Empowering Tibetans

Project location: United States
Project start date: January 2019 - Project end date: December 2019
Project number: 2019-036
Beneficiary: International Campaign For Tibet

The International Campaign for Tibet’s Tibetan Youth Empowerment programs are geared towards providing a unique experience for Tibetans and to equip them with the tools needed to educate and promote them as the best advocates for Tibet. 

Established in 1988, the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) has a 30-year history and successful track record in training, organizing and supporting Tibetans in democratic practices, including in advocacy. 

ICT has always actively supported Tibetan empowerment efforts to build a thriving democratic form of governance in exile. In 2016, ICT coordinated an international delegation of parliamentarians to observe and support the Tibetan elections. ICT’s president, Matteo Mecacci, and vice president, Bhuchung K. Tsering, were part of the international delegation of Parliamentarians and Mr. Mecacci returned to Dharamsala in March 2017, to follow up on the mission and present the full report and recommendations on the 2016 elections.

At the same time, ICT co-organized a roundtable discussion on the report with around 20 Tibetan NGOs, to engage and support constructive dialogue amongst the strong and increasing engagement of Tibetans’ civil society in the democratic process in exile. All democratic systems need the robust participation of citizens and organized groups to function well and ensure the constant compliance with the will of the people. In the case of a movement such as that of the Tibetans, it is even more critical that their aspirations are channeled through democratic institutions. It is part of ICT’s mission to support these initiatives. The recommendations included in ICT’s report have been taken up and discussed at length by the Tibetan Parliament in Exiles.

Additionally, since 2009, ICT has been coordinating and organizing the annual Tibet Lobby Day in Washington DC. The Tibet Lobby Day involves over a hundred US Tibet supporters who travel to Washington DC to meet their members of Congress and advocate on behalf of the Tibetan people. Over the years ICT has coordinated over a thousand Tibetans and Tibet supporters participating in the Tibet Lobby Day.

Over the years, ICT has extended the Tibet Lobby Day to other countries. In March 2018, as part of the tenth annual Tibet Lobby Day, Tibetan leaders and Tibet supporters from the United States, Europe, and Australia urged their governments and Parliaments to offer greater support for Tibet and the Tibetan people. In Washington D.C, over a hundred and thirty Tibetan-Americans and Tibet supporters visited the offices of more than 250 Members of Congress over the course of the two-day program. 

This initiative, combined with ongoing ICT’s advocacy work has led to has led to a major breakthrough with the approval on September 25, 2018, of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act (RATA) by the US House of Representatives. On November 28 The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passe the RATA whihc is now expected to pass the full Senate in the next weeks.

In 2001, ICT began holding the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program program  Over the years, participants in the ICT’s Tibetan Empowerment programs have gone at great length in becoming leaders in their communities: from going to serve the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, (including at leadership levels), to becoming US government employees or successful entrepreneurs, the younger generation of Tibetans are taking ownership and responsibility to carry on the legacy of the previous generation of refugees in the United States.
In stark contrast with the severe repression faced by Tibetans inside Tibet when they try to exercise their fundamental rights, Tibet Lobby Day sees Tibetans and their supporters around the world as agents of change asking their elected officials to stand up for Tibet. The Dalai Lama says that truth is the only weapon in the Tibetan struggle for freedom. ICT endeavors to empower and support Tibetans and Tibet supporters to meet with their elected leaders to tell them the truth about the situation inside Tibet and to ask for their help in improving it.

Tibet has existed for more than 2000 years. Through the centuries, the people of Tibet developed a unique civilization rooted in compassion and nonviolence. Their harmonious life came to a sudden, violent end when China’s People’s Liberation Army invaded Tibet in 1949. Since then, the Chinese government has relentlessly attempted to eradicate Tibetan culture in an effort to wipe Tibet off the map. The Tibetan community is at a crucial time in its history. 

At present, approximately six million Tibetans live in Tibet. In exile, there are approximately 120,000 Tibetans living in India and Nepal, and approximately 30,000 in the west, mostly in North America, Europe and Australia. There is increasing awareness in the West about the Tibetan freedom movement and a real possibility for major victories towards fulfilling the hopes of millions of Tibetans. So the International Campaign for Tibet places great importance on the Tibetan empowerment programs are geared towards training and helping develop the growth of tomorrow’s dynamic Tibetan leaders. 

These programs are aimed to nurture youth leaders who will not only become the leaders of the Tibetan community in the future, but who will also act now to convert their energy and convictions about issues affecting Tibet into a powerful force for activism and change. The trainings are specifically geared to meet the need of the Tibetan community for a core group of young, articulate Tibetan leaders. 
To provide one example, one such leader who completed ICT’s Tibetan Youth Leadership Program, is Tenzin Dawa Thargay. Mr. Thargay, following his participation in the TYLP interned at the State Department and went on to be a student leader at the University of Massachusetts, where he launched the Five College Conference—focusing on teaching students to have compassion in leadership roles. 

Thargay says, “I truly believe that introducing compassion into the equation of clash can reduce conflict. Hopefully by planting the seeds of compassion leadership in the minds of the students, upon graduation and entrance into their fields of expertise, these seeds will blossom to spread more compassion.” 

Thargay is now a Fulbright scholar in Korea, working in the field of Energy governance and Security.

Early in 2019, ICT will prepare for its eleventh annual Tibetan Youth Leadership Program (TYLP), which will be held in the summer. TYLP is designed to educate and motivate Tibetan American youth to become engaged citizens and leaders in the community. Participants are selected to join the program based on their academic achievement, leadership potential, and an essay on “What it takes to be a leader in the Tibetan community”. The program has graduated so far over 130 young Tibetan leaders. 

Over the years the groups of participants had impressive curricula vitae. In 2018 their experience spanned from starting non-profits to overcoming personal challenges and obstacles as refugees and these made them qualified to access the program. 

Through workshops, discussions, and hands-on activities, participants will be taught the art of leadership. ICT provided travel expenses as well as arranged for accommodation and food during the training period.

This will be a great opportunity for eager young Tibetans interested in getting involved in the Tibet movement. The program will help instill the knowledge and confidence required for leadership roles, teaching skills and tools required to become a successful youth organizer, including crucial media and communication skills. 

Participants will hear from distinguished guest speakers covering issues such as lobbying tactics in context of politics. They will visit governmental offices and often meet with officials or their staff. Their training will be supervised by top ICT staff, including the President, Vice President, and Director of Tibetan Empowerment and Chinese Engagement Programs. Beyond individual leadership training, the program provided enthusiastic young Tibetans the opportunity to establish relationships with, and learn from other young Tibetans.

In 2018, ten Tibetan students from colleges in Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington State participated in the International Campaign for Tibet’s 2018 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program (TYLP) held in Washington, DC from June 2 to 9, 2018.

During their program, they participated in workshops, team-building exercises, meetings with congressional leaders and Administration officials, and interaction with civil society advocates. Speakers talked to them about relevance of the Tibet Movement in the United States; Chinese perspective of the Tibetan issue; US-China relations; role of civil society in shaping American foreign policy; meditation, and work of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).

They spent a full day on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and staffers advocating for their support to initiatives on Tibet, including the Reciprocal Access to Tibet. They visited the State Department, as part of their exposure to the US political and foreign policy process, understanding the Administration’s work on Tibet. They also met with the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.

The participants visited the Office of Tibet where they heard from the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ngodup Tsering, about the priorities of the Central Tibetan Administration. They also had network sessions with Tibetan American professionals and students in the Washington, DC area.

As part of developing their communication skills, participants visited Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and several of them took part in live and recorded discussions by the Tibetan services on Tibet and their experience in Washington, DC.

Additionally, North America is home to 32 Tibetan Associations from which ICT has received a number of requests to organize Tibetan advocacy and leadership training sessions. In 2019, ICT will organize 2 training sessions in partnership with Tibetan Associations across America and potentially Europe. These sessions will be planned by Bhuchung Tsering, ICT’s Vice President and Tencho Gyatso, Director of Outreach. 

Ms. Gyatso and Mr. Tsering will travel to different states in 2019 to assist Tibetans with areas of most interest to Tibetans in those states. The states ICT will most likely visit are Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, and New York. ICT focuses on empowering Tibetans through education and training by ICT staff. 

In 2019, ICT will organize the 11th Annual Tibet Lobby Day in Washington D.C. Preparations will begin in mid-January by reaching out to ICT members and members of the Tibetan American Communities, inviting them to participate. ICT will coordinate the program organizing meeting with Members of Congress and their staff for the participants who will attend.

In advance of the Tibet Lobby Day, which will take palce around March 2019, ICT will prepare and disseminate information materials to all participants (over 100 expected). As part of the Tibet Lobby Day preparation, participants are requested to attend a training workshop that ICT will organize in advance with the participation of its staff and other experts. Concrete results of the Tibet Lobby Day over the last few years have been measured by the increased number of cosponsors to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, its approval by one Chamber of Congress, and by the increased profile assumed by Tibetan American constituents with their advocacy in Washington DC. Furthermore, the United States Congress continues to steadily fund humanitarian projects to support Tibetan refugees and development programs in Tibet thanks to the constant advocacy which continues to take place in Washington DC.

Thanks to this project, which received a grant from the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation, ICT will increase the number of Tibetans who are empowered to be effective voices for their brothers and sisters inside Tibet. They will be better advocates and better equipped to speak to the press and key officials about the situation inside Tibet and to ask for assistance in changing the current situation. In 2018, at the 17th annual meeting of all 32 North American Tibetan Associations, organized by the Office of Tibet, the participants unanimously resolved to express their profound gratitude to ICT for relentlessly working in support of Tibet, and in particular many members mentioned the direct impact and benefits of the Tibetan Empowerment Programs for their community members. ICT expects similar results in 2019, by increasing the engagement of the Tibetan American community with its work.


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