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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

A hope for peace after exile

October 22, 2007

York's Dolma Tenpa was the first woman in Tibet's exile government
York Daily Record, PA
10/21/2007

Oct 21, 2007 — Dolma Tenpa spoke slowly, pausing to make sure she had
the correct English.

Each detail of her life in Tibet emerged like a revelation. Before
telling the darkest parts, she pressed her right index finger into the
three freckles on her thimble-size nose.

Her flat voice sounded like two glass tubes tapping together and was
nearly lost under the sound of frothing milk that drifted from the
bookstore kitchen in early October.

As she finished, she pursed her lips. Tinted bifocals shaded her eyes.
Black but graying hair covered her head.

She understood her story - fleeing Tibet in 1959 after the Chinese
took control, tutoring the Dalai Lama's niece and nephews, becoming
the first woman in the Tibetan exile government, surviving in York
County for the past 30 years - was interesting. But, she said, it's
unimportant.

She leaned forward.

She was going to talk about what she wanted to talk about.

President Bush presented the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold
Medal on Wednesday. It was the first time a sitting U.S. president
appeared in public with His Holiness, flouting Chinese protests that
Tibet's spiritual and temporal leader represents an illegitimate claim
on their territory.

Her story was the past, she said.

The meeting between Bush and His Holiness is the future.

"This is a gift to the Tibetan people," Tenpa said. "I hope it lifts
people for a time to come."

Her lips turned up in the corners, and she smiled.

* * *

Where is Tibet and what is its situation? Click to enlarge the map and
learn more. (Daily Record / Sunday News)
She was born into a farming family. Her parents raised wheat and
barley on their farm, but her uncles were ministers in the Tibetan
government. One brother guarded the Dalai Lama. Another served as his
head chef.

The Chinese invaded in 1950, claiming Tibet was part of China, not a
sovereign nation. In March 1959, after eight years of CIA-backed
Tibetan resistance, the Chinese began bombarding Norbulingka, the
Dalai Lama's summer palace, where he was thought to be staying.

People fled for the Indian border. Tenpa was 20 at the time. As the
violence intensified, she and a friend decided to join the refugees
headed for the border where Tibet, India and Nepal meet.

"On top of the mountains, looking down into India, we saw nothing but
clouds," Tenpa said. "It was like looking down from an airplane.

"Everyone was so scared and worried. What happened to His Holiness?
Finally, they said, 'No, he came to India before the bombing
started.'"

While the Dalai Lama started the exile government in India, Tenpa
moved through the refugee communities looking for family members. Most
made it out, but not everyone.

In Tibet, she had taught children in private homes. She knew members
of the Dalai Lama's family, and before long, the Dalai Lama's brother
asked Tenpa to teach his two sons and daughter.

Tibet, a country about the size of the Rocky Mountain states, is high
in the Himalayan Mountains. The refugees, used to cold temperatures,
had trouble adjusting to the Indian climate.

Tenpa felt a pull to help more of her people. She left the Dalai
Lama's brother's house after about a year and took a job at a UNICEF
hospital that cared for 300 children.

In 1963, the Dalai Lama declared he wanted to bring others into the
exile government, making it a democracy that placed men and women on
equal footing. He knew Tenpa, then Dolma Yudon, through his brother.

He appointed her Junior Secretary for Home Affairs - making her the
first woman in the government and putting her in charge of helping
140,000 Tibetan refugees find homes in India.

In Tibet, the Dalai Lama lived a sequestered life, rarely meeting with
people outside his inner circle. That changed in India, Tenpa said. He
was busy, but available. And, she learned, he was funny.

"He always says, 'I'm not special, I'm like you,'" Tenpa said. "But he's not."

They worked with the Indian government to help refugees but, without
taxation power, they could only do so much. Officials weren't paid
regular salaries.

After four years, Tenpa was so exhausted she checked herself into an
American-run hospital.

"I was so sick and skinny, people said I had TB," Tenpa said.

Her recovery took more than a year.

She was considering a return to government work when she met Lobsang
Tenpa, her future husband. They married and had a son. They saw the
suffering around them and decided India was not the place to raise
their family.

A paper company in Maine offered Lobsang a three-year contract in the
fall of 1969. The Tenpas arrived in America on Dec. 24.

* * *

The new life was not easy.

Thirty Tibetan men emigrated with the Tenpas, but only four others
were married. Tenpa, who by then had her second child, was the only
mother. They lived in a company town and shared one telephone.

She didn't speak the language and knew few people who did.

"I came to India as a refugee more easily than I came to the United
States," Tenpa said.

The paper company released Tenpa's husband from his contract after two
years, and the family moved to Wrightsville when Lobsang found work in
a foundry.

Tenpa stayed home raising her son and daughter. She rarely left the
family's small apartment. In a world before international calling
cards, she felt isolated.

China opened Tibet to the outside world in 1979. Tenpa visited India
in 1980 and returned to her homeland a year later.

Everything was different.

"It was quite bad," Tenpa said. "There is no good family . . . no
family where people haven't been killed."

* * *

Tenpa became an American citizen in 1977 and moved to her current home
in Springettsbury Township in the early 1980s.

"Somebody once says, 'Why you come to York County?'

"'Why?' I said.

"'York County doesn't like outsiders,' he said.

"I said, 'It doesn't matter. We are all human beings. Human beings
have to learn to live together in a peaceful community.'"

She has friends here and a job as a personal-care nurse. It's home
now. If Tibet were granted autonomy tomorrow, Tenpa, now in her 60s,
wouldn't go back.

But she wants freedom for her homeland.

She traveled with a group of about 500 Tibetan-Americans who followed
the Dalai Lama in New York City and Washington, D.C., during a
two-week tour that ended Thursday. It felt good to be part of the
moving community, she said.

"We are like parents and kids seeing one another," she said. "You know?"

During a speech to the Tibetan expatriates, the Dalai Lama worked
through his life, starting with his childhood. He spoke of the need
for democracy and religious freedom around the world.

"He wants to retire, but he can't go," Tenpa said. "The Tibetan people
won't let him."

The solution, she said, is still out there.

>From Bush's speech

President George W. Bush presented the Dalai Lama with the
Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday. It marked the first time a
sitting U.S. president has appeared with the Dalai Lama, the temporal
and spiritual leader of Tibet, since he went into exile in 1959.

Here are excerpts from the president's speech:

"Americans cannot look to the plight of the religiously oppressed and
close our eyes or turn away. And that is why I will continue to urge
the leaders of China to welcome the Dalai Lama to China. They will
find this good man to be a man of peace and reconciliation.

"Throughout our history, we have stood proudly with those who offer a
message of hope and freedom to the world's downtrodden and oppressed.
This is why all of us are drawn to a noble and spiritual leader who
lives a world away. Today we honor him as a universal symbol of peace
and tolerance, a shepherd for the faithful and the keeper of the flame
for his people."

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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