistic education, TCV operates a Mothers Training Centre, which offers a four month course covering everything from basic language skills to child psychology, health, and hygiene to such necessary basic skills as how to operate a gas stove.
All work and no play makes Jamyang a dull boy. And so the children of TCV are provided with a variety of opportunities to play and express themselves as individuals. Children are encouraged to take up a variety of sports, such as track and field, basketball, and football. They participate in competitions between villages and with schools across India, sometimes even travelling abroad. There are also opportunities for cultural exchanges across India and in foreign countries. In June, 2000, 15 children joined a choir in Modena, Italy, at the invitation of the famous tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, for a benefit performance, 'Pavarotti & Friends for Cambodia & Tibet'.
In a strange and ironic way, the oppression in Tibet has led to the growth of an environment uniquely rich in artistic expression, as the cream of Tibet's artists and artisans are concentrated in the exile communities. This is of great benefit to the children, who have the opportunity to see art and crafts of the very highest order being produced all around them. They are encouraged to take advantage of the chance to learn about the art and crafts of Tibet, and express themselves through skills learned from the very best in their particular fields.
The lion's share of the funding received by TCV comes from SOS Kinderdorf International and, to a lesser extent, other aid organisations. The Tibetan exile community's contribution is growing in proportion to the means available to its members. The goal is for TCV and, in a broader sense, the exile community to eventually become financially self-reliant; and, to that end, a number of ventures have been initiated, such as handicraft centres, to generate revenue.
A relatively small but significant percentage of funding comes from direct sponsorship by individuals. This benefits TCV, but it also provides a valuable opportunity for people around the world to establish a direct, personal relationship with a Tibetan child. They are able to exchange letters, and send small gifts. The sponsorship money is used for the benefit of all the children, so that there are no inequities created between children with sponsors and those without.
TCV is a registered charitable organisation; and its financial records are available for public scrutiny and subject to Indian revenue law.