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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."

Last foreign NGO in Tibet forced out, assets seized

October 23, 2017

Note: This article is an excerpt from a longer statement by Braille Without Borders directors on their website. 

Braille Without Borders, October 20, 2017 - The year 2017 was and is a very turbulent year for our Tibet project. Through some publications in the press you may have heard that last summer, we had to leave Tibet on the third day of August, and that the Braille Without Borders (BWB) preparatory school as well as the vocational training farm, was endangered of being closed.

We had expected that the agreement with our local counterpart (which is needed to work in China) would not be extended. For a few years now, we have been the only active foreign organization in Tibet. And it was only a matter of time before we had to hand-over our projects to the local government. However we had hoped to get a sufficient amount of time for this transfer. After all, it affects four projects with more than 200 students and trainees.

So what happened?

Since December 2016, we tried to return to Tibet to work on a proper handover. However, our counterpart was seemingly not in a hurry to provide a required letter of invitation. Without such a letter it is not possible to apply for a Visa and without a visa it would not be possible to get the additionally required ‘Tibet Entry Permit’. Only three weeks before the contract expired, we finally got our travel permits.

Once in Tibet, the president and staff of our counterpart the Tibet Disabled Persons Federation (TDPF) were avoiding us. However, because we had travelled many thousands of kilometres, we insisted on an official meeting. We wanted to make sure that a hand over was done properly and that the future of our students and colleagues would look promising. While waiting for a first meeting which took many days, we enjoyed being together with our highly motivated colleagues, blind students and graduates. Especially the first generation of students, who we have raised and now are around their thirties, spent a lot of time with us. 

We were given the impression that, with or without us, the projects would continue in the interest of the blind in Tibet. But little did we know what our counterpart had in mind. A few days after we returned to our school in Lhasa, a staff member of the Tibet Disabled Persons Federation handed us an agreement that we were supposed to sign. This contract was not a pledge that the government would take-over the school and farm. On the contrary, this agreement stated the following:

•The preparatory schooland the vocational training farm were going to be closed;

•Our Tibetan partner (TDPF) would decide what to do with the assets, furniture, vehicles and buildings (that BWB paid for);

• The students were to be transferred to ‘special schools’;

• The copyright of everything we have produced over the past 19 years, pictures, videos, books would be co-owned by TDPF;

• and we were not allowed to publish anything about our experiences during our entire stay in Tibet ( so the period covering 1998 to 2017).

Above these paragraphs it was written that this contract was ‘drafted in friendship’, after all, we had successfully worked together for 19 years!

German, Dutch and European diplomats, as well as the German Foreign Affairs Department have been and are still very active advocating for a continuation of training of blind in Tibet with the BWB methods and concepts. From around the world, we received letters from people who have supported our work for many years. They all had the same questions: "Why?" "Why would the authorities do this?"

Although the Chinese Government has always praised BWB as a showcase project, and even though other disability organizations elsewhere in China have adopted our self-integration methods, now everything was going to be over? Just like that? Nobody would profit from a closure of these projects. We never got an answer on the question ‘why?” We are however grateful for all the years we were able to spend with our colleagues and students on the Himalayan Plateau. 

For the full statement by BWB directors, see http://www.braillewithoutborders.org/ENGLISH/PDF/BWB_QB_3_2017.pdf

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