We walk into a dusty courtyard. Children’s voices from open windows of the buildings up the hill fill the air. We head toward a few older girls lingering outside the door of one of the buildings. We are told to mingle so I strike up a conversation with one of the shyer looking girls. She’s going into 12th grade and wants to join her sister who is in college in Bangalore to study accounting. People start to trickle through the door so we take that as a sign to head in. The room is large with colorful flags hung from the rafters. There is a projector and a white screen with six or seven smiling faces of Tibetan children. We take our seats and watch two presentations; one about the history of the Tibetan community in exile and the other about the Tibetan Children’s Village.
The Tibetan Children’s Village is not only a safe haven for Tibetan refugee children, it is a place of conservation and education. The children here are given a safe and healthy environment to grow up in, while being taught the skills required to successfully live on their own. Here, young refugees and orphans are given surrogate mothers to look after them, filling the roles that need to be filled for each child. But TCV has another important role; it is trying to conserve the Tibetan culture.
After the presentation, a young man comes to the front to share the story of his life before TCV. His father was an alcoholic. He says that the Chinese government has made alcohol and tobacco so cheap that it is now cheaper than food. As a result, many people have become alcoholics. His father eventually died from his habit, forcing his mother and him to beg on the streets. When he was four, his mother died of starvation. Then he was adopted by a woman who eventually brought him to TCV. At the end of his story he points at the children’s smiling faces on the screen. He says, “They are smiling but they are not happy. There is a great suffering that you cannot see behind the smiles”.
Although the children have been given new lives with more opportunities, they have still suffered immense loss. Some have not seen or spoken to their parents for over half of their lives. Others were born in India, and can only dream of seeing Tibet someday. All of them have lost a country, and a place to call home. While most of the world doesn’t understand how important these children are to the legacy of the Tibetan culture, I hope that today we proved to the TCV kids that we care and support them in their wishes for Tibet’s independence.
Today we visited the Tibetan Children’s Village above Dharamsala. The school is located below the vast and divinely sacred, Himalayan Mountain range. Upon our arrival, open, friendly, and kind students greeted us. After watching a short presentation we split into small groups to break the ice, and learn more about each other’s cultures.
I was in a group with a young Tibetan woman born in India, the student president and his older sister. The student president told us about how the Tibetan culture has been diluted by the influence of other cultures and the oppressive rule of the Chinese government. He told us that the school tries its best to preserve the culture by wearing traditional clothes and only speaking Tibetan on Wednesdays, and by teaching the language and ensuring that there are Tibetan books on the shelves of the library. He also explained that the first step to preserve the Tibetan culture is to influence these people into having pride in their lineage. In many cases, the absence of confidence has diminished their sense of identity and self worth.
Today I learned so much about the Tibetan culture and how crucial it is to preserve the values that Tibetans embody. The Chinese government is trying to eradicate a culture that teaches us about the values that make us human. The Tibetans have held strong to their beliefs and values during this time of great suffering. Today, the students at the Tibetan Children’s Village changed my life with their insight on preservation of culture, and unconditional strength amidst worst of circumstances.