Expanding Opportunities Through the English Training Program

Lhamu, graduate of ETP
Lhamu, a graduate of the English Training Program

Since its founding in 1997, the English Training Program (ETP) has created an impressive community of alumni. To date, The Bridge Fund (TBF) has supported 1,720 Tibetan students through the program from Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan Provinces and Tibet Autonomous Region. “The ETP has made me braver,” says Lhamu, a participant of the Xining program. Since completing the ETP, Lhamu has gone on to become an educator, writer and community development professional.

Lhamu was born in a farming community in Yunnan’s Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Growing up, her family owned the smallest field in her village—a parcel of land too marginal to support her family of five. With the little money they had going toward supplemental food, affording education was difficult. But recognizing her promise, Lhamu’s mother made many sacrifices for her to receive an education. During her first years of primary school, Lhamo’s father suffered an accident and was hospitalized. “Although it would have made sense for my mother to pull my sister and me out of school, she borrowed money from all of our neighbors and relatives so that we could continue,” Lhamo recalls.

At the age of twelve Lhamu left her village to attend middle school in the county capital. She ranked top of her class in her first major exam, an accolade that inspired her to work even harder. Remaining at the top of her class, Lhamu passed a competitive examination process that earned her TBF support through the ETP at Qinghai Normal University in Xining. She joined a class of 30 Tibetan students from throughout the Plateau to learn not only English but such subjects as sociology, anthropology, geography, history and literature.

Through the ETP, Lhamu and fellow classmates were also offered the opportunity to explore ways to give back to their home communities. ETP teacher Michelle Kleisath made it possible for students to take part in an additional course on community-based development, giving Lhamu the chance to design and implement her own small-scale project. Lhamu looked to the issue of unsustainable timber harvest and the denuded mountainsides surrounding her village as her focal point. “You can’t imagine,” Lhamu says, “in only fifty years the mountain has become almost empty of forest.” With her teacher’s help, Lhamu learned to draft proposals and approach donors. Over a period of six years, Lhamu has implemented three solar technology projects in her village. She has provided her community with a total of 34 evacuated tube solar water heaters and an alternative to felling trees for firewood.

Since completing the ETP, Lhamu has earned an Associate’s Degree and held positions at several prominent organizations in the fields of community-based development, research and education in Tibetan areas of Yunnan Province. She is now proud to be able to contribute to her family’s earnings. She is also building upon her talent for writing discovered through the ETP and has published an autobiographical story in English in a compilation featuring Tibetan women writers. Looking to the future, Lhamu would like to share what she has learned by becoming a teacher. “I love English and Tibetan not only as languages,” Lhamu explains, “but also with a passion to conquer them in a way that lets me teach young Tibetans to learn to love them too.

Class in session for Kangding ETP students

Lhamu is joined by a community of similarly enthusiastic ETP alumni who have been able to access significant opportunities as a result of their dedicated effort through the program. This year’s class of TBF-supported Kangding ETP graduates has achieved unprecedented success: all 35 students have passed the highly competitive university entrance exam and have been accepted into universities across China. The top 6 students from this class are ranked as the top 6 students in all Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province, and have been awarded scholarships to attend to Central Minorities University in Beijing, an institution regarded as the best in the nation for Tibetan medium students.

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