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FEATURE: Foreign aid a big part of Tibetan exiles' lives

July 7, 2008

By Loa Iok-sin, Staff Reporter
The Taipei Times
July 6, 2008, Page 3

Life in exile may be difficult, but love from around the world has
made it a little easier for Tibetans.

For nearly half a century, foreign aid -- from medical assistance to
agricultural programs and shelter for children — has played an
important role in Tibetans' life in exile.

Taiwan has been just such a donor.

Walking into the Tso-Jeh Khangsar Hospital in the Tibetan settlement
in Bylakuppe, India, an ambulance is parked in the courtyard with the
words "Donated by the Love and Care Committee, Taiwan, through the
Deparment of Health, Central Tibetan Administration" written on it.

Phakmo Tso, the only full-time doctor at the hospital, stood in the
courtyard and greeted her guests — a delegation from the Taiwan-Tibet
Exchange Foundation (TTEF) -- giving each a white khata, a silk scarf
used by Tibetans to greet or show respect to someone. The delegation
then handed Tso a few boxes with small disposable medical supplies.

"We have been here several times and we always bring medical supplies
when we visit," said Own Su-jei (???), the foundation's deputy
secretary-general.

On his most recent visit last year, Own brought something much bigger
than medical supplies: He was there to inaugurate a new wing of the
hospital donated by the TTEF and the International Cooperation and
Development Fund, Taiwan (ICDF-Taiwan).

"Love from Taiwan: the general in-patient ward, eye operation
theatre, education hall and staff quarters are donated by ICDF-Taiwan
and Taiwan-Tibet Exchange Foundation," a stone plaque embedded in the
wall at the entrance of the new wing reads. "Furniture and equipment
donated by Dr Raffaella France Chionna and Italian friends."

"We've had medical and agricultural aid programs for [Tibetans in
exile] since 2004," Own said. "During the first two years, we
provided first aid, dentistry and pediatrics training to physicians
from [the southern Indian State of] Karnataka in first aid."

Own said they had picked Karnataka because the state counts five
Tibetan settlements -- including Bylakuppe — with approximately 40
percent of the exiled Tibetan population.

Later, the TTEF learned from the Tibetan government in-exile that it
wished to upgrade the hospital in Bylakuppe, but lacked money, Own said.

"So we asked ICDF for help and built the new wing with them," Own
said, adding that the project had cost 4.5 million Rupees (US$104,000).

Thanks to the new building and equipment, the hospital is now capable
of meeting the medical needs of more patients.

"In the past, we could at the most take 40 patients a morning. Now,
we can see 50 to 60 patients," Tso said, adding that more than 80 eye
surgeries have been carried in the new eye operation theater so far.

"Since the hospital's reputation has spread by word of mouth, we
usually have more Indian patients than Tibetans. Some of the patients
even came from afar," she said.

Away from Bylakuppe, more than 2,000 Tibetan children in Dharamsala
are able to have a home because of aid from around the world.

"We have 2,069 children living here," Phuntsok Namgyal, director of
the Tibetan Children's Village (TCV) in Dharamsala, said.

"Most of the children here are those who escaped from Tibet. Only a
few are from Tibetan families in nearby communities and settlements
who are enduring difficulties and cannot take care of their children," he said.

The TCV was founded one year after the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising
against Chinese rule to provide care for refugee children who were on
their own.

Even today, some Tibetan parents are unable to leave China, but want
their children to grow up in freedom and send their kids across the Himalayas.

Children in the 10th grade or younger stay in houses with two rooms
-- one for 12 boys and the other for 12 girls.

"These houses are like family homes," Phuntsok said. "Each house is
headed by TCV staff who act like their parents."

Aside from providing shelter for the children, the TCV also teaches
basic manners and etiquette to the children, such as brushing their
teeth everyday and always carrying handkerchiefs.

Once they reach 11th grade, the children are moved to hostels nearby,
Phuntsok said.

However, the TCV is not just a home for Tibetan children.

"We actually have schools on campus for the children," Phuntsok said.

In addition to the TCV in Dharamsala, four other TCVs can be found
across India and more branch institutions under the TCV have been
launched, including seven residential schools, six day schools, nine
daycare centers, four vocational training centers, three youth
hostels and three homes for the elderly.

The TCV even plans to build a college.

For all these, the director said, he is very thankful to all foreign
organizations and individuals who have offered their help.

"Whenever we have a new child, we find him or her a sponsor. All the
buildings are donated by foreign organizations," Phuntsok said,
standing in front of a house with a plaque that read: "Donated by US
Committee for Refugees." On the next house, a sign said: "Donated by
Dutch Aid to Tibetans."

"Our main library was donated by Taiwanese," Phuntsok said, pointing
to a large yellow building across a sports field.

"We received a US$100,000 donation from Taiwan to build the library,"
he said, adding that he did not know who the donor was as the money
was donated through the Tibet Religious Foundation of His Holiness
the Dalai Lama -- the Tibetan representative office in Taipei.

Asked about the donor, the Tibetan office's secretary-general, Sonam
Dorjee, declined to give any information as the donor has
specifically asked that his or her name be kept confidential.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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