A Tibetan American’s experience as a Lodi Gyari Fellow on Capitol Hill

My name is Tenzin Rangdol and I am a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies with concentrations in conflict management and international economics. This summer, I interned for the democratic staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) as a Lodi Gyari Fellow for the International Campaign for Tibet. I was initially drawn to this fellowship to develop a deeper understanding of the American legislative process. Through ICT, I was able to place an internship that met both my desire for congressional experience and my academic interests in international affairs.

During the six-week internship, I worked on a variety of projects that ranged from drafting legislative summaries to conducting research for policy memos and preparing documents for congressional hearings. In my first week, I drafted the official summary for the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2019 (H.R.3190— the BURMA Act of 2019). The BURMA Act of 2019 includes congressional findings on the human rights abuses in Burma, sanctions responsible actors, and authorizes humanitarian assistance to support the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities displaced by conflict in Burma and Bangladesh.

Last semester, I took a class on global forced migration, which explored the challenges of reconciling state sovereignty and human rights in refugee and forced migration policy. Through that class, I learned about the contemporary challenges the Rohingya face in their homeland in Burma and the ecological and infrastructural challenges the government of Bangladesh faces in hosting over 700,000 Rohingya refugees. This first project allowed me to apply my understanding of the refugee crisis to legislation addressing the plight of the Rohingya. This was a very meaningful experience as I not only applied what I learned in class to practice but also helped advance legislation that advocates for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Throughout the rest of my tenure on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I worked on organizing cosponsors for the bill and helped oversee the introduction of the bill into the committee.

While my first project was within my scope of study, I also worked on several projects in functional and regional portfolios that I did not have previous experience with. The policy memo I wrote on fifth generation (5G) technology required me to conduct research on the technical mechanisms of 5G and the implications of first-mover advantage within the telecommunications sector. In the past, I had read about 5G in relation to Huawei and great power competition between the U.S. and China, but I did not have a thorough understanding of 5G and its distinct features compared to 4G LTE. Similarly, when I was preparing an information sheet on Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Marshall Islands for a congressional staff delegation to the Pacific Islands, I got to learn about a region that I was previously unfamiliar with. These projects allowed me to simultaneously expand my understanding of important issue areas and strengthen my practical skills in research and memo writing.

In addition to the projects I worked on, the opportunity to network on Capitol Hill was an integral component of my internship. In conversation with senior professional staff and policy analysts, I learned about the different avenues through which legislation is conceived and the process of shepherding a bill from inception into law. I learned how staffers were able to champion issue areas they were personally passionate about and the process of devising strategic legislation to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges. On a more personal level, I was able to connect with staff who were alumni of my school and learn about their career trajectories post-graduation. They took a genuine interest in learning about my career goals and offered unique insights into available opportunities within government and beyond.

During my internship in Capitol Hill, I saw first-hand the threads of civic engagement and service that make the United States unique. I witnessed the diversity of the American experience and the important role the United States plays throughout the world. I am confident that the knowledge and experience I gained on the Hill will guide me as I pursue a career in foreign affairs.

By Tenzin Rangdol, member of the first class of Lodi Gyari Fellows

An exciting and productive week of ICT’s Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

Participants of the TYLP 2019 with Mr. Tenzin N. Tethong, VOA Tibetan Director and former Chairman of the Tibetan Cabinet as well as president of ICT, and ICT President Matteo Mecacci.

First, I would like to share a big warm thank you to all the sponsors, supporters and staff members at ICT who made this program possible. Without their endless support, hard work and dedication none of this would have been possible. I am forever grateful for receiving such an amazing opportunity to attend the 2019 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program. This exciting and productive week flew by and I wouldn’t want to trade this experience of being able to meet and interact with extraordinary members in the community who have contributed greatly to the Tibetan issue with any other.

One aspect I enjoyed most about this program was gaining exposure to grasp a better understanding of how the American political system works, in order to help us further enhance our methods on improving the current situation in Tibet. Listening to distinguished professionals working on foreign policy issues and sharing their stories and experience greatly allowed me to put things into perspective as well as see that there is still more that we can do to create change. Another aspect of this program which I appreciated greatly was the fact that we all came together with a shared ambition and purpose in wanting to make an impact for Tibet despite our different backgrounds in field of study.

I believe that it is crucial that in order to be effective leaders in our community one must have both an educated mind and heart. I find it really important that everyone prospers and thrives in whatever field they’re studying so that there is a solid base to start from. I encourage everyone to put their mind to whatever it is that they want to study and do so with great dedication. I found it very captivating how all my fellow participants and I are all studying different things in our universities such as nursing, economics, finance, psychology and etc. because it makes our drive so much more productive and powerful. The fact that we can each contribute something unique to the table makes fighting for our cause so much more engaging.

Attending ICT’s week long Tibetan Youth Leadership Program has truly been a valuable experience. I believe the size of the participants in this program has enabled us to get closer to one another on a deeper level as we are all able to come together. In addition, the fact that we can all come together despite varying fields of study under a common goal on behalf of Tibet makes us stronger than ever. It is extremely important that the younger generation understand that it is our duty as Tibetan Americans to continue to be louder than ever despite all the actions the Chinese regime puts forth to shut us down. It is in our position to utilize what we learn and place matters into our own hands to see real change. Something I will carry on from this program is the everlasting knowledge and friendships I have made with everyone here.

Whether or not you have any interest in politics or International affairs or relations, deep down we are all involved in this as this issue is no longer a foreign issue but a domestic one. Now, it is more important than ever to make our voices heard because the Tibetan issue lies within all of us and so we must educate ourselves to make an impact in politics which plays a huge role in the world and global affairs. Everyone should apply to this program because we can never have too many leaders in our community to lead Tibet to its freedom.

I have gained an insight into the true value of how important education is in being able to advocate for ourselves as well as educating others, Thank you ICT!

By Yeshi Lhakyi, a member of the 2019 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program.

Remembering Tony Rowell

Tony Rowell

Tony Rowell

It is with deepest sorrow that International Campaign For Tibet (ICT) & The Rowell Fund for Tibet announce the passing of Tony (Edward Anthony) Rowell on February 16th, 2019, at the age of 50.

Tony was part of the ICT family since 2003 when he, along with former ICT President John Ackerly, helped develop the Rowell Fund in honor of his late father Galen Rowell, a famed photographer and mountaineer, who was an avid supporter of the Tibetan cause. Tony became very instrumental in the success of the Rowell Fund over the years. Following in his father’s footsteps, Tony traveled to Tibet in August 2004 with National Geographic Expeditions, and has donated his photos from the trip to the International Campaign for Tibet.

Named after his Grandfather, Tony was the second child of Galen Rowell and entered this world on August 8th, 1968. (Tony’s older sister, Nicole Rowell Ryan, also a member of The Rowell Fund Advisory Board, passed away last year at the age of 54.) With Galen’s adventures, the Rowell family were always on the road heading in every direction with many summers spent in Yosemite Valley, California.

One of our favorite memories with Tony is of climbing Oregon’s tallest peak, Mount Hood. A passionate photographer, Tony documented the ascent with many pictures that left us very impressed with his talents. Tony was also an accomplished astrophotographer as well. Tony was always intrigued with space and began photographing earth-based subjects with a galactic background. His pioneering work in this field eventually led him to author his spectacular book Sierra Starlight. Tony’s photography adventures took him from the Arctic Circle to the mountains of Tibet.

Tony is preceded in death by his Father Galen, Mother Carol and his sister Nicole. Tony is survived by his two nephews Forrest Avery Ryan and Colby Dustin Ryan. Last year, Tony’s eldest nephew Forrest Ryan joined the Board of the Rowell Fund for Tibet, continuing the family’s legacy to help Tibetans safeguard their culture and traditions.

Tony will always be remembered for his kind and generous heart and big smile. He made friends everywhere he went and will be greatly missed by so many that knew and loved him. As fellow Rowell Fund Board member Conrad Anker wrote, “Tony was a joy to be with and was always a reminder of his direct connection to his father.” John Ackerly summed it up well by stating “Tony was a great advocate for Tibet and the Rowell Fund for Tibet, which he helped to co-found. Galen shot his photos quickly during the mountain light, in the early morning and late afternoon, while Tony had the patience to leave the shutter open for minutes or hours, capturing the distant stars and pondering the universe. Like meteors, they both came and went far too quickly.”

By John Jancik & Terri Baker, The Rowell Fund For Tibet

In Memoriam – Nicole Rowell Ryan

Terri Baker and John Jancik

Nicole and her husband Ray Ryan with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

It is with deepest sorrow that ICT and The Rowell Fund for Tibet announce the passing of Nicole Rowell Ryan on Sunday, April 29th, 2018, at the age of 54.

Nicole, a member of the Rowell Fund Advisory Board, was part of the ICT family since 2003 when she, along with former ICT President John Ackerly, developed the Rowell Fund in honor of her late father Galen Rowell. Galen, a famed photographer and mountaineer, was an avid supporter of the Tibetan cause during his life. Nicole was instrumental in the success of the Rowell Fund over the years.

Her husband, Ray Ryan, remembers her insistence that whoever the grant recipients were, they truly represented the culture of the Tibetan people, and they would help advance an understanding and appreciation of Tibet so that the culture would not fade away and be forgotten. He remembers how passionate she was about the awards being offered.

Nicole’s younger brother, Tony, remembered the many days they both spent with their father in Yosemite National Park while they were growing up – together over countless campfires.

One of our favorite memories of Nicole is sipping wine over a campfire together in Yosemite at the Tibet at Tuolumne fundraiser. She reminisced about her times in the park with family. She spoke with love and pride about her husband and sons. She also spoke about her concern that the beauty and peacefulness of the Tibetan culture would be lost.

Nicole, is survived by her brother Tony Rowell, husband Ray Ryan and sons Forrest and Colby.

A Celebration of Life has been scheduled for Saturday July 7th, 2018 at 4pm at the Amador County, California Fairgrounds.

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.

My experience at the 2018 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

By: Karma Choedak

Participants of the 2018 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program in front of the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC.

If you are familiar with the Tibetan freedom movement, you probably also know the importance of continued support from the international community to check China’s oppressive rule in Tibet. Be it China’s worry about its image on the global stage or practical trade interest, various forms of support from the international community have been the main source of force for keeping Tibetan issue alive. Needless to say, the US congressional support played an instrumental role to show China that they cannot do whatever they want in Tibet.

Tibetan Youth Leadership Program is a one-week long intensive program in which young Tibetan Americans learn about innovative ways to push Tibetan Freedom movement forward by appealing to their representatives in the Congress. This approach is innovative in the sense that Tibetans have traditionally portraited themselves as the victim of China’s illegal occupation of Tibet. Many people in the government of different countries are reluctant to work on Tibetan issues because they have more urgent and personal issues to deal first. Hence, for them, Tibetan issue might be a right thing to do but not on their list of priority. However, Tibetan Americans advocating Tibetan issues to their representatives in the Congress has a completely different meaning. Tibetan Americans are like any other Americans, their interest is part of the bigger American interest. Therefore, Tibetan issues are the inseparable part of American interest.

In addition to the opportunity to see many famous and historical buildings in the capital city, the leadership program also gave us hand on experiences to interact with many congressional representatives and their staffs. What is a better way to learn things than actually doing it! We also had the opportunity to thank long-time supporters of Tibetan freedom movement and express our gratitude for their unwavering support. Many of us really enjoyed the personal interaction with our representatives and sharing our concerns on Tibet with them.

Personally, one of the most powerful experience I had in this leadership program was how quickly all the participants became close to each other. Even though we came from different parts of the country and were born in different places, we could connect to each other easily because we shared the same root. One thing was evident to all of us, no matter wherever we live and whatever we do, Tibetans will always remain Tibetans. The more oppressive Chinese regime get in Tibet, more united the Tibetan people will be.

Last but not least, I want to sincerely thank all ICT staffs for organing this program. Your work has a tremendous positive impact on Tibetan freedom struggle and seeing you all working so tirelessly for Tibetan cause, I now have gained new hope that Tibet will be a free country soon.

* Karma Choedak is studying Business Administration at the University of Oklahoma.

Taking a Step for Tibet — My Experience with Tibet Lobby Day in Washington, D.C.

By: Nancy Lindberg

Tibet Lobby Day

Nancy Lindberg with her husband (Tenzin Chophel), and two children (Tsering and Tenzin) as well as fellow members of the Tibetan Association of Vermont, Tseten Anak Kalsang GGT, during Tibet Lobby Day in Washington, DC.

Here we are in the United States, far from Tibet, wondering what we can and should do. Some of us have been to Tibet or exile communities in India and Nepal, and fell in love with the culture. Some of us are followers of the Dharma. Some of us are Tibetan American immigrants or their children. Our existences are linked together, firmly or tenuously, by Tibet.

I am a Vermont native, wife of a Tibetan, mother of Tibetan American children, past traveler in Tibet and past student and volunteer in Tibetan exile communities. Recently, I’ve noticed that as life proceeds, we sometimes give more time and sometimes less, to things we care about, adjusting our distribution of time according to life’s circumstances. Like so many of our friends, my husband Tenzin and I, gave our time to nurturing our children through their childhood. Part of that nurturing included speaking Tibetan at home, traveling to their father’s childhood home of Dharamsala India, and participating in Vermont’s local Tibetan community and its various events, such as Tibetan New Year (Losar) and the March 10th commemoration of Tibetan Uprising Day.

In 2012, when our daughter was in eighth grade, we decided to travel to Washington D.C. to participate in Tibet Lobby Day. On our way, we stopped in New York City to pay our respects to three determined Tibetan hunger strikers camped out in front of the United Nations, refusing sustenance until their demands for Tibet were acknowledged. They called for fact-finding missions to look into the human rights abuses in Tibet. They wanted journalists to be allowed into Tibet to illuminate the atrocities that were leading Tibetans there to use their bodies as their last statements. The year 2012 will be remembered for the heart-breaking rash of self-immolations in Tibet. Tibetans in Tibet were shaking us all awake.

Arriving in D.C., a Tibetan family opened their home to us. We felt welcome, like family from afar, reunited after a long journey. The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) had organized everything for the three-day event. The program started with an afternoon of orientation and lobbying practice. We learned about the ‘asks’ for the occasion – specific, tangible requests we could make when we visited each of Vermont’s representatives over the next several days. The ‘asks’ were not the big statements we see on bumper stickers, T-shirts or rally placards, such as ‘Free Tibet’ or ‘China Go Home’. These ‘asks’ pointed our representatives down a progressive path, one small step leading to the next. These ‘asks’ connected Tibet to the reality of the U.S. government’s daily business. We would ask our representatives to support budget initiatives, like continued funding for radio broadcasts inside Tibet – a source of news and hope for Tibetans inside and out. We would ask them to sign a letter that their colleague would be circulating. The letter would request Secretary of State John Kerry to make Tibet a priority issue during an upcoming visit to China. We received brief bios of Tibet’s prisoners, and prepared to highlight the plight of several individuals to our representatives (sadly, there were many from which to choose). We also practiced introducing ourselves and sharing our personal connection to Tibet (in a minute or less!)

It had been 20-years since my husband had immigrated from Dharamsala to the U.S., and in those few days in D.C., people from his life in India suddenly surrounded him. His young friends from TCV, were now here beside him, middle aged, preparing to gather not at the edge of the road in Dharamsala to greet His Holiness’s motorcade, but on Capitol Hill in the Halls of Congress. This was our next step.

The first steps had been those of his father and mother, and his friends’ fathers and mothers. They took decisive yet painful and reluctant steps across the Himalayas to northeastern India and later to Himachal. Steps that left behind everything, except the hope that they would return, later in life, when the time for freedom had come.

But as we know, most fathers and mothers have not yet returned. They raised their families and reminded them, incessantly, that they were Tibetan. They attended rallies, educated their children, celebrated and mourned. They passed on the torch. In the early nineties, thousands of Tibetans began relocating to the United States. They were pulled by opportunities for them personally, for their children…and hopefully, for Tibet. The rhythm of daily life changed. Tibetan parents in the U.S. started working two jobs or split shifts, learning to afford life in America and to follow its storied dream. Tibetans in the U.S. adapted quickly and successfully, just as their parents had in India and Nepal. As in India and Nepal, their close proximity to one another (living in approximately 20 cluster sites including Boston, N.Y.C., Chicago, Minneapolis, Burlington, VT etc.) enabled them to keep their culture and hopes alive, albeit in new ways.

Like my husband’s friends surrounding us, we had reached a plateau in life. Our son in college, and our daughter maturing into a young woman in high school, it was time to think about reinventing our personal commitment to Tibet, in a way that extended beyond the bounds of our family and community. So it is that my husband, daughter and I found ourselves, slightly intimidated, wandering the Halls of Congress. Dressed in our best business attire, adorned with Tibetan/American flag lapel pins and armed with khatas and a briefcase full of information provided by ICT, we went forth to punctually attend appointments at each office of our state’s representatives.

Like anything in life, lobbying is a process. Prepare, practice, be on time, be thankful, get to the point, express more gratitude, take photos, share your successes, and remember to follow-up periodically when you get home. Then there were the opportunities for on-the-spot interviews in the halls in between meetings. Members of the press, both Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America were there, curious about how our meetings had gone. We told them…hopefully our friends and family in Tibet heard. In the evening, we met other lobbyists, reminisced about our day and our lives, and felt good.

At the first Tibet Lobby Day my family and I attended, we took a step…many steps even. My family has attended lobby day annually ever since that first experience. It’s on our calendars – somewhere near Losar and March 10th. It’s as important to us as both of those occasions. With each Tibet Lobby Day, we are grateful for the opportunity to personally tell our elected representatives something about Tibet.

Life repeats itself on an annual cycle. Despite the repetition, we are blessed to be able to enter each New Year with a new perspective and a sense of new possibilities. Tibet Lobby Day gives its participants a way to take a few important steps for Tibet. It is all of our combined steps that make an incredible impact. At Tibet Lobby Day 2017, I look forward to connecting with old friends and making many new ones. Together, let’s visit Capitol Hill, and make a difference for Tibet.

Nancy Lindberg
Shelburne, Vermont

My Reflection on the 2016 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

By: Passang Gonrong

Participants of ICT's 2016 Tibetan Youth Leadership at the US State Department.

Participants of ICT’s 2016 Tibetan Youth Leadership at the US State Department.

My experience with the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program (TYLP) started when I was applying to the program in March. The prompt for the essay question was, “What does it take to be a leader in the Tibetan community?” On the surface, it sounded like a easy question with a simple solution; however, when I tried to come up with an answer, it lead to an ambiguous and complex response. This made me question not only what constitutes as a leader, but more importantly what the Tibetan community means to me. These ideas were just the tip of the iceberg for my week with TYLP.

This year’s cohort came from seven states across the country with ages ranging from 19 to 26 years old. There were students who were born and raised in Tibet, students who were born and/or raised in India and Nepal, and students who were born and/or raised in America. Although we all had the identity of being Tibetan, our diverse backgrounds allowed us to learn greatly from each other. For me, as a Tibetan born in America, hearing stories from my peers who had escaped from Tibet and those who were raised in India and Nepal were eye opening. Each one of us brought something different to the table. We were united in not only our identity of being Tibetan, but a shared goal of wanting to become future leaders in the Tibetan community.

We arrived to the capitol on the fourth of July and were lucky enough to see the red white and blue fireworks on the national mall underneath the Washington Monument. It was a magical start for our week ahead where we were learned the importance of not only our Tibetan identity, but our American identity. Bhuchung la, the vice president of International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), stressed that as Tibetan-Americans we have the right and privilege to advocate for Tibet to our representatives in the American government. Our Tibetan- American identity is important because we have the opportunity to help our brothers and sisters in Tibet through this country. This information was valuable to me because I had always compartmentalized my identity. I was a proud Tibetan and I was a proud American but I  did not think those two were entwined. It was during our mini lobbying day on capitol Hill that made me realize how mistaken I was. We had the honor of meeting with Congressmen, Jim McGovern, and Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, who both went on the Congressional Delegation to China and Tibet with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Both of these representatives, along with the others we met during the day, demonstrated to me the duty we, Tibetan Americans, have to champion for Tibet. Members of Congress would not have heard or supported Tibet if it were not for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the persistent Tibetan Americans, and the numerous pro-Tibetan organizations reminding Congress how important these issues are to their constituents.

IMG_2167Our week was packed with visits to the State Department where we able to attend a media briefing, have an interactive session with Ambassador David Saperstein, and meet with Mr. Todd Stein, a senior advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights and concurrently serves as special coordinator for Tibetan issues. We had the opportunity to visit the Tibetan Language Service for both Radio Free Asia and Voice of America where some of my peers were interviewed on air. We went on a White House Tour, had a meeting with the President of the National Endowment for Democracy, and also met Representative Kaydor Aukatsang la during our visit to the Office of Tibet. These were just the few things we were able to do in our busy week.

One of the most meaningful sessions for me was when it was just us and Bhuchung la. We were able to reflect on the programs we attended during the week and come up with solutions that focused on Tibet and Tibetans through the lens of the American government. The conversations that were discussed during the session and throughout the week were stimulating and engaging. Each one of my peers were motivating, thoughtful, and encouraging. I am excited to see the inspiring things they will do in the future. On the other hand, the main reason we were able to have such an open dialogue was because of our coordinators,  Bhuchung la and Tencho la, who created a space that encouraged growth and ideas. We were able to freely share these ideas without being intimidated or afraid to ask questions. This is why I think TYLP is so successful.

IMG_0290I highly urge every Tibetan college student to apply to the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program. The knowledge and friendships I have gained this week will be everlasting. The International Campaign for Tibet has created a unique and valuable program granting young Tibetans access to learn more about their identity and how to become leaders in the Tibetan American community.

Seven days in Washington, DC: my experience participating in ICT’s Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

By: Pasang Tsering


TYLP participant Pasang Tsering (in glasses) and others getting their orientation from coordinator Tencho Gyatso over dinner on the day of their arrival.

It was pouring heavily in New York City — June 1, 2015. My friend Tenzin who was also heading to Washington, DC, for the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program was anxiously waiting for me as the train departure was nearing. Bouncing along the streets in full swing, I eventually made it Penn Station right on time, but I was completely soaked, my glasses, backpack, suitcase and everything. No sooner, we settled down and the train started to move, and as I changed my shirt and jacket, I turned to my friend and told her with sigh, “Thank, God! We are escaping this nasty rain.”

To our utter dismay, the moment we reached Washington, DC, we were greeted with a thunderous shower as if it was following us all the way down from New York. That was hilarious! We Tibetans believe raining while embarking on a new journey is a sign of good luck and a probable success. Now when I look back, I think it might have been a really special symbol. Our seven days in Washington, DC, for Tibetan Youth Leadership Program organized by International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) was in deed special, very special.

Our agenda included visits to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Washington Media Institute, Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, Office of Tibet, Congressional Research Service, the House and Senate Offices, and the State Department. We also visited the White House, but that was just for an evening walk. In all seriousness, those aforementioned places where we visited really gave us rare insight and understanding of their significance in American political processes and the Tibetan issues.

Our resource persons for those meetings were NED President Carl Gershman, Chief of VOA Tibetan Service Losang Gyatso, Amos Gelb of the Washington Media Institute, Representative of H.H. the Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Administration Kaydor Aukatsang, Congressman Jim McGovern and even the U.S. Undersecretary of the State and the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Sarah Sewall.

Similarly, we sat down for series of panel discussions at the ICT office. Our guest speakers included a former Tibetan prime minister, Chinese human rights lawyer, a former Tibetan political prisoner, a motivational speaker, a former State Department senior official, and also ICT president, vice president and director of government relations.

Almost all our training sessions were less formal and more casual. Everyone participated in the discussion as necessary posing questions and adding comments. Just as much as we learned from our resource persons, we learned from each other too in so many ways. Our cohort of 13 attendees ranged from a rising junior to a doctorate candidate and we all had mostly different upbringing and educational and professional background.

For me, the leadership training was special not just because of the places we visited and the people we met and interacted with, but also because of the positive imprints that it instilled in each and every one of us in the process.

Of course, every attendee could have his or her own individual goal for going there, but Bhuchung Tsering, the vice president of ICT, set us a very clear collective goal on the very first day at the orientation. He said, “ICT has overarching goals to achieve from this training, but, in my view, if you can achieve one singular goal, it is more than enough and that goal is to change our mindset.”

Mr. Bhuchung Tsering highlighted the fact that we, Tibetans, identify ourselves as Tibetan refugees or simply Tibetans. Even younger generation who are born and brought up here on American soil consider themselves as Tibetan refugees or may be Tibetans, but not Americans. He stressed, “You are not only Tibetans, you are Tibetan-Americans, too. You are Americans just as everyone else in this country.”

The main reason why he was emphasizing us to recognize this fact was to encourage younger generation to engage ourselves into the civic and cultural life of the American society and be a part of the processes in making a difference here in the country and abroad. Simultaneously, we can help our ancestral land Tibet and Tibetan people through American political, economic and social processes.

This mission of changing our mindset might be a brilliant and doable idea for some, but a daunting challenge for others. We had attendees who were born and brought up here and they are through and through Americans just as they are through and through Tibetans. For them, they might be able to simply fine-tune their narrative. For those who recently immigrated to the United States, including myself, it was a lofty challenge. In fact, it is a constant struggle.

As someone who has a deep appreciation for Buddhist philosophy, I am always mindful of not being carried away by the three sources of evils — attachment, anger and ignorance. Hence, my challenge of finding difficulty in identifying myself as an American is not out of my attachment to my birthplace Nepal or my ancestral land Tibet or obsession with Tibetan pride for that matter, but it was rather my earnest effort in searching the American spirit within my soul deep down inside.

Never in my wildest dream would I dare to identify myself as an American simply because I want to claim rights or pursue personal ends. I would not do it even if the law of the land says I am an American citizen and that I am guaranteed with those inalienable rights for I believe every right comes with duties and one of those sacred duties is to be a genuine American by heart and mind, which can never be determined by one’s place of birth or a piece of paper nor by an accent of speech or color of skin.

To my great joy, another special moment of this training was I found a solace in my search of American spirit. Among many others, Tibetans and Americans have one but the most important thing in common i.e. our values. We are bound by our shared values that treasure life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. That to me is more than enough reason to tie the knot for these two partners once and for all — Tibetan-American!

Mission accomplished. Thank you, ICT!

2014 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program: My Reflection

By: Jigme Taring

Dear Reader,

I am humbly taking this opportunity to reflect on my experience with this year’s Tibetan Youth Leadership Program (TYLP) organized by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).

TYLP as you may know- or if you don’t know- is just one of the many virtuous works ICT provides for the ever-changing Tibetan movement. I can confirm that this specific program, led by ICT’s Tencho Gyatso la and Bhuchung Tsering la, is an extremely enlightening experience for the Tibetan-American youth. The program serves to empower 10 ambitious young Tibetan-American (undergrad/grad) students every year who feel a deep passion for the Tibetan cause and equip them with the necessary knowledge and tools in order to become effective leaders in the Tibetan community.

From the 10 participants in this year’s TYLP, we came from nine different states, several different fields of study, and unique stories and backgrounds, which made for a truly diverse and dynamic group. I believe there was a no better host city for this type of event than the nation’s capital, Washington DC. We were housed comfortably in George Washington University’s Thurston Hall for the eventful week. I must also mention that the food, traveling, room and board expenses were all graciously paid for by ICT, making this program incomparable.

Some wonder why TYLP is limited to just 10 participants. I’m assuming there are many reasons for this, but I personally felt it provided a more intimate experience for the participants, all of the people we met, places we saw, and so on. In fact, my favorite part of the program was meeting and interacting with the other participants. We all became very close by the end of the week, and I plan to keep in contact with all of them. Being the youngest participant, I found it useful to serve as a sponge at times to soak in all the knowledge and experience from others. Some of the most informative and interesting debates were actually done off the clock, in the dorms.

The schedule over the course of the five days was quite intensive and elaborately planned. Throughout the week we visited many influential places such as the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Watch, and The Office of Tibet, just to mention a few. At the Washington Media Institute, a highly animated instructor by the name of Mr. Amos Gelb taught us how the media plays an integral role in politics. Back at the ICT office, we met with leaders in the Tibetan movement as well as Chinese scholars. From all the invigorating discussions that we had with the notable figures, what I enjoyed most was the way they challenged our way of thinking. They gave us perspectives we would never ponder. I felt that this constant challenge throughout the week immensely motivated us and presented the reality of our Tibetan situation today.

A personal highlight from the week was being able to partake in a live radio talk show at the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia (RFA). Tenzing Rapden Lama la, Dede Dolkar la, and I represented our TYLP group on that morning where we were asked to speak on a variety of topics, ranging from our experience during the week to more controversial topics such as “Rangzen vs. Umaylam.” Although it was a bit nerve-racking, it was a good experience for us to be able to articulate our thoughts on the spot on live radio in our native tongue. I believe you can find the clip of our live show on YouTube.

One important lesson I attained from the week (which I mentioned on the radio show) was a message given by Mr. Lodi Gyari, former Special Envoy to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who shared his thoughts on what he hopes to see in this new generation of Tibetans worldwide. He said we need more professionals. We can be professionals in anything, whether it is a lawyer, painter, politician, doctor, etc. Just being a Tibetan, and a Tibetan professional at that, carries tremendous weight and strengthens the entirety of our global Tibetan community. With our abundance of resources and our access to quality education in exile, I see more and more Tibetan professionals from all departments in the coming years.

Another influential lesson I took from the week was the significance of being a “Tibetan-American.” Bhuchung Tsering la explained why we should identify ourselves as Tibetan-Americans and not just merely Tibetan or American, respectively. By being a Tibetan-American we have a substantial amount of opportunities as citizens of the United States, combined with a great deal of responsibility to use our opportunities to help our brothers and sisters in Tibet. So we must embrace and understand what it means to be a Tibetan-American and fully utilize it to our advantage.

All in all, considering the quality of the preparation, intensity of the program, and having all the expenses paid for by ICT, there is no other program of this magnitude with these types of benefits. I whole-heartedly encourage any Tibetan-American University students reading this to apply for this unparalleled week. I especially recommend the younger students, 18-20, to apply as I did.


Jigme Taring