From Sikkim to Swansea: Students seek support for TibetXChange programme

Students from Swansea University’s College of Science are aiming to raise £5,500 by Tuesday, December 31, to launch an international youth exchange programme for young Tibetans living in the Indian state of Sikkim.

TIBET1The initiative came about after 20 students from the University’s Departments of Geography and Biosciences travelled to Sikkim, a small Indian state in the Himalayan foothills on the border with Tibet, for a two-week field trip in October 2013 as part of their studies.

Eleanor Cotterill, aged 21, a third year Geography student and president of Swansea University’s newly established Tibetan Society, said: “As part of our research, we met with young Tibetans living in Sikkim’s capital, Gangtok. Many of us were shocked to learn about the situation facing the people of Tibet and the threat to Tibetan culture, religion and identity.

“Even before we returned to Swansea, we decided to do something to create an opportunity for young Tibetans to talk about their country and its future.”

TIBET3After returning to Swansea, the students set up TibetXChange, an international youth exchange programme being developed in partnership with Wings of Tibet, a Tibetan youth organisation based in Gangtok. The initiative is being supported by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), based in Dharamsala.

The programme will give five young Tibetans living in Gangtok and Kunphenling Tibetan Refugee Settlement in South Sikkim the opportunity to undertake an intensive training programme in Tibetan history, politics and culture before coming to Swansea University in March 2014, to spend two weeks discussing the Tibetan situation with a wide range of different audiences in an international context.

“We would like the first group of young Tibetans to come to Swansea next March and we need to raise £5,500 to fund airfares, visas and travel documents, internal travel in India and the UK, and modest living expenses while they are in Swansea,” added Alastair McKee, aged 21, a final year Biology student from Johannesburg, South Africa.

“The young Tibetans will live with the Swansea students who set up the initiative during their two week stay, to keep costs to a minimum and to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas.

TIBET4“We've set up a Crowdfunder campaign at http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/tibetxchange and have so far secured pledges of just over £1,200 to date. This is a great start, but we still have a long way to go and we would encourage anyone considering supporting this exchange programme to visit our site to find out more about what we are trying to achieve.

“Any money we raise over and above our target of £5,500 will be used to organise additional activities during the exchange visit, such as taking the young Tibetans to London to meet with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet and other organisations.”

Heaven Crawley, Professor of International Migration at Swansea University and Director of the University's Centre for Migration Policy Research (CMPR), who led the field trip to Sikkim in October, said: “The future of Tibet, as well as Tibetan language, culture and identity, depends on the next generation of Tibetans, most of whom were born in India and have had no opportunity to visit their homeland.

“TibetXChange provides a unique opportunity for young Tibetans to develop their skills and capacity as community leaders and to engage in international dialogue about the future of Tibet.

TIBET2“TibetXChange also provides a unique opportunity for students at Swansea University to learn more about important international issues, hear about the experience of young people growing up in very different social, cultural and political environments and develop their own leadership and communication skills. I am delighted and very proud that Swansea University students have set up a Tibetan Society and are working with young Tibetans in Sikkim to make create opportunities for dialogue.”

A TibetXChange project report will be presented to the Central Tibetan Administration and Office of the Dalai Lama by Professor Crawley during a visit to Dharamsala in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh in June 2014.

For more information and to find out how your pledge will help support this project visit http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/tibetxchange.