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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Teaching Tibet to kids exiled & globalised

July 14, 2008

By Vandana Kalra
The Indian Express
Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tibet’s Generation Next attends 40-day workshop in Dharamshala to
understand where they come from and where they are going

Mcleodganj, July 12: His head covered with a hood, dressed in a
sweatshirt and branded jeans, 13-year-old Tenzin Sonam tucks his hands
inside the pocket to pull out his iPod. He runs his fingers down the
screen, shuffling between heavy metal hit Mettalica and Aerosmith’s hard
rock. “They are my favourite bands and I listen to them all day,” he
says. “The earphones are always on when I am at home in Massachusetts.”

Almost a world away, in the land of the little Lhasa in Himachal at
present, this Tibetan with a US passport isn’t so sure if he will be
able to tap to his choice of music as often. “I think we will be
listening to more traditional Tibetan compositions. I don’t like them as
much,” he states, turning for support from others in the the group of
20-odd, 7 to 20-year-olds who have assembled at the Tibetan Children’s
Village (TCV), an educational institute atop Mcleodganj.

They have come from across the world — US to Canada, Hong Kong, Japan
and France — to participate in a 40-day-long camp that will acquaint
them with Tibetan history, politics, culture and the lifestyle.

At a time when Tibet is a hot-button issue given the recent Chinese
crackdown and the Beijing Olympics next month, this unusual workshop is
more than summer school. For these children, Tibet’s exiled and
globalised Generation Next, it’s also an opportunity to tread the places
where their roots are meant to be.

“The aim is to make them more aware of where they come from,” says
Thupten Dorjee, general secretary of the institution, who conceptualised
the camp six years ago. Its coursework includes lessons in Tibetan folk
tales, history, language, and subjects like music, theatre and dance
that provide opportunity for greater interaction. “The fieldwork will
complement the theoretical lectures and vice versa,” chips in Tsewang
Youdon, coordinator for the camp.

Applications started pouring in almost a year ago as word spread.
Parents of Minnesota-based Tenzin Lhakey, 18, came to know about it
through friends; Ngawang Tsetan flew in from New York on the
recommendation of his aunt who is a staff member at TCV. “I thought it
will be fun, even though I wasn’t sure about the details when I came,”
he says, revealing how he was made to take vaccinations before boarding
the flight and his luggage included 12 rolls of toilet paper.

“I did not know if it would be available here...I expected sand all
around but found mountains instead,” adds the 12-year-old, adjusting the
traditional Tibetan Chuba over his jeans at the orientation ceremony
earlier this week. Topography apart, he’s more certain about his
timetable over the next month — beginning with a bell that will ring
sharp at 5.30 am.

After a bath and cleaning his sparsely furnished room that has a picture
of Dalai Lama and Tibetan thangkas on its walls, he will head for
breakfast and report for a prayer session at 8.30 am, followed by
day-long classes, only to end the day with dinner of Tibetan dishes and
turning in by 10 pm. “I’ll miss McDonald’s,” he says, adding, “I’ll ask
my aunt to get some for me.”

Eighteen-year-old Tenzin Palkyi shares his anxiety, as she recalls
persistent attempts to convince her parents in Minnesota to replace
Tibetan meals with American cuisine. “I don’t have any particular
fondness for Tibetan cuisine,” she notes, not very enthusiastic to learn
how to prepare the Gyako meal — comprising several Tibetan delicacies —
that Machen Nyima will be teaching during cookery lessons which are part
of the curriculum.

The disapproval, however, turns to eagerness when it comes to Tibetan
history and politics. “We discuss a lot of politics at home and I’ve
been following up on news related to Tibet, especially the protest
against the Olympics. There are lots of opinions and one needs be aware
of them,” says Palkyi, who stayed in Delhi till the age of six, when her
parents decided to move to the US, where her father works at the Tibetan
American foundation and her mother is a nurse.

“They believed that America would provide me access to better
educational facilities. We also have other family members settled
there,” she says as she introduces her cousin Pema Khando, also
participating in the camp. “Our parents decided that we should come
together and do something constructive here,” smiles the 14-year-old.
Her forte is dance, and she was looking forward to attending dance
lessons back home this summer. “I was selected in the auditions,” she
beams, adding, “but then the camp happened”. There are no regrets
though, as she notes that Tibetan dance lessons will help her perform
better onstage in Minnesota.

More than anything else, though, for camp coordinator Youdon, it’s the
interaction between the students that’s the high point of the course.
Field trips have been organised to areas like Bir, Sherabling, Suja and
Sherab Gatseling.

“This will also help children realise how blessed there are,” he says,
“they should be thankful for the luxuries that are available to them.”

Precisely the reason why Sithar Dolma accompanied her 11-year-old son,
Jigme Tsering, from New York. “Parents can make attempts to teach things
but surroundings play an important role in the conditioning,” she says.
And even though her son, like any 11-year-old child, seems slightly
nervous about the classes, he is confident he will make friends within
ten days who will attend his birthday party on July 17.

Phone numbers and emails have already been exchanged and the first bonds
of friendship are now being formed over momos and mock celebrations —
from Tibetan marriages to Losar that marks the Tibetan New Year. There
is knowledge being shared too, as Tsetan offers to improve 18-year-old
Tsering Yangchen’s Tibetan lingual skills. “I converse in the language
at home and even attend Tibetan weekend lessons,” he states proudly,
strumming his fingers on the Dramyin and carefully jotting notes on how
to play the instrument.

He is hopeful of meeting the Dalai Lama, to get him to speak about his
grandfather who often narrates tales about their meetings. “He knew him
personally and I want to know what does Dalai Lama remember about him,”
he states, with slight mischief added to the monk-like smile.

And as the youngest in the group, seven-year-old Tenzin Tsayang, from
Nepal, rattles the Tibetan national anthem, ‘Gyallu’, in the first day
of the music class, others join in, marking the beginning of this
journey. Back home, a fusion of hard rock and Dramyin may just take
place — and Gyako may find a tiny place on the dinner table more often.
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