Tibet Foundation

UK Tour by Tibetan Refugee Children Completed With Great Success

Mar 7, 2005

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UK Tour by Tibetan Refugee Children Completed With Great Success

Eleven young children aged between 13 and 15, with two teachers from the Tibetan Homes Foundation in Mussoorie, northern India, visited the United Kingdom from 20 January to 14 February 2005 at the invitation of London based Tibet Foundation. The thirteen refugees were the first group from the Exiled Tibetan Community in India to take part in the School-Exchange programme in the UK, which was organised and funded by the Tibet Foundation. As a part of the Tibet Foundation's Twentieth Anniversary Celebrations (1985 - 2005), the children's tour was aimed to raise a greater impact of the understanding of Tibetan culture and to highlight the importance of education for Tibetan refugees in exile. Before the schools' visit, the Tibetan children were given an educational tour of the Palace of Westminster - the British Parliament, and saw both the House of Commons and the House of Lords on 21 January. Hon. John Wilkinson, a Member of the British Parliament and also the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet kindly led the tour, sharing with the children the history of his country's democracy. Their first leg of schools' tour started in Newcastle and Northumberland, North East of the country, where fewer Tibet-related events generally take place. The Tibetan children were very warmly received by the host schools and children in the region. In their colourful costumes, the visiting children presented different genres of traditional Tibetan songs, dance and music, which are popular in their homelands' three main provinces of Tibet namely, U-Tsang (Central), Dotoe (East) and Domed (North East). Their presentations included Tashi Shoelpa (Good Luck-Dance), Dro-dhung (Drums-Dance), Yak-tse (Yak-Dance), and Truk-shey (Quicksteps-Dance). The children played their musical instruments namely Dranyen (Tibetan Lute), Piwang (Fiddle), Gyudmang (Dulcimer), rNga (Drum) and Bhub (Cymbals). The young children's clear voice and confidence came out naturally with their performance on the stage. Wherever they performed either in public or in schools, the children received a big round of applause and everyone seemed to be enjoying their astounding presentation. A young child from North Wales commented, "I haven't seen anything like it before!" Brad Murray, the Head Teacher of Sedgemoor Major Junior School, Bridgwater in the South-West of England, described the children's performance as of a "very high standard". Sincere appreciation was often expressed for organising the Tibetan children's visit to British schools as they brought their own cultural values to the host community. Cathy Webster, head of the drama department at the Queen Elizabeth High School, Hexham in the North-East told this author that the Tibetan visitors had "changed" her school children's life. Phil Ogg, a Community Arts worker from the Queens Hall Arts, who was involved in the Tibetan children's visit to schools in the North-East region wrote to the Tibet Foundation after the tour, "…the sheer presence of the children - their openness, charisma, musicality and skill as performers is a real credit to the work of the Foundation and to the dedication of their elders in giving them the opportunity to represent their culture and the cause of Tibet in a non-political, but nevertheless very thought provoking and moving way". In addition to their public performance, which were held in theatres and arts centres, the Tibetan teenagers gave more than 30 cultural presentations and workshops, ranging between 15 minutes to an hour and half long, to some 3500 British children from 32 different schools across the country. Port Glasgow was the only Scottish region the Tibetan children visited, performing at a school for special needs. In Liverpool, the Tibetan children were warmly greeted by a group of young adults from the Kensington Regeneration area. The local children led the tour of the city in the afternoon during which the Tibetan children visited Maritime Museum and the Radio City Tower. An evening leisure event was organised by the Kensington Regeneration project at the Fairfield Police Club in honour of Tibetan visitors to the city. The Tibetan children eagerly visited the stadium of Manchester United on Sunday 6 February before their cultural presentation at the University of Manchester in the evening. On Monday, the children paid a short visit to a local school near Wigan before their afternoon presentation at the Broadgreen High School in Liverpool. Over 100 students, who study International Baccalaureate (IB), Languages, Religious Education and Music, were among the audience. Thrilled by the children's cultural presentation, Austin Patterson, Assistant Head Teacher at the Broadgreen High School said the Tibetan Children's visit to his school was a "learning curve" for all of them. Austin also said that he didn't know about the situation of Tibet before the Tibetan children's visit and added that they had all "learnt lot in the last week". In the evening, the Tibetan children presented their only public performance in Liverpool at St. John Bosco High School. Professor Barry Grantham of the Hope One World, an educational charity, who co-ordinated the children's visit to Liverpool Hope University College, welcomed the visitors and shared his experience of working with the Tibetan community in India over the last 18 years. He also said that he himself had enjoyed "generous" Tibetan hospitality at the Tibetan Homes Foundation in India. An active supporter of Tibet, Professor Grantham said the hosting of Tibetan visitors at the Liverpool Hope University College was a way of "repaying the school's welcome back". On the following day, the children gave two performances at the University College before their return to London to celebrate the Tibetan New Year on 9 February at Tibet Foundation. The Lewes New School in East Sussex was the last leg of their tour outside London, where the Tibetan performers gave presentations to an audience of some 160 children and teachers from three different schools. Adrienne Campbell, manager of the Lewes New School said that she was "very entertained and touched" by the Tibetan children's performance. Billie Turner, a 10-year old girl from the same school said that she "really liked the singing and the yak dance". Rose Campbell, an eleven year old, was also very impressed with the Tibetan children's presentation. Rose said that the Tibetan performers "looked very confident" and she "liked the Tibetan drinking song!" Among the audience, Grace Brangwyn received a real treat as she was celebrating her tenth birthday! Grace, also from the Lewes New School, said that she "fully enjoyed all the presentation" and was "impressed" by the colourful costumes. On Friday 11 February, the Tibetan children gave their final cultural presentation at the Conway Hall in London, to an audience of some 250 people. The evening was part of Tibet Foundation Losar Reception. Phuntsog Wangyal, a founding trustee of the charity, welcomed the evening's guests; amongst them were the present and former representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the London Office of Tibet, representatives from various UK Tibet-related organisations and Buddhist centres, and supporters of Tibet Foundation. Phuntsog acknowledged that the "generous support of the British public" was instrumental in the "success of Tibet Foundation's aid, education, healthcare and cultural programmes" since its inception in 1985. "The Foundation is currently supporting nearly one thousand Tibetan refugees in exile alone under its Tibetans in Exile programme", the trustee briefed the audience. Phuntsog thanked all sponsors for their continued support, the staff and volunteers of the Foundation for their committed dedication and loyalty, and the visiting children for their immense hard work for the preservation of their culture. He also reaffirmed the charity's commitment to "assist the Tibetan people for their education, healthcare and preservation of their unique culture" in the coming years. The Tibetan Homes Foundation is currently home for nearly 2400 Tibetan refugees. Between 100 and 200 Tibetan children are being admitted each year, of whom Kelsang Namgyal, Sponsorship Secretary of the school said, "These children arrive directly from Tibet after making risky journey through the Himalayas for their education in India. The school also accommodates destitute children from disadvantaged families, who are brought up in the exiled Tibetan community in India and Nepal". On Saturday 12 February, the Tibetan children were taken a tour of the Royal Opera House, a renowned British arts theatre based in Convent Garden, London. The children saw a performance of Turandot, an opera, which took place in legendary ancient China, in Peking. In the evening, the children were invited to the Losar Celebration, organised by the Tibetan Community in Britain. In spite of their hectic schedule, the children found time for a brief tour of London before their return to India on 14 February. The tour of London included the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Imperial War Museum and the Tibetan Peace Garden. During this first ever Cross-Cultural School-Exchange programme, which was participated by the Tibetan refugee children from the Tibetan Homes Foundation, lots of experiences were gained in such short period of time. Fifteen year old boy Tenzin Rigden made a new friend called James from a school in North East. His favourite place was Devon, where he stopped with an English family for a night. He said, "The family was very kind and sharing. I really enjoyed performing at the Plough Arts Centre". He also enjoyed seeing British children's performance in schools. Tenzin Choesang immediately adapted into a host family in Llangollen, North Wales. Tenzin felt that he found new parents! "I was very happy to stay with a Welsh family and see how they live", the 15 year old boy said. Tenzin Yangkyi, the youngest girl in the group, said that she liked the architectural structure of buildings in Glasgow. Tenzin enjoyed most performing for children at the Lilybank Special School in Port Glasgow. "Scottish people seem very sensible people who are proud to be Scottish", she commented. For Tenzin Namgyal, 14-year old boy, Llangollen was his favourite place. He said, "In Wales there are so many castles. The buildings are so old with strong defences, and no windows on the outside, just strong walls. I could imagine what it would be like to be inside there in the past. It made history very real to me. I am also pleased to have come to England and made many friends". Tenzin Tsephel enjoyed playing with three sisters of her host family in Llangollen, where the children gave her some cooking lessons on British food! Tenzin Tashi loves football and is a fan of Manchester United. He said, "We all like to watch football games in India on the television. When we visited the Old Trafford, the stadium of our dreams, it was really exciting to see. They gave us metal badges which I will treasure! It was a thrill to actually be in the dressing room where so many famous players set out to win matches". On a more serious note, Phuntsok Chodon, 15-year girl, was very appreciative of the Students' Human Rights Club at the Queen Elizabeth High School. She said, "I had the feeling of real fellowship with the people I met there. The school had a Human Rights Club and I was very impressed with young people like me who believe in such good goals. There are rights people are entitled to because they are human beings, and this is beyond nationality, race or language". Equally, there were real indications of British schools children receiving wealth of experience and knowledge about the Tibetan culture from this tour. Some of the British schools have shown a great deal of interest in fostering further links with the exiled Tibetan refugee community. Yvonne Clark, Head of Drama department at the Prudhoe Community High School in Hexham wrote, "We will be running a full week of school assemblies on the Tibetan school, using your CD film of the school which was really interesting. You will be pleased to hear that EVERY child in the school (over 1,000 pupils) will be watching it and learning of the high value which your pupils and their families see in their education. Our school is very interested in setting up a schools-partnership". Kelsang Namgyal said that the British children were "very keen about learning other people's cultures" including the Tibetans. Whilst a young girl wanted to know whether the Tibetan children were able to go back to Tibet others were more curious to learn about the Tibetan Yak Dance, all these pupils from the same school in Somerset! Local newspapers and radio stations were also interested about the visit of the Tibetan refugees to British schools. The Weston & Somerset Mercury carried headlines such as "Tibetan Lesson - to give students a taste of their culture", "Tibet Tour" by Weston & Worle News and "Cultural Treat from Tibet" by The Evening Post, Weston-super-Mare. The Evening Chronicle from the North Coast, Northumberland reported, "Yaks the way to do it, children - Tibetan dancers teach pupils some steps". The Hexham Courant, Northumberland Weekly Newspaper also carried headlines such as, "Tibetan child refugees to witness life in Tyndale" and "New friends sing of the mountain gods". The Green Events, a monthly magazine based in London described the children's visit as "Tibetlet's Tour" of UK. The thirteen Tibetan refugees spent 26 days in the country. They travelled more than 12000 miles (20000 kilometres) altogether for this cultural tour. Karma Hardy, director of the Tibet Foundation expressed his "sincere appreciation to all those involved especially the children and the teachers for their kind co-operation" for taking part in the Tibet Foundation cultural programme. He said that the "historic tour was a great success" and have brought the peoples of two cultures closer. Further information about the work of Tibet Foundation is available from: 1 St. James's Market, London SW1Y 4SB, United Kingdom Telephone: 0044-207 930 6001 Email: info@tibet-foundation.org Website: www.tibet-foundation.org A report by Tsering Passang, Art & Culture Programme Manager