My Experience with ICT’s Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

On Friday, June 27, 2014, in Recent, by Rinchen Phuntsok
[caption id="attachment_5447" align="alignright" width="300"]Rinchen Phuntsok in Washington, DC. Rinchen Phuntsok in Washington, DC.[/caption]The Tibetan Diaspora is faced with a tremendous challenge of sustaining our struggle as well as preserving the rich and diverse culture of Tibet. The issues and the obstacle that we need to overcome as a community and as a distinct race of people are equally complex in nature and colossal in scale. The plight of our people and our nation is not only in the hands of those we consider our adversaries, but in our own hands, and more so, in the hands of Tibetan youth, who are carrying this responsibility and taking it forward to the next generation. The Tibetan Youth Leadership Program (TYLP) organized by ICT (International Campaign of Tibet) provides a platform and an opportunity for aspiring young Tibetans to take that first step towards becoming responsible and well informed leaders. The details of the program and the experiences of 2014’s TYLP alumni are eloquently put by Tencho la (Program Coordinator) on ICT’s weblog here. As an alumnus of this year’s TYLP, I decided to take this opportunity to share a few of my observations and experiences during this program. In essence, the program provided three things for the participants, a platform for exchange of views, a unique immersive exposure to multiple aspects of the Tibet issue and exposure to advocacy strategies, efforts and opportunities. This was a unique opportunity for many of us. The opportunity to speak with young Tibetans from a diverse set of backgrounds and equally differing environment of upbringing brought a wealth of unique viewpoints and perspectives. These differences brought to light the challenges a young Tibetan faces in the US trying to grow up as a Tibetan. Some of us shared their experiences of the identity dilemma they faced, whether to consider oneself purely Americanized western youth or a Tibetan in essence or even an amalgam of both. We spoke of challenges that barriers of language bring when you want to cross that cultural divide between wanting to be a Tibetan as well as an American. Preservation of Tibetan language seems to be a great challenge especially in the US. At the same time we heard of many of the initiatives taken to overcome this challenge, e.g the many after school or weekend Tibetan programs in places like Minnesota, Washington, DC, and Utah. The issue of Tibet for many is that of the difference between the colors black and white. And yet many of us would agree that understanding and resolving the issue of Tibet would take more than merely the realization of facts or history. ICT’s TYLP provided this opportunity for a remarkable immersive experience for the participants, where not only the historical context of issues surrounding our struggle were presented, but contemporary events and issues that are shaping our movement were also discussed. Most of the discussions about Tibet in most places seem to lack an informed view on the Chinese perspective when it comes to the issue of Tibet. This program provided an opportunity to speak with Chinese Americans striving for democracy in China to a fellow from a think tank who brought some objective analysis of Chinese stance on Tibet based on its geopolitical realities. It was a very enriching experience for the participants in the program. Despite the seemingly unscalable mountain of challenge for Tibetans, one thing we must take a little credit for is the significant amount of success the issue of Tibet and Tibetans have received in terms of our advocacy efforts. The world today is wrought with a barrage of issues ranging from wars, terrorism, famine, financial crisis, geopolitical instability and what not. But the issue of Tibet, despite everything else, has remained alive and vigorously represented. This clearly demonstrates the success we all had in advocating the issue of Tibet, not only to various political entities in the world, but more importantly to the people of the world. The participants in this program were made familiar with the dynamics of various advocacy efforts (including that of ICT’s), the strategies employed and the opportunities that are available for any young Tibetan to engage in meaningful advocacy efforts on behalf of other fellow Tibetans. Before this write up goes too long, I must insist that the quality and value in ICT’s TYLP is at another level. Young Tibetan across the US and Europe, who are eager to learn more, in getting engaged and in finding that route towards becoming informed leaders for Tibetans, must take this opportunity. There was a lot more I would have loved to share, but this should suffice before it gets boring. Feel free to contact me for any more information on our experiences. Email : rinchen.phun@gmail.com

Chinese admiration for the enduring Tibetan faith

On Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in Culture & History, by Rinchen Tashi
This, being the month of Saka Dawa in the Tibetan Calendar, there is an increased number of postings on Chinese social media commenting on Tibetans’ faith. Saka Dawa is the month where the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha is celebrated, so it is a time when Tibetans go on pilgrimage to holy sites, and dedicate time for prayer and spiritual actions. One particular posting that is being shared a lot is by an anonymous Chinese blogger who posted online an image of a Tibetan family prostrating on route to Lhasa. The blogger writes, “If you do not prostrate on the ground as Tibetan do, you will never have the perspective to see the world as they do. Please don’t be judgmental on so called faiths based on your own perspectives.” Below is the complete translation and photos from the blog post.

Five Kids on the Road of Pilgrimage

prostatingmother and kids
Because we do not know how peaceful a simple soul can be in a clean world, we do not understand how these devout Tibetans feel; enriched and joyful while they approach step by step, the holy land of their hearts, by prostrations. Many of the sufferings that we human beings express originate from our own shallow mind and from disregarding actions toward the natural world. If you do not prostrate on the ground as the Tibetans do, you will never have the perspective to see the world as they do. Please don’t be judgmental on so called faiths by your own perspective. Never. February 23, 2007, on the way to Lhasa from Nyingchi, five children led by their mother were prostrating toward Lhasa, measuring the way for pilgrimage with their own bodies. Seeing pilgrims coming to Lhasa is not surprising for people who live in Lhasa. However, people can still be deeply moved by seeing these little kids with dusty faces and clean expressions in their eyes in the first place. They are a family from Ganzi (Prefecture). They started the journey last August, and it has been seven months journey. The father pulls the cart everyday while children and the mother prostrate. The kids are 6, 8, 12, 14, and 16 years old - the 12-year-old boy is a monk at the monastery in their home town. childkids
Those tattered sweaters worn by the children may not be able to block the cold wind, and the road to Lhasa is still far away. They have to cross MilaMountain soon. The mountain is 5,000 meters high, and the top is covered by snow year around. The weather in this high snowy mountain is unpredictable. One’s heart cannot help but quiver, with the thought of these small children and their tiny figures, deep in the world of wind and snows on the climb to Mila Mountain. But as the saying goes: “As long as the mother carries a smile on her face, the sky won’t collapse! Hardship is the one which they have to deal with all the way, but mother’s smile is the greatest encouragement for children.” Although there is a long way to go for this pilgrimage, and there's still a lot of unpredictable hardships in the days ahead, the mother looks persevering and dedicated. Father located a camp site and began to unload the luggage from the cart, setting up the tent for the night. No matter how bitter the way for pilgrimage is, they will keep going. As long as the faith is there, there will be the day to see the Buddha. motherfather
 
Last week, I had a week-long visit to Italy with the aim to keep Tibet on the agenda of Italian and EU institutions for the coming months. The occasion was given by the fact that Italy will chair the European Union for six months starting on July 1 and also by the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Italy. He was there for a series of teachings and a public talk, in Pomaia at the Lama Thsong Khapa Institute and in Livorno, from the 13 to the 15 of June.
[caption id="attachment_5405" align="alignright" width="300"]Undersecretary of State Benedetto Della Vedova, Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet and EU Policy Director Vincent Metten. Undersecretary of State Benedetto Della Vedova, Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet and EU Policy Director Vincent Metten.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5406" align="alignright" width="300"]ICT stand The ICT stand inside the Modigliani Forum in Livorno during His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teachings.[/caption]
In the days preceding the teachings, I was joined by Vincent Metten, EU policy Director of ICT, to participate in several meetings in Rome, both with Government representatives and Members of Parliament. Also, in those same days, the new Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, was in China for his first visit to Beijing since he assumed power. On these issues, I published an article in an Italian newspaper (English translation), and I also held a hearing before the human rights committee of the Chamber of Deputies. This was an important occasion to renew and reinforce the call of ICT and of its supporters worldwide to EU and democratic countries to adopt a common and principled position on the issue of Tibet while dealing with China. Finally, in Pomaia and Livorno I had the opportunity and the privilege to spend few days with thousands of people who had gathered from all over the world to welcome His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to participate in his teachings. Elena Gaita and Joel Hirv from the ICT Brussels office joined me to distribute thousands of reports, flyers, t-shirts and other gadgets to participants. I was there for the entire duration of the teachings and I was privileged to be part of a joyous atmosphere. Finally, I also had a non-programmed chance to speak with His Holiness the Dalai Lama about our work at ICT and his kindness was once again remarkable. Grazie! Matteo
Matteo

ICT’s 2014 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

On Wednesday, June 11, 2014, in Recent, by Tencho Gyatso
"This has been life-changing week for me." "I feel empowered, and inspired." "This program is exactly what I need to renew my commitment to working for Tibet."
[caption id="attachment_5389" align="aligncenter" width="520"]Participants of ICT’s 2014 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program. Participants of ICT’s 2014 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program.[/caption] These comments were made by participants at the closing of the week-long session of ICT’s 2014 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program (TYLP). The TYLP is designed to motivate and train young Tibetan-Americans to become effective leaders by providing meaningful exposure to the U.S. political process and the discourse around foreign policy in the American capital. It aims to develop leaders who will convert their convictions into activism even as they pursue academic and professional success, and is a starting point for greater involvement as knowledgeable and responsible actors within the Tibetan community worldwide. The participants were selected based on an essay submission titled, “What it takes to be a leader in the Tibetan community.” The 2014 TYLP was held in Washington, DC, the ninth such to be convened by ICT. Our heartfelt thanks goes to the ICT supporters whose generosity allows us to offer this program free of cost to the participants. Beginning on June 3, the week-long TYLP session flew by very quickly. The youth participated in discussions on Tibetan history and modern politics, contemporary China and Chinese perspective of the Tibetan issue. Speakers included former Tibetan officials Lodi Gyari Rinpoche and Kasur Tashi Wangdi la as well as Chinese scholars. They also visited Kaydor Aukatsang, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Americas.[caption id="attachment_5394" align="aligncenter" width="520"]Participants of ICT’s 2014 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program with Lodi Gyari Rinpoche. Participants of ICT’s 2014 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program with Lodi Gyari Rinpoche.[/caption] The program ended on Saturday, June 7, 2014, with six incredible Tibetan guest speakers, half of whom were raised in Tibet and the other half in India and the West, sharing their views on understanding contemporary Tibet as well as their experience of personal engagement. The discussions were moving, intense, and inspiring. They also heard from ICT President Matteo Mecacci and ICT Germany Board Chair Jan Andersson about their experience on personal activism on Tibet and wider issues. The participants were especially thrilled with a surprise "Skype" conversation with ICT Board Chairman Mr. Richard Gere, who, having read their bios and background, said he felt "encouraged and energized" meeting with such young Tibetans.
[caption id="attachment_5398" align="alignright" width="300"]TYLP students with Representative Kaydor Aukatsang at the Office of Tibet. TYLP students with Representative Kaydor Aukatsang at the Office of Tibet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5391" align="alignright" width="300"]On the set of Voice of America’s show, which is broadcast live into Tibet. On the set of Voice of America’s Kunleng show, which is broadcast live into Tibet.[/caption]
As Tibetan-American youth, they met with their Congressional representatives’ offices on Capitol Hill, and with U.S. officials working on Tibet and China at the State Department. They learned about how these entities work on Tibet and the role that Tibetan-Americans can play as constituents and as U.S. citizens in promoting the Tibetan issue with their representatives and with their government. They also had an informative session with an American human rights NGO as well as a think tank and a media consultant. The participants visited Radio Free Asia and Voice of America to learn about the working of Tibetan radio and television broadcast into Tibet. RFA interviewed three participants in their live radio session broadcast into Tibet on the morning on June 5. The next day, two other participants were guests of the hour long VOA Tibetan TV program. They discussed the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program, how they were selected and its benefits for Tibetan youth. Another vibrant session was an informal networking session with former TYLPers, Tibetan interns and other Tibetan professionals based in DC, working both in the federal government as well as international organizations and NGOs. It was inspiring and exhilarating for the youth to meet such successful Tibetan professionals. One evening session included a conversation on Buddhism in daily practice and an introduction to meditation. And on the final day, the group had a chance to put the knowledge gained during the week into practice when they did a role play in Sino-Tibetan Negotiations, and also later in the afternoon, a chance to share their own experiences with a group of local Tibetan Middle and High School students. Following are the participants in this year's TYLP: Pema Choden Gyatso from WashingtonState; Rinchen Phuntsok from Utah; Diki Dolkar from New York; Tashi Dhonden from Minnesota; Norzin Wangpo from Minnesota; Tenzin Rapden from Georgia; Lekey Leidecker from Kentucky; Jigme Taring from Virginia; Choetso Gyalnub from Oregon; and Karma Palzom from Wisconsin. Tenzin Gonsar from Virginia was interning in ICT and assisted in preparing for the TYLP.