Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Tuesday, 9th December 2014
“When I was your age, I had to walk three miles in the snow to get to school!” my grandfather used to say. It’s a bit of an American cliché, the older generation reminding the youth how hard it once was. But for Tibetan students, a few miles is nothing. In rural Tibet, schools are few and far between, so the path to education is literally an uphill climb. Each year, over 4,000 Tibetans cross the Himalayas on foot to be educated in India. The Chinese have recently heightened border security, making it even harder for Tibetan refugees to safely escape to India.
In Dharamsala, India, the current residence of the Dalai Lama, refugees can receive five years of education through the Central Tibetan Schools Administration. However, because most refugees have never had a formal education, these five years aren’t enough to secure employment. The Kunpan Cultural School provides two additional years of English, Chinese, and Computer skills courses for motivated students who meet admissions criteria. Passing a formal exam in English, like a Cambridge University English certificate, validates their language level for future jobs. The students view learning English as a necessary and valuable goal. One student hopes to translate Western literature into the Tibetan language. Another hopes to return to Tibet to teach those less fortunate than her. These goals are usually attained: 80% of the students who have studied at the School and returned to Tibet are now employed.
Although they are able to gain a lot from their education in India, refugees suffer from the absence of their families. For an English assignment, one student writes to his mother: “Dear mum, I haven’t seen you for thirteen years. During those years, there hasn’t been a single day I didn’t miss you.” The Kunpan Cultural School is more than just a school: it becomes a temporary home. Students live together on the site for two years, creating a supportive atmosphere much like a family.
According to the testimonials of previous volunteers, you’ll see that teaching and learning go both ways. Having native teachers to help prepare them for their Cambridge exams is essential for students’ success. However, the students may have just as much to teach you as you have to offer them! Their creative writing essays touch on themes like the freedom of mind, the search for life’s purpose, and the importance of adaptation. As adults, these students have a lot of life wisdom to share through cultural exchange and conversation. One thing you’ll hear former volunteers praise is the respect that students have for their teachers and for each other. If you like the idea of teaching but working with children isn’t your cup of tea, volunteering is the perfect opportunity. The school provides all meals and accommodation for volunteers. Click here to learn how to get involved!
By Lauren Amrhein, WorkingAbroad Team