Support to the People and Culture of Tibet

Project location: Tibet
Project start date: February 2002 - Project end date: This project covers various years
Project number: 0000-02
Beneficiary: n.a. - Various Beneficiaries

The Nando Peretti Foundation has awarded grants to promote education and general health and living conditions of various communities in Tibet.

An assessment of the Nando Peretti Foundation activities in favour of Tibetan culture conservation.

by Marco Lorenzon

This paper is aimed at offering a bird's eye view on the Nando Peretti Foundation's achievements in terms of support towards the Tibetan civilization greatly endangered by constant attempts of cultural annihilation. The analytical examination of single projects supported in the last decade is vital, yet not sufficient, in order to fully understand the accomplishments and benefits of NPF's efforts. Only an all-round approach considering the relationship building process, the consistency of supporting a specific cause and the feedback received from the beneficiaries can allow for a comprehensive understanding of the foundation's independent activities.

A crucial aspect which emerges from the examination of NPF's attainments is the indissoluble bond between survival of a society as a whole and the safeguard of its own culture. Most of the financed projects have been aimed at offering concrete material support for the daily well-being of assisted communities, without forgetting that on the long term maintaining a civilization's culture alive means strengthening its backbone and moving towards self-sustenance.

Aid is unfortunately more often than not subordinate to the political interests of those directly or indirectly involved in financing a specific project. Lobbyist entities or interest groups are frequently to some degree involved with the financer or with communities receiving domestic or foreign aid. It is therefore a logical consequence of political interests that aid tends to steer free from those minorities truly in need which are unable to grant sufficient visibility in return, to such an extent that financial and moral support of causes unpopular amongst local authorities may also be the source of retaliation or adverse pressure towards those receiving or providing it.

On the other hand, communities with matching ideological, ethnical or philosophical perspectives are more likely to obtain resources from financers who endorse the same principles of existence. Empathy generally tends to emerge when considering nearby scenarios; it is of human nature to be more inclined to help those close to us not only geographically but also morally and existentially. Religion, for instance, plays a vital role in many aid organizations and despite the modern secularized efforts to bypass the boundaries of faith it is inevitable that to some extent certain conduct is expected and certain values are to be endorsed in exchange of a lending hand. Similarly, aid (or the absence of it) is often subject to political expectations and demeanour. A vast array of geopolitical analysts believe that aid has been, and still seems to be, one of today's principal forms of international interference and political commitment behind which often lay economic and commercial interests of other sort.

Being in a position in which some variation of the do ut des formula is not sustained, or in which support may give way to undesired difficulties such as potential threat to financer resources, staff or future activities, will tend to affect the way in which aid is delivered. It is therefore not always true that aid is granted most where it is needed the most; more likely it is delivered where it is needed the most provided it won't be the cause of issues that would not be encountered by supporting other activities: maximizing benefits whilst minimizing consequences. This compromise may sound fair given the constructive activity of those organisms to some extent involved in aid supply; it is however true that approaching development and charity issues with lesser constrictions makes for better results which should ultimately be the focal goal.

Impartiality and independence are necessary attributes to avoid funding projects based on political or economical convenience rather than effectiveness, something that the Nando Peretti Foundation has since its establishment been strictly committed to. The inevitable project selection procedure takes into account the efficiency of resource allocation and tends to favour long term results achieved with consistency. This allows for the establishment of long lasting solid relationships based on trust and mutual respect between staff and representatives with whom there is interaction in order to make the best out of the projects approved by the NPF committee.

Tibetan communities scattered around the world have generated great interest amongst westeneers who have embraced the Buddhist way of life, consequently stimulating financial aid towards the support of Tibetan culture and values. What must, however, be understood, is that a foreign approach into supporting the Tibetan cause is by definition not enough, as the righteous struggle for the claim of basic human rights is a battle that has to be carried on by Tibetans on what once was legitimately their own soil. Despite numerous efforts to promote the Tibetan cause in the West, much more must be done in order to allow Tibetan communities to flourish where their culture has unjustly been endangered. It must be underlined that actively supporting a community exposed to hostile surroundings always proves to be a more demanding task and the Nando Peretti Foundation has since its origins embarqued on the quest of pursuing aid policies locally as well as granting adequate foreign financial support.

A distinction at this point must be made between NPF's funding activity directed at aiding domestic or close by realities and, on the other hand, supporting projects in more remote or isolated areas. In the first case aid has been substantially of didactic or informative nature whilst the latter aspect, being more operative, has required a more sophisticated approach. Overseas projects prove to be more demanding both in terms of bureaucratic efforts and in terms of actually implementing the funds in a useful manner. Dealing with local administrations is at best a hugely complex duty considering cultural and formal differences amongst financers and beneficiaries. Complications arise noticeably when these differences are not only present but furtherly enhanced by hostile conducts that one might expect from official authorities in occupied regions such as Tibet. This is precisely why a two-sided approach to the Tibetan cause is necessary: informing in the West is a necessary effort in setting the basis for assistance in the Far East.

"Culture is the sum of all the forms of art, of love, and of thought, which, in the coarse or centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved" (Andre Malraux)

The Gaden Jangtse Norling College of Buddhist and Welfare Association exists since its foundation in 1409 in Lhasa, Tibet. China's military occupation in 1959 had forced the Dalai Lama and fellow Tibetan monks from Gaden Jangtse College to ask the Indian authorities for political asylum, granted in 1969, allowing for the monks to settle in Mundgod (Southern India) where both the Monastery and the Tibetan Medical Centre left behind have been rebuilt. For as much as the Indian Government's territorial concession is an offering to welcome with much respect and gratitude, the country's socio-economical conditions are unfit to grant adequate living standards to its Tibetan guests, being that they are often inadequate to India's local population as well. The staff members of Nando Peretti Foundation firmly believe that India's generous deeds are to be externally supported in name of the righteous opposition to oppressive regimes.

The Centre initially welcomed about 1.300 monks and its school today still offers education programmes for both Tibetan and Indian citizens. Monasteries have since their foundation been considered, and still are, cradles of their civilisation. Supporting the administration of the largest and most ancient Monastery currently in existence is a commitment which underlines the essence of NPF's assistance strategy. A long term bond is to be tied in order to aid the over 10,000 refugees who depend upon the Monastery's continuation, offering a platform from which new generations of Tibetans can be raised and from which their archaic tradition and precious culture can be guarded. Additionally, in 2007 a group of 18 monks were sponsored by NPF in order to keep on studying Buddhist culture, lifestyle and arts at the Gaden Jangtse Monastery. The funds were employed to provide housing, food and education for a total period of three years during which the monks involved were able to keep on training and serving the community as a whole.

Tibetan culture keeps on being undermined by Chinese authorities in Tibet, policies of this last decade clearly indicate the will to suppress religious practices, core element of Tibetan society. The Tibet Bureau requested the Nando Peretti Foundation to offer financial support in organising programs to promote and preserve the importance of Tibetan culture in Switzerland, where up to 4000 Tibetan refugees are accommodated. It had been considered, and still is today, of paramount importance that the new generation of Tibetans born abroad may learn, practice and maintain their cultural origins alive. Tibetan monks have therefore been invited from India in order to interact with young European Tibetans and offer an important introduction to the Buddhist way of life, increasing awareness of tradition and hopefully leading the young generations to travel to India for a greater understanding of their culture.

The 18 monks involved in the cultural expedition came from the previously mentioned region of Karnataka in India, where the Gaden Jangtse Monastery had been rebuilt half a century ago. The reiterated assistance offered by NPF towards projects concerning a particular area or situation exemplifies the determination to pursue goals with a certain amount of continuity. The experience gained in several years of international cooperation has proven that aid habitually directed and narrowed down to supporting a specific cause rather than delivered indiscriminately tends to avoid dispersion and allows for a more efficient allocation of funds.

Another aspect which must be considered is the will to support projects concerning areas both near and far from domestic reality. As mentioned in the introduction, efficient aid is that which is delivered where it is needed the most and where a breach must be opened in order to defy unfavourable socio-political circumstances. On the other hand, it is equally important to support a cause by exposing it to the attention of a more global public. Awakening consciences is a key effort that must be made in order for certain situations to become of common interest and thus be recognized by a vast number of people who might become actively involved in the struggle.

Cultural awareness is of fundamental importance for the interests of both beneficiaries and benefiters of aid: the understanding of a socio-cultural background and the reasons that lie behind poverty allow for a better approach in searching for solutions, underlining the fact that culture, commonly achieved through education, is a key issue in the struggle towards prosperity.

"Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself." (John Dewey)

The Nando Peretti Foundation firmly believes in the power of education; this induced the committee to approve a series of projects tackling schooling issues in areas where it was lacking or endangered by environmental or social factors. The link between education and development is one which can't be ignored and must, on the contrary, be enforced. More specifically, education proves to be of vital importance in developing countries as it tends to break the cycle of poverty offering opportunities which couldn't otherwise be taken advantage of. In the context of preserving Tibetan culture scholarship plays a fundamental role, allowing for ancient traditions to be learnt and thus kept alive generating well being amongst both local population and visitors from abroad.

Aiding the Rabten Ghe Pel Ling Centre for Tibetan Studies in the construction of a school has proven to be a precious asset in a larger framework of assistance concerning the Litang area. The non-profit organization had already been involved in the construction of the People's Hospital of Litang contributing to the solution of a dramatic sanitary situation in the province. The project was aimed at allowing the children of the Litang area to keep on pursuing their primary education, being that the only school in 36.000 square kilometers had collapsed. The new school has let over 200 children pursue primary education in their own country, in their own language and in name of those Tibetan values and notions bound to be lost if not adequately taught, also becoming a centre for socialization and extra-curricular aggregation allowing for the reinforcement of community values and the common solution of the daily complexity of problems which strike the area.
The absence of means to keep an ancient culture alive in such a complex region may jeopardize a whole generation fated to grow up without an education and thus relegated to a life of extreme poverty with few possibilities of making a better living. Alternative efforts other than remedying to the collapsed school such as diverting children in need towards other educational centers would have required an impracticable effort for the families involved. This would have been disastrous both in terms of granting the children directly involved a future and in terms of granting the continuity of culture throughout generations. It was therefore of vital importance for the short and long term survival of a whole community to assemble a school and an adequate infrastructure to host the children, most of which coming from families of nomad tradition. The additional difficulty, common to many of the region's children, of being orphans, made the construction of accommodation in the school's surroundings even more vital to ensure that those unable to attend classes on a regular basis might do so.
In the name of continuity, NPF has also supported educational projects in the Mundgod area where the Gaden Jangtse Monastary has been rebuilt. Alongside teaching the vital aspects of Buddhist culture and religious education, the Monastery provides lectures in English, Mathematics and Social Sciences. A bilateral approach to education is therefore applied being that Buddhist traditional disciplines such as medicine and religion are learnt side by side with those Western subjects necessary to prosper in a globalised world. The hundreds of Buddhist communities exiled around the world coexist with a great variety of cultures, making the acknowledgement of an ample spectre of standard notions a necessary task to grant the harmonious development and integration of Buddhist communities living abroad.

Cultural preservation also inevitably concerns safeguarding the methods of communication involved in its transmission. A civilisation's culture depends upon its language and can't survive without it. Tibetan language and literature has reached a very critical stage being that a homeland does not exist and thus a safe environment for culture and language to strengthen and develop is missing. Though Tibetan language is considered to be very rich, it lacks modern day terminology relating to scientific aspects which Tibetans in exile have encountered and discovered abroad. Since coming into exile, exposure to various new scientific subjects has required the adaptation of vocabulary in order to integrate new topics in archaic language schemes without biasing the nature of the language itself.

The ambitious "Oceans of Knowledge" project approved in 2008 was aimed at reducing the gap between an old language and new concepts to be introduced, aiding young Tibetans in becoming acquainted with modern scientific thoughts without losing their unique Tibetan cultural heritage. The translation of scientific terms in Tibetan allows for modern ideas to be expressed and diffused in Tibetan encouraging Tibetan students to gain interest in the study of scientific subjects. The benefits are not strictly limited to the academics of science but it is to be seen as the spark which ignites the thirst for knowledge and discovery which may induce graduates of the Tibetan community to keep on studying and maybe pursue a career in hard sciences.

Empowering children and adults to escape extreme poverty is the key issue of education oriented aid policies. A more complete education allows for hopes of a brighter future and for enhanced family wealth. This aspect clearly underlines the close relationship between health and education; one can't prosper without the other. It is unthinkable to develop a culture of health and hygiene without educating people in basic treatment and prevention. Vice versa, it is unrealistic to hope that children may learn enough academic notions to increment their chances of defeating poverty in their adulthood without being healthy enough to do so.

"Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." (WHO Constitution, 1946)

As stated in the World Health Organisation constitutional act, health is a more comprehensive notion than the word itself may suggest. There is a strong bond between human well-being and the capacity to survive and prosper, meaning that decent health conditions as a whole are a prerogative for the suitable completion of every human action. Aspects of health are strongly rooted in one's culture as humans physiologically blend with their surroundings in order to establish a mutual relationship with mother earth, offering care and respect in exchange for natural blessings which allow for the human race to feed, cure and ultimately survive. This ancient and consolidated heritage must be conserved and integrated with elements of western medical progress in order to enable the continuation and long term survival of the Tibetan civilisation.

NPF has since its origins been involved in financing projects regarding various aspects of health. In most cases the financed project were aimed at offering concrete benefits to a community as a whole. Occasionally, NPF has in the past decided to finance ad personam projects finalised at offering medical treatments to people in order to grant their survival or to individuals who would have otherwise been severely impaired unless urgent measures were taken. It is the case of a Buddhist monk living in Karnataka State, India; having been diagnosed with severe mitral stenosis and numerous other mitralic and aortic complications, in 2006 he underwent open heart surgery at Narayana Hrudayalaya Institute of cardiac science. The Samatabharda Institute immediately covered the costs of an urgent valve replacement whilst the NPF board agreed to refund the sum as one of the year's projects. Not only did this intervention save a life but it also allowed for a Buddhist monk to keep on studying and transmitting his teachings to further generations, being an actor in the chain of knowledge.

Aid provided by the Nando Peretti Foundation is, however, generally implemented in projects with concrete social utility and has often been directed at the residents of the Gaden Jangtse Monastery area. It is, amongst others, the case of the employment of a skilled Tibetan doctor from Dharamsala in order to educate the Centre's monks in traditional Tibetan medical treatment and the production of Men-tsee-khang Tibetan traditional pills for sale and local distribution. Ensuring the continuity of ancient methods of traditional treatment with medicinal herbs and natural remedies is a vital task for Buddhist communities much severed by attacks on their often vulnerable culture.

Medical education in the Monastery has since its origins been lacking, and as has been seen before in this paper it is to be considered a particular characteristic of Tibetan culture. One of the first efforts set forth by the Nando Peretti Foundation was directed at financing a three year study course aimed at a group of monks specializing in Tibetan traditional medicine. The 21 monks involved in Tibetan medical schooling have not only served those directly involved in the Monastery but have also been of great benefit for the region's inhabitants both of Indian and Tibetan origins, not to mention the importance of preserving such an ancestral medical traditional culture bound to be lost if not supported.

For as much as Tibetan medicine is a valuable and antique resource, it is often not adequate for treatment of diseases affecting the regions inhabitants. Tuberculosis epidemics are frequent and means to treat this highly contagious illness are scarce and only available upon payment, meaning that the monks hosted at the Monastery are not able to afford an efficient therapy. NPF still holds contact with the Monastery's administration receiving requests for continuative support especially in the field of medical aid. The Gajang Medical Society, responsible for the clinic on which the monks and regions inhabitants rely on, is in constant need of funds to keep on sustaining people in need. The staff at NPF is therefore currently evaluating the possibility of reiterating financial support in order for the medical personnel to keep on serving the community efficiently.


This brief analysis of NPF's efforts is only but a snapshot of over a decade of aid and efforts in supporting Tibetan communities in exile or endangered in the remote regions where they have found a relatively safe ground on which to prosper. The Foundation will continue to serve the Tibetan cause in hope of offering its contribution to the survival not only of single human beings but of a significant source of global diversity and richness which must be preserved. The necessity of keeping close contact with the beneficiaries of aid is a key element in favouring the establishment of future commitments and in planning new projects based on feedback and experience gained throughout the years. This is precisely why NPF aims to enforce the relationship building process with the support of modern technology which allows for faster communication and better interaction in order to understand the necessities of those who are in need and thus request financial support.



Various beneficiaries received grants. Please open the single projects to view the beneficiaries.

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