Sustainable Agriculture in Tibet
Sustainable agriculture in Tibet is crucial, because of the lack of arable land and the volatile weather conditions the country faces. Ensuring the health of crops is important for the wellbeing of people living in the country.

Overview

Despite the fact that only a very limited portion of the Tibetan region is arable due to extreme weather conditions and altitudes, farming supplies grains that are essential to the population. Farmers are accustomed to using sustainable farming methods to maximize output and to ensure crops remain healthy through extreme climate. Crop rotation and mixing crops help to maintain the fertility of croplands in an area where there is a limited growing season. Barley is the main crop produced in Tibet, due to its use as a beneficial food source for the abundant livestock in the country. Other crops have been introduced, including rice, maize and wheat.

Livestock is the main type of farming on the plateaus of Tibet because of the lack of fertile land. Farmers are nomadic, and usually have a mixture of yaks, sheep and goats. The constant migration the farmers and livestock engage in gives adequate time for the pastures to recover lost fertility. It is estimated that 75 percent of the land in Tibet is pasture-based, with the natural wealth of animals present in the country.

Biogas Program Aims to Boost Farmer Incomes

A Beijing-based non-profit and Worldwatch Institute partner, the Global Environmental Institute (GEI), developed a biogas program in the mountainous Chinese province. The project provides clean, renewable energy to households and helps the region’s agriculture trade market. Located in Wujinmai Village, it is the most recent of GEI’s sustainable rural development program and based on a similar model used in a three-year-old program in the Yunnan province that boosted farmer incomes 20-fold.

GEI’s program, launched in April 2006, uses three aspects to address issues of pollution and poverty. The first area is composting animal manure, a potential groundwater pollutant, into both biogas for energy and fertilizer for growing organic crops. GEI trains farmers to manage and maintain the biogas systems, which use small tanks that require only one cow or three pigs to provide 1–2 five-person households with year-round heating and cooking fuel. According to the Worldwatch Institute, “the clean, renewable and free source of energy eliminates the need for Tibetans to spend hours each day collecting firewood.”

The second aspect of the program, greenhouses for organic agriculture production that double as homes for the biogas tanks, which would otherwise freeze, compliments the Tibetan climate of extreme heat and cold. The third involves “capacity building and skills training to help the farmers learn to better manage their new businesses selling surplus organic vegetables.”

Focusing on Long-Term Efficiency

The Department of Home of the Central Tibetan Administration has taken an initiative to conduct training on sustainable agriculture development in Tibet. This will be done through modernization and market access combining Israeli agro-techniques. This training is aimed at improving crop production, collective marketing and community agribusiness management. The overall goal is to ensure that communities are well-informed about efficient agricultural practices, to benefit the communities in the long term.

Casey Geier
Photo: Pixabay

Unrepresented nationsIn 1991, The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization (UNPO) was founded in The Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. The UNPO is an international body with a membership comprised of “indigenous peoples, minorities, citizens of unrecognized States and occupied territories” who use The UNPO as a collective means of participating in the major international community. Over forty unrepresented groups currently make up The UNPO’s General Assembly with a few notable members such as Tibet, Taiwan and Washington D.C.

UNPO’s Mission

The communities joined together in The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization are united in a shared mission guided by the five major principles of nonviolence, human rights, democracy, self-determination, environmental protection, and tolerance stated in The UNPO Covenant. The Covenant draws off of language used in ubiquitous international documents like The United Nations Charter, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and others to validate the need for a forum such as The UNPO to exist.

Through its mission, The UNPO is also an ally in the fight to alleviate global poverty. According to estimates from the World Bank, indigenous peoples make up about 5 percent of the population and about 10 percent of those living in poverty around the world. These statistics reveal how indigenous groups are disproportionately affected by poverty. By empowering indigenous and other marginalized people through international representation, The UNPO is taking important steps to combat poverty.

How The UNPO Works

The main decision-making body of The UNPO is the General Assembly, made up of delegations from each of the member communities. The General Assembly convenes every 12-18 months so that UNPO members can discuss the pressing issues in their communities. In addition, the Assembly elects members of the eight members of the Presidency, including the President, two Vice-Presidents, General Secretary, and Treasurer for three-year terms.  

The Presidency has the duty of implementing the policy put forth by the General Assembly during a term. The current President is Mr. Nasser Boladai of West Balochistan. Under the direction of the General Assembly and the Presidency, The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization acts as a key intermediary between the unrepresented communities it represents and international institutions such as The U.N. and E.U.

The UNPO approaches international forums in the role of an advocate for their members as well as a consultant about international decisions on issues relevant to UNPO members. For example, thanks to the work of  The UNPO, marginalized groups and minorities have been able to actively participate in various U.N. sessions of The Human Rights Council, The U.N. Forum on Minority Issues, and The U.N. Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues.

In addition, the UNPO has successfully lobbied for their inclusion in The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process launched in 2008 to review the human rights records of all UN Member States. As a result of the advocacy and lobbying done by The UNPO, many of the marginalized and unheard voices that The UNPO represents now have the chance to be heard by those who wield power amongst the international community.

Who is the in the UNPO?

The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization currently represents 43 Nations/ Peoples throughout the world. Each member community has its own set of specific aspirations and concerns that they hope The UNPO can help them verbalize. The UNPO compiles detailed profiles on each of its member communities and then uses this information to help advocate in their interest.

Tibet, or the Government of Tibet in Exile is a member of the UNPO and has a history that is familiar to many. In the 1950’s, Tibet became an occupied territory of The People’s Republic of China and lost its national autonomy and political rights. The Central Tibetan Administration or the Tibetan Government in Exile claims that the Chinese occupation is an illegitimate military campaign. Although the Chinese constitution grants political autonomy to the occupied areas of Tibet, the reality from the Tibetan point of view is that the Chinese preside over them with an authoritarian rule.

Through the influence of The UNPO, The Tibetan Delegation hopes to plead it’s case to the international community and address grievances (violations of political rights, environmental degradation, and suppression of freedom of expression and association) against the Chinese government.

Since 1991, The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization has helped promote the rights and freedoms of minority/marginalized groups throughout the world. As we strive towards shaping a world of equality and justice, The UNPO serves as a fine example of how we can give a voice to the voiceless.

Clarke Hallum

Photo: Flickr

traditional Tibetan medicineDespite the ongoing desperate struggle in Tibet over freedom and territory, collaboration is growing between Tibetan healers and the Chinese healthcare system.

Advancing Medical Care, Advancing Camaraderie

Medical care and advancements have often been sources of truce, respect and mutual benefits between cultures in conflict or war with one another. Such medical neutrality is evident amid the chaos between China and Tibet.

Chinese authorities recognize value in traditional Tibetan medicine, and some Tibetans recognize value in merging with conventional technology.

The conflict in Tibet is still unfolding. Over 150 Tibetans burned themselves to death since 2009 in despair and protest of Chinese control, and some plead for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet from exile in India. The latest death from such desperate protest occurred in March 2018, with the self-immolation of Tsekho Tugchak in eastern Tibet.

Actions in Medical Neutrality

While the severe struggle for respect and freedom continues in Tibet, some traditional Tibetan healers are acting in medical neutrality beyond the conflict with China to preserve the benefits of their medical heritage and continue working as doctors. Also, mutual benefits are evident as traditional Tibetans are merging with more modern healthcare ways and patients are increasingly requesting integration of conventional methods.

New medical facilities and schools are growing in Tibet that merge traditional Tibetan medicine with more modern technology such as x-rays, MRI’s, antibiotic therapy and IVs. One such merging is happening in the Xinning, Amdo region of Tibet, where the Qinhai Tibetan Medical School connects with the Xinning Tibetan Medical Hospital.

The school includes a collaborative degree program of traditional and conventional medicine. At the hospital, traditional Tibetan doctors work with conventional Chinese doctors while innovating integrative treatments. There are several such schools and hospitals developing that integrate traditional and conventional ways.

Merging of Old and New

Scientific research efforts are also underway to use modern technological equipment for finding the active constituents of the plants that have been used for thousands of years by Tibetan healers. While traditional Tibetan healers use multiple plants in their remedies along with holistic methods, the research into active constituents may bring mutually beneficial “revolutionary drugs” and treatments.

Chinese authorities recognize such potential and are actively attempting to preserve ancient Tibetan medical knowledge. Employees of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine are working to translate Tibetan medical documents, and the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region dedicates at least 10 million yuan (~$1.5 million) per year developing traditional Tibetan medicine, which includes preserving twelfth-century documents.

Use of Tibetan Plants in Tibetan Medicine

Many of the herbs used by traditional Tibetan doctors are not found in other cultures’ medicines, and an estimated 70 percent of the botanicals used in Tibetan medicine are local to the Tibetan plateau area. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is known as “a gene bank for the world’s plateau plants.”

Many of these unique plants grow slow and don’t produce enough material to support a larger population’s medical needs. Therefore, an effort is underway to domesticate and cultivate wild botanicals unique to Tibetan land.

Tashi Tsering is the deputy chief of the Biological Research Institute of Tibetan Medicine (BRITM) at Men-Tsee-Khang in Lhasa, which is a hospital based in traditional Tibetan medicine that received quality-improvement funding of 256 million yuan (nearly $40 million) between 2014 and 2016 from the central government.

Cultivating Plants and National Success

BRITM has been working diligently to cultivate wild Tibetan herbs, which is no easy feat. Traditional Tibetan healers put extensive effort into learning what makes each plant medicinal, including many years of study and meticulous harvest and usage methods. These include efforts such as identifying which specific part of the plant to use and the correct weather for gathering.

Despite initially unsuccessful attempts at domesticating the Tibetan botanicals since 2011, Tsering and his team persevered and have since successfully cultivated at least 27 endangered medicinal plants.

The organization’s success is in part due to its careful efforts in mimicking the plants’ natural environment, including temperature, light, moisture and soil condition. BRITM continues to grow and improve its laboratory and technological equipment, aiding in the effort to cultivate valuable Tibetan plants.

While specific herbs are important in traditional Tibetan remedies, they are only part of the equation for health according to adherents of the ancient practice. Successes of Tibetan holistic methods have resulted in increased adoption of such ways.

Steps Towards Peace in Tibet

The president of Arura Hospital in Xining, Konchok Gyaltsen, explains that the combination of unique herbs and philosophy cause good health. For example, 94 percent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis at Arura Hospital are cured of the illness through medicated baths, psychology and dietary changes.

As several traditional Tibetan healers continue with medical neutrality working as doctors and researches, sharing ancient knowledge and leading schools and clinics, they rise beyond the desperate struggle in Tibet and help humanity overall. However, the self-sacrificing painful pleas for help from the Tibetan protestors against China are symptoms of major problems in the world.

The United States passed the bipartisan resolution 429 in March 2018, for “Commemorating the 59th anniversary of Tibet’s 1959 uprising as ‘Tibetan Rights Day,’ and expressing support for the human rights and religious freedom of the Tibetan people and the Tibetan Buddhist faith community.” The resolution also includes that “the Secretary of State should make best efforts to establish an office in Lhasa, Tibet, to monitor political, economic, and cultural developments in Tibet.”

With such support from the U.S., and collaboration between traditional Tibetan healers and conventional Chinese medical professionals, perhaps there is a way towards peace and respect in Tibet.

– Emme Leigh
Photo: Flickr

poverty in TibetDespite political tensions, Tibet has seen marked improvements in everyday life for its average citizens. The central government in Beijing and other nations may have ulterior motives behind their funding, but the result is the same: a more prosperous Tibet. Aid is flowing in from the Chinese government, the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) and Nepal, to name a few.

According to the regional authority, over the course of the past five years, over 530,000 people have escaped poverty in Tibet. It comes as no surprise that with a falling poverty rate, there is a rise in registered capital. Currently, the number stands at over $162 billion, a 39.4 percent increase from the previous year.

Tibetan Politics: A Delicate Situation

Tibet and China have been in a tense struggle over Tibet’s autonomy since the 1950s. Many Tibetans wish for independence, and in the past, the Chinese government has acted forcefully.

The most notable example of this is the situation with the current Dalai Lama who has been living in exile in India since the Tibetan Rebellion. Despite the Dalai Lama’s tension with Beijing, it seems even he believes that remaining with China is in Tibet’s best interest. Couple that with the many development projects China has enacted in Tibet, and it appears that their relationship is looking up.

China Tries to Tackle Poverty in Tibet

The government in Beijing gives the impression that its best path to quieting Tibetan independence talks is to tackle the region’s poverty problem. One such project that China has funded is in Amdo County, where once-nomadic herders who lived in adobe huts are now receiving homes paid for by the government with a market rate of approximately $47,000.

The Shopko family, one of the recipients of these homes, have gone on the record to express their heartfelt thanks for their new home. Their old hut sat at 16,000 feet with no heating or roads to connect them to the nearby villages.

To help with the move, the Chinese government is giving migrants jobs at local tourism centers, hotels and car washes. It follows up on this guarantee with monthly bonuses for locals who manage and protect the essential grasslands, as well as 5,000 yuan a year to residents who enroll in university.

While the Shopkos serve as an ideal for how the government attempts to tackle poverty in Tibet, the program has only reached 121 families so far, but in the previous five years, the government has spent more than $9 billion to try to alleviate poverty in Tibet. Seemingly, Beijing is looking for answers to its political issues.

Foreign Aid to Tibet

Foreign countries are investing in Tibet as well. The Nepalese government has been distancing itself from its neighbor, India, in favor of China. This political posturing could be for a host of reasons; however, the projects Nepal is planning in Tibet are apolitical for the Tibetan people.

Gobinda Karkee is a Nepalese diplomat who oversees development projects with China. The most famous of these is the Friendship Bridge, which was renovated in 2016. The plans are not all symbolic, though. By 2020, Nepal plans on finishing a rail network that will connect with Tibet and lessen its reliance on using Indian ports. The $226 million project is jointly funded by Nepal and China. Along this rail line will be multiple trading points and border checks. The two nations hope the plan will boost the local economy and help rebuild much of the infrastructure that was destroyed in the 2015 earthquake.

Poverty in Tibet has often gone unnoticed in the media because when the region is in the news, it is being celebrated for its rich culture and history. The UNDP sought to take advantage of this by building tourism infrastructure in rural areas, which in turn provides higher paying jobs for the impoverished people in the Tibetan Steppe.

Much like the Chinese government’s program, UNDP has put a heavy focus on preserving the local ecology and economy. The bulk of the project focuses on Old Lhasa City. The city is famous for its courtyards, which UNDP is mapping, landscaping and organizing the foundation of to make Lhasa a tourist destination. Old Lhasa has become an exemplary case of the economic and cultural benefits of the UNDP program.

Tibet rests in a political hotbed in South Asia, and the effects of the decisions made by its neighbors can have unintended consequences on the proud region. Throughout the religious and diplomatic dilemmas, poverty in Tibet has long been a debilitating issue. Thanks to organizations like the UNDP, this problem is now being dealt with and has already improved the lives of half a million people.

– David Jaques

Photo: Flickr

Facts about the Dalai Lama
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, writes in his book The Joy of Living and Dying in Peace, “the more we care for the welfare of the majority, the more we work for social welfare, the greater will be our own peace and happiness. Just as the citizens of a particular country have certain obligations as well as enjoy certain benefits, our obligation as followers of the Buddha and bodhisattvas is to benefit all sentient beings.” The Dalai Lama is a pivotal figure on the topic of spiritualism, politics and the oppressed people of the world. Learn more facts about the Dalai Lama.

Top 15 facts About the Dalai Lama

  1. The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was born on July 6, 1935, and was originally named Lhamo Dhondup. He was one of five children born to a peasant family in Taktser, a village northeast of Tibet.
  2. Gyatso grew up in Tibet’s ancient Potala Palace in Lhasa after being found at age two to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. In 1939, he took the throne in Potala, and two years later, at the age of six, he became a monk.
  3. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. Dalai Lamas are the reincarnations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who chose to reincarnate in order to serve people.
  4. Dalai Lama means Ocean of Wisdom. This was put to the test for Tenzin Gyatso, as in 1950, the Dalai Lama was asked to assume full political power as Head of the Tibetan Government while the country was being threatened by China.
  5. One of the more unique facts about the Dalai Lama is that he was forced into exile in 1959 following China’s military occupation of Tibet. His official residence was moved to Dharamsala in northern India. Dharamsala is now the seat of the Tibetan Government.
  6. In 1987, the Dalai Lama presented a five-point peace plan at the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in Washington, D.C., as a first step toward resolving the future status of Tibet. This plan called to designate a Tibetan zone of peace, end the massive influx of Chinese into Tibet, restore fundamental human rights, end China’s dumping of nuclear waste in the country and urge negotiation on the relations between Tibetan and Chinese people.
  7. Of the 15 facts about the Dalai Lama, his dedication to preserving the lives of his people is perhaps the most recognized. On Dec. 11, 1989, the Dalai Lama gave his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize due to his ceaseless goodwill and desire for communication with China as opposed to conflict, as well as his humanitarian work.
  8. The institution of the Dalai Lama is relatively young. There have been thirteen previous Dalai Lamas, and the first two were given their titles posthumously. Buddhists believe the first reincarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion was Gedun Drub, who lived from 1391 to 1474.
  9. Following the death of a Dalai Lama, it has traditionally been the responsibility of the High Lamas and the Tibetan government to find the reincarnation. The search for the 14th Dalai Lama took four years.
  10. The current Dalai Lama is extremely interested in the sciences. He has a particular fondness for ecology and believes that working toward the preservation of the planet embodies the ideals of Buddha.
  11. The fourteenth Dalai Lama is unique in that he is the first Dalai Lama to have visited the U.S. and traveled the western world.
  12. He is also unique in that he has suggested the line of reincarnation may cease entirely. In 2015, he made comments to the New York Times to that effect, fearing that the Chinese government will use the issue of succession to split Tibetan Buddhism, with one successor named by the exiles and one by the Chinese government.
  13. China regards the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist. Chinese police in Tibet urge locals to report suspected supporters of the Dalai Lama and his “evil forces” in Tibet. China has become increasingly worried about how Tibet is portrayed throughout the world and are attempting to dissolve Tibetan culture. Tashi Wangchuk, an activist, could face 15 years in jail for promoting the use of the Tibetan language in schools.
  14. Mercedes-Benz issued an apology to Chinese consumers on Feb. 6, 2018 for an Instagram post showing one of its luxury cars along with a quote from the Dalai Lama. The quote: “Look at the situations from all angles, and you will become more open.” Instagram has been blocked in China since 2014.
  15. In 1995, the Dalai Lama named a boy in Tibet as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is the second highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism. Upon learning this, China put the boy under house arrest and installed another in his place.

These 15 facts about the Dalai Lama showcase the plight of Tibet and the tenacious tenderness of its spiritual leader. Tenzin Gyatso is the only Dalai Lama to have been exiled from his own country. He is no longer allowed to freely visit his own place of birth. Even though the people of Tibet support him and would gladly start an uprising to take back their country, he has urged them not to in order to maintain peace and preserve the lives of his people. He holds true to his teachings of openness and communication, as well as his dedication as a follower of the Buddha to benefit all sentient beings.

– Sam Bramlett

Photo: Flickr


With the support of the Chinese government, progress continues to be made toward the alleviation of poverty in Tibet. Tibet has been controversially occupied by China since 1950, when the newly established communist regime launched an invasion of its sparsely populated neighbor with the goal of making it a permanent part of The People’s Republic of China. Today, international perspectives of China’s occupation of Tibet remain controversial, but many have become more receptive to China’s presence in the region due to Beijing’s insistence that the government has significantly reduced poverty in Tibet.

Part of China’s most recent Five Year Plan (2016-2020) are provisions to finish construction of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, which will link the most remote and mountainous region of Tibet to the rest of the world. With an estimated cost of roughly $36 billion and a plan to build well over 1,000 miles of railway, this ambitious project will vastly improve economic access to the region, greatly .

Other provisions of the Five Year Plan include continued expansion of housing projects, which the central government reports have provided modern housing for over 236,000 Tibetans to date. Many of the people that benefit from this program were reportedly living without either running water or electricity previous to receiving government assistance. The Chinese government aims to eliminate these dire conditions by 2020.

Though many critics in the international political sphere have expressed concerns over the preservation of Tibetan culture while the region remains under Chinese control, the central government has sought to reassure the international community of its intentions to preserve Tibetan religious and historical sites. Western fascination with Tibetan Buddhism and history has caused an uptick in tourism in recent years, which has provided a boost to the Tibetan economy.

Many people continue to question the validity of the Chinese government’s statistics regarding poverty in Tibet. To this day, some see China’s occupation of Tibet as illegal, including exiled Tibetan political groups that advocate for its independence.

Though also living in exile in India, the foremost Tibetan religious leader, the Dalai Lama, has recently affirmed his pro-China stance, saying that Tibet’s inclusion in Chinese politics offers the invaluable opportunity for economic modernization and environmental protections. In a speech given at the Indian Chamber of Commerce in November 2017, the Dalai Lama urged the Chinese government to enhance its respect of Tibetan culture and heritage, but stressed that Tibet is not seeking independence from China. Rather, says the Dalai Lama, the development and alleviation of poverty in Tibet made possible by its dependence on the central Chinese government validates this arrangement.

– Savannah Bequeaith

Photo: Flickr

Education in TibetSince the seventeen-point agreement was signed for the incorporation of Tibet into the People’s Republic of China in 1951, achievements have taken place in Tibet over the past 65 years. The illiteracy rate in Tibet was reduced from a staggering 95 percent in the 1950s to 42 percent in 2000. This is according to the latest statistical data from the Department of Education in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Education of ethnic Tibetans are subsidized by the central government in People’s Republic of China. In the Tibet Autonomous Region, compulsory education in primary and secondary schools are executed in which the average educational period for individuals is 8.6 years, while preferential policies encourages young Tibetans to seek higher and more advanced education in and out of the autonomous region.

The distinguished achievements of education in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China comprises of several aspects. Kindergarten and preliminary schools are fast developing where the attendance of kids aged three to six had reached 52 percent until the end of 2013. Besides the great results from compulsory education in Tibet, education in high schools has been expanding and the scales of schools are continuously enlarging. The fast-development of high school education in Tibet are highly reliable on scientific planning, rational mapping, and have an active construction of education funds and reasonable allocations of teaching resources.

The autonomous regional government in Tibet also takes high concerns on sharing equal opportunities to children with disabilities, where schools with special support are given priority to these kids. In addition, the policy of covering all expenses on study and accommodations for children of herdsmen in Tibet are gradually improving while related treatments are continuously being enhanced since 1985.

However, despite the brilliant accomplishment of educational development in Tibet, due to various external difficulties and constraints, some apparent problems and barriers still exist and can be enumerated as follows:

First, the natural conditions in Tibet are harsh and this results into higher educational costs. Tibet is located in the roof of the world, with wide areas and sparse populations. It lacks oxygen in the plateau where climate varies drastically with vast temperature differences between day and night. The construction and operational costs of schools are relatively high, as the budgets for schools in rural and pastoral areas are three to five times higher than the schools in the Mainland.

Second, the economic foundation and industrial development in Tibet are quite poor. Due to the smaller levels of revenue and resources, there is generally a gap in financial and social progress in Tibet. It is quite difficult for the majority of herdsmen in Tibet to increase their incomes. Hence, with respect to such kind of fiscal status, it would be difficult for Tibet itself to allocate sufficient funds to develop education.

In some areas of Tibet, the education concepts have placed constraints on the consolidation of development on compulsory education. There is also insufficient capacity of senior high school education which is becoming more and more prominent, and this will come back to have an impact on the future popularization, consolidation, and improvement of compulsory education in Tibet.

The third issue is related on the structural defects of training students in advanced education. It is rather hard to accumulate a large number of highly educated personnel in Tibet as for most areas, attracting and retaining talented professionals of all kinds are everlasting problems. This leads to an overall scarcity of high-end talents. Furthermore, the existing problems such as equality and quality of education, welfare towards poor families, and efficiency of education in Tibet also requires intensive attention.

In early 2017, more than ten policy files were signed in Tibet on accelerating the reform and development of education in the Tibet autonomous region. These official documents clarified the tasks, policies and measures for the specific tasks on Tibet’s education progress in the 13th Five-Year Plan. Complementary education in addition to college enrolment will be prioritized for recorded poor families in Tibet. It is expected that penetration of bilingual education, as well as math and science curriculums with experimental classes will achieve 100 percent coverage in the compulsory teaching system. Technical schools in Tibet will also have to reach that goal. The five-year development plan aims to promote the healthy and rapid growth of education in Tibet.

Coming through the bottleneck and weaknesses of development, education in Tibet is improving in the current decade. Students of the next generation in Tibet are embracing a brand-new future.

– Xin Gao

Photo: Flickr
                                                       

Braille Without Borders Is in DangerBraille Without Borders, the renowned school for the blind, is in danger of being shut down. The institution was co-founded in May 1998 by German born Sabriye Tenberken and Dutch born Paul Kronenberg in Tibet to empower students who are blind or visually impaired. A Tibetan agency wishes to discontinue integration training that helps blind people assimilate into society. No explanation has been given as to why.

Braille Without Borders is so named because its founders are determined to defy the odds. They hope to inspire blind and visually impaired children to overcome negative perceptions in society that prevent them from playing an active and inclusive role. To bring this to fruition, students are given a holistic education that encompasses academic and life skills.

The preparatory school that is in danger of closing teaches students how to read and write the Tibetan, Chinese and English Braille scripts. Students are also trained in different vocations such as animal husbandry, agriculture, market gardening, composting and working in the cheese industry. Through educating children holistically, the program ensures students can take control over their lives upon exiting.

Tenberken created Braille Without Borders out of frustration. She lost her sight at the age of 12 and decided at a young age, with support from her family, not to let society tell her what she is capable of. In a 2010 interview with Deutsche Welle, she stated that it angers her that impaired people are not taken seriously because others focus too much on the disability the person has.

Furthermore, prior to the program beginning, Tibetan blind children were social outcasts. People thought they were stupid or possessed by demons, and parents didn’t want to touch their own children. Tibetan citizens believed blindness was a curse from God because of an evil committed.

The success of the program has changed how the blind are perceived. Tenberken stated in the same interview that people stand up for the visually impaired now, as Braille Without Borders has been very successful in reducing the stigma against blind people and providing them with an education. No longer is it okay to call them blind fools. They are confident young people who contribute to society.

So far, the program has impacted the lives of 300 children ages six to 15. However, there is far more work to be accomplished. Statistics state 30,000 of the 2.5 million inhabitants of the Tibet Autonomous Region are blind or highly visually impaired. Compared to most areas in the world, this is above average. Climate and hygienic factors such as dust, wind, high ultra-violet light radiation, soot in houses caused by heating with coal and/or yak dung, and lack of vitamin A and D at an early age, contribute to the unusually high number of blind and visually impaired people in this region. A rehabilitation program for the blind and visually impaired is necessary to improve quality of life.

Braille Without Borders is in danger of closing if supporters do not act now. It has endured over the past 19 years due to donations and encouragement from people outside of Tibet. If the school is closed, Tenberken is gravely worried students will be sent to schools where they won’t receive training to become self-sufficient. Supporters can continue to aid the program’s efforts through donations. Learn more ways to help on the official website of Braille Without Borders.

Jeanine Thomas

Photo: Flickr

Five Year Development Plan
Though most of China is now urbanized, some parts of the third largest country in the world still remain cut off from industrial society. Tibet is the western part of China, dominated by high planes and an agriculture based economy. The region can almost be considered its own country, given that the isolated culture differs so much from that of other more populated places in China such as Beijing or Hong Kong. Not only does Tibet differ in population and culture but in poverty as well. China’s 13th Five-Year Development Plan hopes to change this.

The current President of China, Xi Jinping, has stated that getting rid of poverty in rural areas such as Tibet would be the hardest part of building a “prosperous society.” In addition to building better access to transportation, the government plans to expand access to water, the internet, education and health care.

While the poverty rate in China was measured at just about 6.5 percent in 2012, the rate in Tibet was a staggering 32.9 percent by the end of 2015. The Chinese government is now being forced to strategize and increase its efforts to support Tibet. Through many provisions in China’s 13th Five-Year Development Plan (2015-2020), Tibet will benefit greatly. Included in the Five-Year Development Plan is the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, which has recently begun construction.

The China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group states that the railway will go from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, all the way to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. This line will connect the most remote villages of Tibet with the most globally connected parts of China, making travel easier and faster. The $36 billion project will promote and increase economic prosperity, which is exactly what the Five-Year Development Plan set out to do.

Since the construction of the Qinghai–Tibet Railway increased the tourism economy of the region, the Sichuan-Tibet Railway is sure to have the same effect. This construction project will be a huge job-creator, and, with more money from tourism, government jobs and increased access to industrialized markets, the people of Tibet will have many more opportunities to escape from poverty.

Vicente Vera

Photo: Google

Preserving Tibet
For many centuries, Tibet lay peacefully on the Tibetan Plateau, its people cultivating a sense of community that lived a life of peace with their leader, the Dalai Lama. However, with increased globalization and pressure for development, their migratory way of life and secluded nature no longer seemed feasible in the grand scheme of things, and their neighbor China invaded them. This invasion forced several Tibetan people to seek refuge in the village of Dharamsala, a small part of northern India. It became home to the Dalai Lama and his followers, but several Tibetans still attempt to live on the Tibetan plateau and are constantly fighting the arrest and destruction that China has thrust upon them.

For those few remaining souls, life can be very difficult as they face increasing pressure to either join China, be arrested or flee to Dharamsala, leaving their homes and families behind. The main reason these individuals must make a decision is because they have very limited means of supporting themselves. After living in a migratory way for the majority of their lives, adapting to the new landscape, which includes a train that goes directly to China, has become very difficult. Some Tibetans are attempting to preserve their culture by acting as tour guides and performers, but with limited access this is becoming a job that only few can hold. Luckily, there is an NGO that is willing to help.

The Bridge Fund (TBF) is an organization that is “working to improve the lives of Tibetan communities in China through locally driven, integrated development programs and overarching initiatives. The program supports education, healthcare, cultural heritage preservation, environmental conservation and business development. TBF exists to literally bridge resources technical, financial and advisory for Tibetan communities so they can meet their own economic, social, cultural and environmental needs.”

TBF allows local Tibetans to produce goods that can be sold in stores throughout the world. It also strives to preserve Tibetan heritage and has recently launched a music and mural preservation initiative that has proven to be very successful. By providing business education to Tibetans young and old, The Bridge Fund is succeeding in making Tibetans more independent as they face hardships imposed by China. By providing counsel and connections, the organization is effectively creating business-savvy individuals who will be able to compete on the global market while simultaneously preserving their own culture.

Several other Tibet-based NGOs have come into effect and have been working alongside The Bridge Fund to help the Tibetan people preserve and protect what is rightfully theirs. While it is understandable that China may want to push their borders further west in order to accommodate a growing population, it is imperative to understand the importance of preserving a nation that is home to a rich cultural background. As the Dalai Lama once said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you cannot help them, at least do not hurt them.” This is a prime opportunity to help a people who, at the present moment, are struggling to help themselves.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: The Bridge Fund, International Campaign for Tibet
Photo: Karmapa