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Lions Roar : May 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2010 64 removal operations in remote areas. the camps are conducted over the summer and are staffed by Western doctors. each doc- tor restores the sight of between four and seven hundred patients per season. education, says brentano, is another of the tibet Fund’s priori- ties. “it’s important that children growing up in exile and in tibet receive education in the tibetan medium—in other words, that they preserve their culture. but it is also important that they gain skills that allow them to be competitive in the global economy. this is a balance that his holiness the dalai Lama has been encouraging.” outside the borders of tibet, the tibet Fund promotes educa- tion by supporting tibetan-run schools, including tibetan chil- dren’s Village, which cares for more than 16,000 orphaned and dis- advantaged children throughout india. plus, with the support of the u.s. department of state, it also administers a scholarship program for university students to study in the u.s. Rinchen dharlo, who was the representative of the dalai Lama to the americas from 1987 to 1996, is the president of the tibet Fund. he finds it rewarding to see how these scholarships allow students to return to their com- munities and become leaders. “When i go back to india,” he says, “everywhere i see former students in top positions with the tibetan government-in-exile.” this educational opportunity opens doors for people in terms of thinking about their potential. the tibet Fund, which is based in New york, has strong ties with the tibetan government-in-exile. brentano explains: “We re- ceive funds from both the u.s. government and private donors to administer various programs. the central tibetan administration is responsible for the program implementation on the ground and they have a very well developed infrastructure for doing that.” Like the tibet FuNd and the american himalayan Foun- dation, the international campaign for tibet (ict) also has the mission to improve tibetan lives. but ict takes a very different approach, one of information and advocacy. it was founded in Washington, d.c., and maintains its largest office there, but it also has offices in amsterdam, berlin, and brussels. i connected with ict’s kate saunders at her home base in London and i asked her how she got involved with the tibetan cause. “i was traveling in india,” she told me, “and i met a group of monks who had just escaped from tibet. i was working as a journalist at that time and had written a book on human rights issues in china, but when i heard the monks’ stories, i realized i didn’t know very much about what was happening in tibet. Like so many people, i had read the Lobsang Rampa books when i was young, which gave me the impression tibet was a shangri-La with exotic lamas, but of course the reality is very far from that. Now i work on monitoring the actual situation on the ground and challenging china’s representations.” ict monitors and reports on human rights in tibet, as well as environmental and socioeconomic conditions, and in this work they encounter many challenges. saunders explains: “china seeks to block news about tibet from reaching the outside world, so ict gets fragments of information. We get partial stories and pieces of information that we have to try to confirm and put together. We’re working from official sources as well, so we’re looking at what China Daily says, we’re looking at the plethora of information on chinese websites. another important factor is that, since the global economic meltdown began, resources have been pulled from media outlets in the West. but at the same time china is injecting more than $46 billion into creating new media resources representing the state’s point of view. it’s a constant information war.” in tibet the penalties for low-level information sharing are more severe than almost anywhere else in the world. Recently the chinese authorities announced a campaign against what it calls “rumor mongering.” one official statement said that not only can someone be punished for spreading a rumor, they can also be punished for listening to a rumor, that is, to anything that casts chinese rule in a negative light. this campaign is just one way in which china has clamped down on tibet since protests began sweeping across the plateau in march 2008. the majority of these protests have been peace- ful, but “the chinese have attempted to represent what has hap- pened as one violent riot on march fourteenth,” says saunders. and they have used this to justify their crackdown. the current climate of fear was brought home to saunders when she was in kathmandu last year and met a newly ar- rived refugee from Lhasa. “he was this smart, young guy, about twenty-four, and he’d come to Nepal with absolutely nothing,” says saunders. “he’d been a witness to the protests in march 2008. he’d helped someone and as a result he was in danger. he never knew whether there would be a knock on the door in the middle of the night and he was becoming more and more anx- ious. so, he decided to take the risk to live in exile. i asked him about what had happened after march fourteenth and whether he knew anybody who’d been shot dead, because even now, two years later, we still don’t know how many people were actually killed, though sources indicate that hundreds lost their lives. he said to me, ‘i don’t know. What you have to understand is that we can’t talk to each other about these things. i can’t even tell my mother what i did on march fourteenth.’” ict has various ways of informing the public about the situa- tion in tibet and ensuring that tibetan voices get heard. one of them is publishing tibetan literature and blogs in english. East- ern Snow Mountain is a collection of writings produced inside tibet about the protests since march 2008. Recently, ict trans- lated some of it into english and published it in their report, A Great Mountain Burned by Fire. it’s critical that the public is kept informed because that is what inspires them to take action. “When tibetans come out of tibet,” says saunders, “they always tell us that when they hear about prayer vigils that are happening in different countries on