Al: I would like you to give my readers and me an overview of the Tibetan Children's Village. Dr. Norbu, the Dalai Lama's brother, was insistent that when I got to Dharmasala I would visit TCV. He is looking forward to my report when I return to the States.
Tashi: TCV was started in early 1960 soon after the Tibetans became refugees and arrived in India seeking asylum. It started with fifty-one children. Many of the children's parents had died in the course of their journey. The survivors were walking on the road construction sites in the Himalayan ranges.

His Holiness' sister personally shouldered many of the responsibilities of looking after these children. Everything was in short supply from food to medicine to clothes-to everything. His Holiness' entourage took very good care of the children, and His Holiness visited the children very frequently. These children were then housed in the old Common House left over from the British period and isn't very far from where we stand today. The children were sleeping on the floor along with the adult members that were helping them. You would find twenty children living under one blanket on the floor. It was a very bleak and terrible situation, but it was a period of emergency.

We had help coming in from different parts of India and from abroad. We had volunteer teachers, nurses, doctors, and all different types of people that just offered assistance. His Holiness' sister unfortunately passed away not many years after she had started TCV. Her younger sister then shouldered the responsibility. The Tibetan's Children's Village assisted all the children that flooded into the village. We have today over 14,200 children in five residential schools.

Al: What are the locations?

Tashi: They cover a large part of India.

Al: I was in Kathmandu and visited the refugee camp in Paton. Is that part of the TCV?

Tashi: It could be a private school-a school run by Tibetans for Tibetan children. That is what I guess.

Al: So, TCV is basically in India. Where are the major funding sources from?

Tashi: We have a scholarship program and sponsors come from more than twenty-six different countries. Then for major projects different NGO's or individuals support us.

Al: Can you tell us something about what a day in the life of a child would be like?
Tashi: Life starts quite early in the Children's Village. Most of the children are up by 5:30am. If you imagine a home with a mother, who takes care of thirty to forty children ranging from four-years to sixteen-years of age. You have a good picture of what is happening in the house from the start of the morning-chaos. Sometimes, there is a little more chaos than one can imagine. Basically, the housemother arranges her work. Most homes have this age group of children where both boys and girls in the older age group help the housemother by way of looking after a younger child. It relieves a lot of tension for the housemother. It is actually a very big family with many boys and girls together. They live there many years of their life and share everything in the house. They share the responsibility of every chore whether it is washing dishes, cleaning the floors, washing the clothes, cooking, or whatever. Everybody has a responsibility. Even the little ones pick up papers or waste from around the house or the Village.

When they get up in the morning at 5:30, they wash up and then they do their chores around and then they have classes. By 7:00am, they have to be on the school premises for morning prayer followed by one-hour of studies. We have two different programs; we call it the summer program and the normal program. This time of the year is the summer program, which means school starts already after 7:00. One-hour period of study and then a break followed by another two-hour period of school. Then it is lunch break and then there is no school in the afternoon. In this way, the children get more time for cultural or other activities after the school period. About 4:00pm, we have tea and then we go back again on the grounds for games or whatever. By 6:00pm, they eat and by 6:30 they are ready for another one hour self study. By 9:00pm, lights should be off.

The housemother is always in the house with the children. If you were working on a fine sunny day, you would find even the very young children peeling potatoes. That is a sight to see, because that shows that they are a part of the family by sharing in the responsibilities. We do not want our children to grow up just being able to read and write. We want them to grow up a wholesome, responsible youth being able to take reins of their life whatever situation they are faced with. If young boys go off to college, they are not alien to kitchen utensils.

Al: At what age do they go to college?
Tashi: It depends. We have a lot of children who come out of Tibet who have had no formal education. Some arrive here at ten or eleven without much education. They have to start with basic education, which might take them three or four years in the elementary education. Some don't go to college until their early twenties. Others merely get a basic education with vocational training.

Al: What percentage leave to go to college or vocational training?
Tashi: About 40% go to college and most of the rest join the vocation-training center. At the vocation center, they have the opportunity to learn a wide range of skills. Some of them are lost between high school and college and do not have the aptitude quite for college. We found that we were loosing a lot of those students. With the center, it is the hope that many of these young people will acquire skills that will take them forward in their lives.

Al: Are there many refugees still coming here from Tibet?

Tashi: In most cases, we have in a year an average of five hundred that come across the border. In most cases, children are accompanied by Tibetan traders between Nepal and Tibet. Sometimes, young boys have come on their own. They come in groups or with somebody who has a little knowledge about the route. In most cases, other Tibetans bring in children. Traveling between the two nations is very difficult. It is quite sad to listen to the stories of young children and how they escaped. It is a treacherous trip whatever the age. They start out not knowing whether they will survive and arrive in India safely. In addition, seeing some travelers die on route, it's very difficult. They come and have to endure all that difficulty.

Al: It's not just the transit from Tibet to India; it's living in Tibet today that can be frightening. When I was in Tibet, I was afraid to say anything to anyone because I didn't know who they really were. I wasn't even sure about our Tibetan guides.
Tashi: You never know.

Al: We were at the Jokhang Temple, and I was sure that some of the monks were spies. I caught one peeking over the roof. Does it takes the children long to adjust to freedom and to an open society after living in occupied Tibet?

Tashi: Most children do not feel so comfortable at all or adjusted to peace or just being safe until they have had His Holiness' blessing. I feel that in all cases they are just waiting for an opportunity to have his blessing or just to see him speak. After that moment, all feel safe, and they just feel that they can now talk. Until then, everything around them seems suspicious. It is just living under that fear of being watched and followed that troubles them. So His Holiness' blessing is the opening to a new life for them.

Al: How does His Holiness maintain his presence in Tibet in such a closely controlled society? They can't even have pictures of him.

Tashi: They just keep him in their hearts. That is the safest, because one would never want to trust anybody. I think that is the only way to be safe and survive in Tibet by keeping his presence in your heart.

Al: Dr. Norbu is interested in perpetuating Tibetan cultural and lifestyle. How can you keep religion, culture, and dance alive? I'm troubled by the fact that Tibetans have two handicaps: one Chinese and the other is the Internet, television, radio from the West. Society is going to change. I'm trying to wrestle with what is the essential; you are not going to save everything in Tibet the cultural things here even if you were back in Tibet. What are the essentials to make you really Tibetan other than something else and then how is that carried our here with the children, because that is really the future.
Tashi: That's right. We have seen that when the children grow and leave the village for college and come back we can see that definitely a lot of influences so to speak that can hamper in many ways there actual strength to live as Tibetans. Therefore, we feel that the more we are spread out the more in danger of losing a lot of our cultural values. That is the reason why we want our children to live in the Tibetan Children's Village. When they leave our care and go in to college go to live in the Tibetan youth hostels in India, we attempt to impart to the children while they are here to give them a very protective secure community living situation. We provide them the cultural, traditional, religious values that we respect as Tibetans. We want our young people to take those values with them when they leave us. We want them to have these values in their college or training centers experiences so that they are able to build on those values. In addition, we want them to be able to spread the Tibetan values to other Tibetans for the sake of our cultures. Just the identity which I see China is attempting to eliminate.

And if we are not strong living in and if we do not build on our cultural values in our children, when we die, then the identity will die also. So that is why we want our children to live in a Tibetan environment, grow up as Tibetans, and leave TCV as Tibetans and carry the Tibetan identity with them. That is what we try to do. We give them more than the academic or general knowledge. We give them the ability to go out as literate young Tibetans and be able to live as Tibetans so that they can teach their children to live as Tibetans and grow up as Tibetans. That is what we try to do here.

Al: Tashi, you have provided me an excellent overview of TCV and its mission; it is quite inspiring. I've been truly moved.
Tashi: That is how we try to live here, but without the financial support, without the encourage of all the thousands of people around the world who know the Tibetans and especially the Tibetan Children's Village work, we could not carry forth our philosophy.

Al: I'll call Dr. Norbu on his birthday. I know he will ask me if I got here. Thank you also for permission to see some of classrooms and student housing. I will put this interview and the photos on the Internet. Tashe Delek.

Tashi: I'm glad that I could talk to you. If it can help the Tibetan cause and the Tibetan Children's Villages, I'm glad. Tashe Delek.

Tenzine was once a student at the TCV and now works for the Tibetan people in exile.



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