TYLP: Ngawang Sangdrol and the story of all Tibetans

When first joining the 2021 TYLP program as the intern for the program, I expected to have an in depth discovery of my Tibetan cultural heritage and identity, however I did not expect on the last day to have such a memorable breath-taking speaker; that being Ngawang Sangdrol.

At a personal level the story of Ngawang Sangdrol is one which resonates to my innate Tibetan core, a story of suffering which unfortunately resembles too many other stories from the region which Tibetans once roamed so freely on. Now on the eve of the CCP’s 100-year anniversary, the Potala Palace was blanketed in a suffocating red banner of Communism and the necessity for the individual life stories of my Tibetan brothers and sisters to be heard becomes increasingly dire by each hour.

The story of Ngawang Sangdrol is one of advocacy, pain, and the unfortunate lack of justice/rightfulness that is inherent to the Chinese Communist Party. Imprisoned by the Chinese government at the young age of 13, an age at which most American children are barely entering middle school, for peacefully demonstrating against the Chinese occupation of the historically Tibetan land, Ngawang Sangdrol didn’t give up on her Tibetan identity, rather she used her unique situation being inside a Chinese prison to contribute to the Tibetan movement by continuing to protest within prison. This would culminate in a number of significant consequential achievements such as the moving of freedom songs out of Drapchi Prison, and an energetic platform from which she spread her meaningful life story/message to act as a voice for those who may not have the same opportunity.

The ability for an individual to take a scenario so precarious as imprisonment in a Chinese Communist prison and to turn that situation into a vast opportunity to assist her heritage-defined movement demonstrates a level of mental stability and perseverance that is superhuman. Furthermore, as a Tibetan American hearing this level of perseverance, especially when coming from a privileged position as many Tibetan Americans do, is perspective-altering as the relativity/juxtaposition of our situations motivates me to pursue my own ambitions and goals.

For many young Tibetan Americans these stories are generalized with rare circumstances for true personal meaningful stories from Tibetans within Tibet to be shared in a one on one setting, this leads to a greater point as seen throughout societal history the passage of wisdom and knowledge from the older generations to the younger ones is crucial in the sustenance of said society, whether that be due to the relevancy of the pure information in daily life or for the contextual relativity that said knowledge may bring to younger generations struggling for a sense of identity.

For Ngawang Sangdrol and the greater Tibetan society the importance of family is crucial, and through her story we learned the struggles of Tibetan families within Tibet, the choices they must make between freedom and culture and how those choices overlap into the lives their children and their children will leave. Tibetans possess a bright and vibrant culture, one which has thrived in the face of turmoil over the past sixty years, and now as we enter into a new age of Tibetan history, that being the rise of the first generation of Tibetan Americans into adulthood, the importance of the historical anecdotes that the older generations provide us must never be forgotten and must be kept guarded closely to our hearts at all times.

If we lose our history, we lose our identity, and if we lose our identity, we lose Tibet. This is why Ngawang Sangdrol la’s story resonated so heavily, because it is the story of all Tibetans.

By Tenzin Yonten Tsering, TYLP 2021

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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.