Returnees give back to Tibet

Updated: 2012-07-18 08:02

(China Daily)

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In an unremarkable alley in downtown Lhasa, a group of Tibetans who have returned home after studying at overseas universities have formed a club to teach youngsters English and help the city's needy.

The club, known to the locals as "Hope Corner", provides free English lessons and assists people with applications for visas and scholarships from overseas universities.

Its volunteers regularly visit orphanages and senior citizens centers and raise funds for needy students to get through college.

The club is aimed at promoting cultural diversity and serving the public interest of Lhasa, capital of Southwest China's Tibet autonomous region.

Communication is never a problem at the club, as the volunteers are all proficient in Tibetan, English and Mandarin.

"Last week, returnees from Britain gave a workshop about the different teaching methods in Chinese and British classrooms," said Tsering Dekyi, founder of the club. "The audience, mostly young Tibetan students, were all excited and asked many questions. You can see on their faces the desire to learn more about different cultures."

Tsering Dekyi taught English at a primary school in Lhasa before receiving a scholarship to study at Goshen College in Indiana in the United States in 2000.

After completing her degree in the US, she returned to Tibet in 2004 bursting with new ideas about how to serve the public and promote cultural diversity.

Upon her return to Lhasa, Tsering Dekyi began teaching English at Tibet University. The following year, she founded an English salon, the prototype of Hope Corner, for Lhasa residents to learn to speak English.

"I thought the young people in Lhasa needed a place to learn English and share their ideas," she said.

Tsering Dekyi was soon joined by dozens of people who had similar backgrounds and were enthusiastic about public welfare projects.

"I joined the program hoping to encourage young Tibetans to learn and exchange ideas in a healthier environment," said Gelsang Dorji, one of the co-founders of Hope Corner.

"It's a pity many Tibetans spend long hours drinking liquor and singing karaoke to kill time - unlike residents in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, they have little access to cultural activities such as operas and concerts," he said.

Gelsang Dorji, a Columbia University graduate and now a clerk at Bank of China's Tibet branch, was one of the first people to sign up to the project.

Today, the club has nearly 100 volunteers and has become one of the most popular social organizations in Lhasa. More than 1,000 Lhasa residents have participated in its activities over the past seven years.

"Returnees from abroad often give lectures for free, and residents are encouraged to speak English at the club's English conversation sessions," said Tsering Dekyi. "Many young Tibetan students look up to the volunteers as idols and are eager to work as hard as they do."

In addition to English teaching, the volunteers have helped at least 60 needy students through college. "Many of them have graduated and secured jobs in different parts of Tibet," Tsering Dekyi said. "Those who work in Lhasa have become volunteers themselves hoping to repay society."

Sonum Dekyi was a girl of few words when she first joined the club to practice speaking English. Now she is a confident young woman who can discuss a wide range of topics with the volunteers.

"I hope someday I can also study abroad, because you will never open your mind if you stay home all the time," she said.

Nyima, a lab worker at Tibet's disease control and prevention center, joined the club to learn English and was soon heavily involved with its community services. Now a fluent English speaker, he has just received an offer to study in the US.

"I owe a lot to the club and all its volunteers," he said. "Out of faith and a passion to build a better community, they spend so much time and put so much effort into helping other people fulfill their dreams."

Thanks to the reform and opening-up policy, many Tibetans have had opportunities to study and travel abroad. At Tibet University alone, 38 teachers have studied in countries including the US, Britain, Norway, Japan and the Republic of Korea since 2005.

Across Tibet, about 420 people have studied abroad over the past decade, according to figures provided by the exit and entry administration of the regional public security department.

Xinhua in Lhasa