While making my way through the busy McLeodGanj evening market in Dharamshala, India, I met a Kimberly Lee. She told me she was a student from Taiwan and this was her second time volunteering in Dharamshala. We had a very brief exchange about upcoming events in the area and discussed a story I was working on for the Tibet Post.
I was curious to hear more about volunteering from the perspective of a student from outside of the UK so when I returned home I contacted her to find out more about her experiences as a volunteer amongst the Tibetan community and to find out about the differences between life in India compared to Taiwan.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Peng-hsuan/ Kimberly, and I’m a graduate student major in political science in National Taiwan University in Taiwan. Currently, I’m working as an intern for Tibetan Centre of Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), an NGO based in Dharamsala.
What made you decide to volunteer in Dharamshala?
I was in a student group when I first came to Dharamsala in July, 2013. The group was mainly coordinated by Students for a Free Tibet India, so some of them turned out to be my good friends. The friendships with the enthusiastic Tibetan youth here in Dharamsala make the Tibetan struggle more personal to me, and these friends came to be my motivation and inspiration for keep working on Tibet.
Secondly, during the trip, we’ve visited a variety of different NGOs, government sections and individuals, which includes TCHRD. Therefore, I’ve got the chance to know about what this organization is doing, the efforts they’ve done so far, and their visions.
Besides, I’m a student who tries to professionalize myself with the knowledge of human rights issues. Due to the special and abnormal relationship between Taiwan and China, I’m especially interested in the topics related to China. And of course Tibet is one of them. We often said that “The past of Tibet is the present of Hong Kong, and might be the future of Taiwan.” Under the strong influence of the rising Red China, we should be the best alliances together.
What have you taken part in to during your time there?
In TCHRD, I work as an intern. What I do the most is translating between Chinese and English. There are different reasons for both sides of the translation. For translating from Chinese to English, it’s because Tibet is still under Chinese occupation, and most materials we’ve received are written in Chinese. So they need to be translated into English, so our researchers (most of them are fluent in English) can use them into the reports we release. I also do translation from English to Chinese. Just like I’ve mentioned, since Tibet is still a part of China, it is very important to let more Chinese people know about the truth happened/ happening in Tibet, and the thought of Tibetan people. But due to Chinese censorship, it’s difficult for them to gain access to these information. So we try to make more Chinese people know more about Tibet, and further more make them support our cause.
I also help out in SFT’s activities as a friend and a volunteer. I’ve known them since my last trip, and through SFT I’ve got to know more interesting and inspiring people.
What is your impression of the Tibetan community in exile?
My first impression of here is the friendliness and warmth of people around the town. Most Tibetans I’ve met are friendly, willing to help, and always welcoming all people to join in. The exile community –especially Dharamsala– is somewhere people are trying hard to preserve their traditions and cultures, so it’s really understandable when the society looks kind of conservative. But at the same time, many of the people here are open-minded. To me it seems that they’ve managed to reach a balance between the old and new.
Has learning about the struggle faced by Tibetans surprised you?
Somehow it did surprise me a lot. But the things which surprised me weren’t the critical situation or the human rights violations inside Tibet. I’m studying in politics and human rights; and sadly, there are so many places around the world which are a lot more worse than Tibet.
The things which surprise and amaze me are the people here. I can strongly feel the aspiration and ambition of freeing their homeland (no matter via Rangzen/independence or Middle Way/autonomy) among the youth. No matter they were from Tibet or born in exile, all of them have this strong patriotic emotion toward Tibet. And they put this feeling into real action. Many of my friends have received their higher education in Indian university, and they could have enjoyed nice occupation and salary in Indian corporations. Instead they came back here and work for NGOs or the government, serving their own fellow people. I think this is really rare in the nowadays world.
What would be your advice to others who might be considering lending their time to a volunteer position?
First of all, just get involved. The Tibetan community in exile has been established for over half century, and here there are various kinds of people and needs. I think everybody can find a position for themselves here. Second, they should find the talents that’s been hid in themselves. Sometimes it’s kind of surprising that some skills or specialties that we thought unimportant are actually helpful here.
Therefore, before putting the effort into the volunteering, they can have a smaller trip here before the “real journey”, just to know the environment (and try if they can adapt to the life here) and explore through the NGOs and similar places around here. If they couldn’t come before that, I still suggest that they do some research previous to the trip here.
Your home country Taiwan has faced difficulties with China, how do you feel about the struggle Tibetans face? Do you feel able to relate?
Somehow, the struggle our country has been facing make me feel more related to the work for the Tibet causes. Taiwan is independent de facto, but we still feel threatened and in danger in most of time. That is why the idea of how the life goes on in the occupied Tibet simply terrified me. And since we’ve been struggling against Chinese influences, it’s important to stand together as an alliance to fight for ourselves. Currently among these countries/ regions that are resisting China, Taiwan is the most well-being one (compare to Tibet, East Turkestan, South Mongolia and Hong Kong). So we should stand up for our friends. Therefore I feel really related and legitimate to work for Tibet as a Taiwanese.
Have you felt restrictions in Taiwan?
Not so much compared to the countries/regions I’ve mentioned above. Our restrictions come from the government and corporations which affiliate to China. For example, the police would disperse people with our national flags when the Chinese officials visit Taiwan; and they’ve had crackdowns and oppression on the protests against China (eg. Sunflower Movement earlier this year) The pro-China company Wang-wang has bought mass media in Taiwan. They only broadcast pro-China policies and information and they would try to stop the opinion from another side. We’ve faced such restrictions and oppression, but it’s never been as bad as Tibetans face. And we still have the rights to elect freely and via a democratic process. So generally the restrictions exist, but the situation is still fine.