Tenpa Choedar is a Tibetan refugee and the head cook of the Namgyal Monastery, in Dharamshala, India, the home of the 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile. At great risk, Tenpa and his family fled Tibet so they could practice their religion freely and their children could receive an education in Tibetan language and history. In October 2011, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave a series of public teachings for four days, where Tenpa and his staff prepared breakfast and lunch for over 5,000 people in attendance.
"…the rights of Tibetans everywhere are so important, and equal to it is the beauty and power of these short films, capturing the heart of Tibet."— Roshi Joan Halifax Abbot, Upaya Zen Center
"Profoundly moving…might just turn the stiff neck of indifference to do everything we are able to help…"— Stephen Levine poet and bestselling author of "A Year to Live"
"A gripping documentary. These riveting stories must be seen to appreciate the resiliency of the Tibetan people."— Dwight Bashir U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
"An awe-inspiring series…one of the most powerful, poignant and revealing documentary series I have ever seen."— Trevor Romain pbs host & bestselling author, the art of caring
"Breathtaking. A powerful and authentic tribute to the Tibetan community, or any other confronting human rights violations."— R. Adam Engle Co-founder, The Mind and Life Institute
“What greater grief than the loss of one's native land.” - Euripides
An introduction: Tibet was an independent nation, possessing its own rich culture, language and currency prior to the Chinese occupation which began in 1949. In 1959, after a decade of failed negotiations, Tenzin Gyato, the 14th Dalai Lama, and spiritual leader of Tibet, was forced into exile in India. Since then, Tibetans in the hundreds of thousands have either followed him over hazardous Himalayan passages into India, Nepal and Bhutan to begin uncertain lives as refugees, or have been born into exile.
Within Tibet today, non-violent protest and the pursuit of religious freedom routinely result in imprisonment and torture. Since 2009, over 140 Tibetans have publicly self-immolated protesting for freedom in Tibet and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, whose very name and image have been criminalized.
Yet, fleeing Tibet to escape oppression is also a difficult choice, resulting in a deep sense of alienation and ruptured family bonds, the impact of which can be felt for generations. Inspired by the Dalai Lama and strengthened by the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, many Tibetans in exile nonetheless suffer from refugee trauma, while Tibetans on both sides of the border struggle for the survival of their language and customs under the constant threat of cultural genocide.
These stories of resilience and compassion reflect the Tibetan refugee experience of everyday women and men.
Ama Adhe is a cherished role model among the Tibetan diaspora. Ama is Tibetan for "mother." Prior to her life in exile, she witnessed the initial invasion of Eastern Tibet by the People's Liberation Army of China, then spent 27 years as a political prisoner, surviving frequent incidences of rape, torture and starvation during the periods of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. During her imprisonment, she was denied all contact with her two children. At the age of 85 she walks to the local temple daily, believing her life was spared for the purpose of telling her story on behalf of the millions who died.
In 2010, Tibetan schools in India launched an official girls' soccer program for the first time. During their winter break, forty girls selected by their schools, lived together to learn and practice soccer as prospective team captains, while participating in leadership training courses. When divided into two groups for scrimmages, the girls named their teams The Himalayan Princesses and Snowland United.
Karma Sichoe is a traditionally trained thangka painter also working to define and express himself as a contemporary artist. Used as a meditation tool, thangkas are scrolled paintings that formally illustrate Buddhist teachings, featuring figures from the canon of Tibetan Buddhist bodhisattvas, deities and Buddhas. In addition to preserving this highly disciplined spiritual art form, Karma belongs to a new generation of Tibetan artists, inspired by diverse art histories, searching for new forms and techniques to express themselves personally and politically.
In order to meet the needs of former political prisoners and other Tibetan refugees who have experienced catastrophic trauma or suffer from clinical depression, the Department of Health of the Central Tibetan Administration established the Torture Survivor's Program. There, Pema Choedon is one of a small staff of counselors who continue to search for their own peace, while reaching out to the special needs of those around them. "Pema" is Tibetan for lotus flower.
Tasked with the mandate to preserve the cultural heritage of Tibet’s diverse performing arts, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, or TIPA, was one of the very first organizations formed in exile after Tibetans began seeking refuge in India in 1959. Kundeling Thupten is now considered the only living lhamo opera master living outside of Tibet. Whereas strong Chinese influences threaten the preservation of Tibetan song and dance inside Tibet, strong Indian and western influences threaten it beyond. In 2014 the most skilled Tibetan performers throughout the subcontinent assembled to stage a production of the classic Tibetan opera, "Prince Norsang”.
At ICMHHR, we ask the question - what heals? What builds resilience? How do we utilize our diverse cultural practices in understanding and preventing trauma? How do we prepare and support those living and serving at the front lines. Our mission is to provide culturally sensitive trauma and resiliency training to local caregivers, based on research in contemplative science. When we care for caregivers, we strengthen their capacity to care for their own communities in a more sustainable way. Trauma recovery is not a luxury, but an essential step towards peace and reconciliation; an indispensable tool for the empowerment of women and children; and a cornerstone to sustainable economic development.