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<-Back to WTN Archives Slumming it for the chance of a better future
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World Tibet Network News

Wednesday, January 17, 1996

2. Slumming it for the chance of a better future

The Scotsman, Edinburgh, Scotland
10 Jan 1996

India: A tiny slum school prepares eager Tibetan refugee children for the
too few schools places on offer to a nation in exile


NAMGYAL is a born teacher. Obediently the class follows his lead and cites
the alphabet for the benefit of the overseas visitors clustered at the back
of the tiny school room.

True, his methods are not very progressive - mostly chalk, talk and the
learning - but resources are limited. And he is only six. Judging by the
way his teachers have no hesitation in, asking him to lead the
demonstration, he is obviously their star pupil.

His school is not easy to find. Its official address - The Buddha Tibetan
refugee Pre-Primary School, Tibetan colony, Below the Bus Stand, Simla,
Himachal Pradesh - will mean little to any locals you ask for directions.
But mention "the School in the Slum" and you will be directed down an
impossibly steep alley between buildings made out of flattened oil drums.
The path is slippery and you have make way for the stream of Kashmiri
porters, who earn a few rupees for each load of wood or bricks they
laboriously haul up the long incline. In massive packs secured by rope
slings round their shoulders and heads.

Hallway down the hill you duck through a low doorway leading to a room
containing a scene reminiscent of a Fifties Scottish school room.

Twenty or so youngsters are lined up in strict order of height. The oldest,
and tallest, is six. The youngest is just three and a half, and looks it.
All are dressed in uniforms which create an impression of neatness, but
peer closer and the patches and darns of poverty become obvious.

A repertoire of songs - complete with actions - is loudly and
enthusiastically performed for the visitors. Tibetan folk tunes are
followed by some more familiar western songs.

The piece de resistance is an enchanting version of Old Macdonald Had a
Farm which Includes an exceedingly angry monkey.

When the singing is finished there are no ready smiles for the camera. It
is not that the children are unhappy, but they are involved in a serious
task which will decide their future.

They must recite the alphabet, learn to count to a hundred, show that they
can write neatly, and perform simple sums.

While this might sound a reasonable set of skills, not too different from
those which British six-year-old might be expected to master, it is
humbling to see and hear the youngsters demonstrating their ability to
perform these tasks In three languages - Tibetan, Hindi and English.

It is a sad but brutal fact that there are not enough places in the Tibetan
schools in northern India for all the refugee children, so only those who
can show an ability to master basic skills get places.

The school was established two years ago with the aim of helping some of
the most socially and economically deprived children in the refugee
community to reach the first rung on the educational ladder.

With the continuing Chinese assault on the Tibetan language, religion and
culture within the homeland - an assault which has been described as
cultural genocide - it is considered vital that all the exiled children
should have the opportunity of a Tibetan education.

Recognising the part that "the School In the Slum" plays in this, the
Tibetan government in exile pays the wages of Samdup, one of its two
teachers. The wages of her younger colleague, Tsering, and all of the
schools meagre resources, are supplied by voluntary donations, many of
which come from western countries including Britain. Life is not easy for
the children of the Tibetan diaspora. Some are orphans, others social
orphans - the children of destitute parents. Those who do eventually find a
place In a government or charitable school are well cared for, but
conditions are basic and work demanding.

Like disadvantaged youngsters everywhere, these children have to excel in
order to make a successful life for themselves. But a further load lies on
their shoulders: they carry the hopes of- the Tibetan leadership for the
future. In his memoirs, the Dalai Lama wrote that "the children in India
may be very important people, a nucleus of the peaceful religious life
which we wish to regain."

Namgyal is part of that nucleus. Before we left he shyly told us that one
day he would like to be a teacher In a Tibetan school. Whether that school
is in Tibet or in a refugee colony remains to be seen but "The School in
the Slum" has given him the chance to work towards his ambition and to
play his part in regaining the peaceful life which his gentle people

Andrew Mellor is Principal Teacher of Guidance at Dalry School In Galloway.

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Dispatches _ Lhasa (Notes from a young Tibetan visiting Lhasa).
  2. Slumming it for the chance of a better future
  3. Thubten Samdup -- Local Hero

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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