Tibetan youth maintain connection to culture and homeland through local schools

Boarding school programs have been used as a tool for cultural assimilation for centuries. Despite the better facilities offered in the Government schools, Tibetan families beg that these local schools remain open so that their children can remain close to home. After attending boarding school, the youth often lose all ability to do nomadic work, having lost touch with the earth and the animals, they often return home “useless”. The local education at the Pureland schools allow students to undertake the mandatory formal education required by the government, and also informally learn about their traditional livelihoods. It is in this way that the students are able to have a variety of choices when they graduate from school.

TBF has been working with the Pureland Project in remote regions of Qinghai Provence in Kham Nangchen for over a decade. The project works with nomadic communities facing impeding cultural, environmental and economic transitions. The region is one of the most impoverished in China, yet famous for being home to some of the strongest fighters and accomplished yogis across the Tibetan plateau.

Since 1998, GarGon and Gyalsum schools have been working to provide culturally appropriate education for their children. The schools currently hold 120 Tibetan students aged 6-14. TBF supported 6 local Tibetan teachers to offer a Tibetan medium education to the students. The Pureland project works in collaboration with the local government and implements programs according to the government regulations, including working with a government headmaster for each school. The government is pleased by the capacity of the rural students, who always score highly on the national exams despite not having the regular electricity and running water that they have in the government boarding schools in town. Despite the extreme altitude and rough conditions, parents and students alike prefer the local private schools. Parents report that their children “become Chinese” after attending boarding school. For many children, it is hard to live for 9 months away from home, in a cement building eating Chinese food, speaking Chinese and wearing Chinese school uniforms. Most youth prefer living in the mountains in close proximity to their families, speaking their language. The program ensures that students learn Tibetan language, Tibetan song and dance, are given Tibetan meals and are allowed to practice their cultural traditions.

The schools serve 9 different clans – many of these clans have had decades of hostile relations towards one another, yet the school is kept as a neutral ground. Parents come together from all of the clans to support this local education, because for them it means that their children will retain their cultural heritage.

‘’“The clans are very grateful for all of the support, being able to keep this school open has allowed these children to keep their culture” –Teacher from Gyalsum school

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