Tibetan Youth Leadership Program 2018: week of insights

Tenzin Tsedon

Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

Participants of the 2018 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program in front of the State Department in Washington, DC.

We would often sit facing one another in a fashion identical to conference rooms. Throughout the week of the program, we have sat in the same manner in varying locations under differing circumstances. There was a sense of intimacy in that seating arrangement, the comfort felt was an embodiment of a rooted connection that formed fast and firm amongst us. Although, we all carried starkly distinct assortment of life experiences, the ceaseless tug of a unique cultural identity on our hearts served as the undeniable, unifying factor for us. In other words, the participants of the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program of 2018 were diaspora-induced diverse, yet the common cause of the diaspora linked us all strongly. I had never felt a connection such as this, this program not only strengthened my sense of self which in the past I often observed in a gray area, but it also awarded me with valuable peers, a set of role models in whom we can observe a segment of ourselves and knowledge, of official processes, insight on new perspectives as well as a glimpse of how we fit as activists in a chaotic international backdrop.

I personally came into this experience, uncertain, with minimal knowledge of the American government and the Tibet movement. But, I left, with a heavy heart and a mind with an equally significant weight of a newfound will. Our week consisted of dialogue with influential figures, observation of those very leaders in their respective fields, and touring of facilities to obtain a general understanding of the proceedings that shape policy and garner action for change. We also had a fruitful networking session where there were no shortages of sources for inspiration. The portions of the week that I enjoyed the most were lobby day on the Hill and the multilateral diplomacy simulation at the State Department. The latter was incredibly exhilarating; the art of considering a myriad number of factors and differing circumstances, of balancing scientific information with human morals before reaching a diplomatic solution was highly educational to partake in.

On the very first day, we learned of the importance of personal activism to go along with the popularly sought collective activism. At that time, this was merely an idea we became aware of, but lobby day materialized this idea and fortified its strength in our minds. Advocating and being a word away from earning support with potential for large-scale change showed us how being a small functional unit within a grand democratic system is powerful with true possibility of effectiveness. Lobby day also fortified the duality of some of our identities by fostering active participation. To explain in simpler terms, I learned that Tibetan-Americans can support the Tibet issue not solely by clinging to an ethnic identity, but also by working to interject the issue onto the United States political platform as the country’s citizens.

Hearing from exemplary people about their work, the organizations they represent whether it is a government or an NGO, their motivations for why they do what they do, their origins and the ‘flip’ that occured that woke them up from comfortable passivity to acute awareness was as moving as it was thought-provoking. I would again and again be left in awe when they spoke because they were often one individual making waves with ripples that crossed borders and oceans. The dialogue with and the observation of these leaders motivated us to come out of our own boxes of passivity, and most importantly, I think it dispelled the excuse that I personally have been guilty of holding onto, the excuse of the irrelevance of a single person in a chaotic and crowded political world. This reasoning no longer applied and made sense because there they were, relevant and strong individuals with fixed and visible roles in that very same chaotic backdrop.

This one week with ICT in the TYLP program gave the participants insights and skills built on new perspectives that we can navigate and utilize within as well as outside of the political discourse. I came with my understandings in singles and left with them in layers with the true feeling of having learned and acquired a worldly sense. This was an amazing opportunity that I believe every Tibetan youth should look to participate in and it would not have been possible without the figures who from the very first day guided us with their encouraging words and smiles that resonated with home away from home. These figures remained with us every step of this experience and facilitated our learning and effective participation by ensuring safety, comfort and instructive preparations. Bhuchung Tsering la, Tencho Gyatso la, Mr. Matteo Mecacci, and ICT, we thank you all for everything that you all do and for having continued doing so for a long time so we in our present didn’t miss it.

* Tenzin Tsedon is studying at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where she plans to double major in Microbiology and Spanish.

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The International Campaign for Tibet's blog periodically features guest blogs by individuals who can provide unique insight to ICT programs and current events.