Tibet Foundation

College of Higher Tibetan Studies

Jul 1, 2003

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College of Higher Tibetan Studies

For 2 weeks in April I was able to make a welcome return visit to Sarah College where I met old friends and made new contacts and checked on the progress of the institution. It had been nearly three years since my last visit during that time I had worked as teacher for 4 months and learnt how important the college is in keeping Tibetan language and culture alive and its vital role in the education of the Tibetan community in exile. On my return I could see that many improvements had been made firstly a new block had been built for students and guest speakers and lecturers. The building has a multi-purpose function and is used mostly for short-term training and workshops for Tibetan language. Students from other countries for example Emory University in America also use this building and this is an indication that the college has expanded its services from my last visit. During 2003 twenty students from Emory University have been studying at Sarah for 4 months. The programme consists of Tibetan language, culture, history, and Buddhist philosophy. It is taught in Tibetan and English by a combination of teachers from Emory University and Sarah College and both institutions coordinate the programme. This programme has been very successful and it would be wonderful to see a similar project developed in the UK with British universities. Whilst at Sarah I interviewed Geshe Pema Dorjee La about other developments at the college and he summarised a whole host of new initiatives these include the following - More in-service training and workshops for Himalayan teachers serving the Tibetan Diaspora, and a 2-year teaching training programme for Himalayan teachers, which is supported by the Dalai Lama. A new one year course for non- Tibetan students to learn Tibetan language and philosophy, at the moment there are 14 students on this course from a variety of countries including Mongolia, Korea, Russia, Vietnam, Israel, India, Nepal, America and Europe. This is another exciting development, which at the moment is quite low profile but in the future will be publicised more widely. Correspondence courses in Tibetan language, philosophy and culture and history have also been introduced in India for Tibetan teachers, the students write several assignments are taught by cassette and for their final exams they come to the college at Sarah for approximately 2 months. Here they can focus on an intense revision programme and then take their final exams. Pema Dorjee La emphasised the point that all these courses are vital in keeping the Tibetan identity alive as Tibetan students born in exile are inevitably loosing their cultural identity and those students born in India and educated in India schools have poor Tibetan, which needs to be improved. He also stated that students from Tibet itself need to improve the understanding of their language and culture. In relation to this the Department of Education has also provided scholarships for 15 students to study at Sarah thus encouraging young Tibetans to learn more about their own unique culture and philosophical systems and the nuances of their language. Whilst staying at Sarah, which is located in beautiful surroundings amongst forests and tea plantations, I was able to see some of the structural changes and improvements that had taken place. This included a renovated kitchen and an information centre located near the library. This will progress in three phases. Phase one which has been completed is a centre, which contains information about all the schools, monasteries, nunneries, hospitals and government office in and around Dharamsala. Phase two will include information collated about Tibetan institutions all over India and phase three information on Tibetan institutions located all over the world. Once completed this will be an invaluable resource for Tibetans and non-Tibetans about the exiled community and useful for both academic and interested parties. During my stay I also noticed that relationships between the Indian community and the College are very amicable, indeed the college has brought extra income to the area manifested in several new chai shops and business ventures. However both the college and the local community are keen that development is at a slow pace thus minimising environmental damage to a beautiful and unspoilt area. Pema La is very keen on the introduction of green and sustainable services at the college which has manifested itself in a recycling programme, next year he hopes to use rain water more effectively within the village of Sarah as the college uses a lot of resources in a tiny community. During my final night at the college I gave a talk to all the students about support for the college from organisations like Tibet Foundation, which was very enthusiastically received. The students would like to extend their heartfelt thanks to all the supporters of the college I can testify that Sarah really is a wonderful institution, which preserves and maintains Tibetan culture and fosters an environment of equality and opportunity. I hope that the college can continue to prosper and that Tibet Foundation will continue to support Aid for Higher Tibetan Studies.