In just the past two years two dozen Tibetans have self-immolated in protest of the Chinese government’s harsh treatment of their people. With a tiny population, worsening Chinese repression, and the Dalai Lama getting older, Tibetans are growing increasingly desperate in their struggle for independence. They need Westerners’ help to succeed in their David and Goliath battle against the Chinese.
Volunteers from across the globe flock to Dharamsala, India to assist the Tibetan cause. This town in the Himalayan foothills is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. Though it’s commonly called Dharamsala, the upper town, Mcleod Ganj is where most of the Tibetans live and travellers stay. It’s rare to go anywhere in town without seeing the maroon robes of the Tibetan monks and nuns. As the main population base for Tibetan exiles in India, the town has a welcome centre and many other resources set up to help new refugees.
Dharamsala is filled with schools, both for children and adults. Children’s schools such as Tibetan’s Children Village, teach a standard curriculum, but volunteering at one of them generally requires a minimum commitment of several months or more.
In comparison, volunteering at adult schools is far more informal. English and computers are popular skills Tibetan refugees want to learn upon arriving in Dharamsala. If you only have a couple of weeks or even a couple of days to visit, this is your best option.
This established volunteer organization offers a number of services to both the local community and visitors. To the locals, Lha is known as a reputable place to learn a language (English, French, Spanish and Chinese), attend vocational training and receive free clothing and medicine. For a fee the organization will pick volunteers up at the airport in Delhi, show you around town and get you set up in your volunteer job and accommodation. They also arrange homestays with local Tibetan families and offer a cultural immersion program. Choose from a variety of volunteer options. If you can only spare an hour here and there, drop in to Lha’s daily English conversation classes and make some Tibetan friends.
What they’re looking for: language teachers, tutors, yoga instructors, editors, grant writers, massage therapy instructors, medical professionals, web and graphic designers, office assistants, fundraising professionals, journalists, researchers, legal professionals and personal assistants.
Tibetan Women’s Association
The TWA acts as a voice for Tibetan women in Tibet who have suffered from human rights abuses. Their internship program costs 100 Euros which gets donated to the TWA Fellowship Program for Women for Specialized Studies. If you’re interested in politics or want to direct your assistance towards women, the TWA is worth checking out.
What they’re looking for: Researchers, editors, women’s environment and development workers, grant writers, capacity builders, campaigners and event organizers.
Active Nonviolence Education Center
ANEC exists to advocate His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s teachings of nonviolence as well as to help people learn how to practically live nonviolently. They teach nonviolence through workshops and other training programs. Tibetans are known and respected for their nonviolent struggle against the Chinese. If you’re interested in learning about nonviolence or have a general interest in seeing how the political and spiritual spheres intersect, consider ANEC a volunteering option.
What they’re looking for: public outreach and organizers for their Friday program.
image 1: Ted Pei ; images 2 & 3: Lha