The rich Tibetan civilization spans over 3000 years. Tibet developed its unique culture influenced largely by Tibetan Buddhism which arrived from India in the seventh century. Tibetan culture includes language, medicine, arts and crafts, astrology, literature, poetry, metallurgy, etc.
After coming into exile in India in 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognized the imminent threat to Tibetan culture and one of the first initiatives under his leadership was rebuilding Tibet’s major monasteries and cultural institutions in India. Schools were established and they provided both modern and traditional education.
Tibetan culture and language are under unprecedented threat. In Tibet, the repressive and hostile policies of the Chinese government has marginalized Tibetan culture and language. Important cultural institutions and other traditions have been destroyed and banned during the six decades of Chinese occupation. Tibetans in exile and in diaspora have become dispersed and risk becoming assimilated into the dominant culture of their host countries.
FIVE PRIMARY CHALLENGES
- Alarming decline in the Tibetan language as many students and youth are unable to properly write or communicate in Tibetan. There is a generation of Tibetan youth growing up increasingly separated from the Tibetan culture, language and community. There is a shortage of Tibetan language teachers and scarcity of learning and reading materials and other resources.
- The dwindling population in exile combined with the increase in migration overseas has made it very difficult to sustain and transfer programs on strengthening Tibetan culture.
- Lack of collaboration, strategy and a plan for promoting Tibetan language and culture. There is no single entity or program that is coordinating and facilitating collaboration amongst the various existing institutions and monasteries focused on preserving different aspects of Tibetan culture.
- Inadequate attention and resources towards supporting cultural institutions such as museums, libraries and archives that will tell the world about Tibetan history and preserve Tibetan culture and identity.
- Shrinking number of traditional Tibetan artists and the inability to effectively market products and services. As a result the community is unable to provide adequate support for artists and maintain artistic traditions.
- Leadership. The CTA needs to play a more significant leadership role in sustaining Tibetan language and culture.
- Collaboration. More collaboration and partnership is necessary amongst current institutions working to preserve and promote Tibetan culture.
- Curriculum. A common Tibetan language curriculum in all schools and learning of Tibetan must be made more accessible.
- Market Development. The market for Tibetan artifacts and other cultural products and services need to be expanded so that artists can make an attractive livelihood and the community of artists and craftspeople grows.
- Strengthening cultural institutions. There is a need to develop a long-term and strategic plan to improve the quality and sustainability of Tibetan museums, libraries and archives.
- Increasing youth participation. The values of Tibetan culture needs to be promoted among Tibetan youth so that they are able to learn and maintain their interest in Tibetan culture and language.
KAYDOR’S FIVE INITIATIVES
1. Revamping the Department of Religion and Culture (DORC). The DORC will be revamped and the cultural portfolio will be significantly strengthened including providing increased financial support and performance platform for various cultural activities and artists. The department will work more closely with various cultural institutions within the community and also reach out to external partners. It will develop a comprehensive plan to promote Tibetan culture with the use of technology. The CTA will explore opportunities to work more closely with the monasteries and nunneries to promote them as centers of learning and exchanges on ancient Indian knowledge and advance His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s fourth commitment.
2. Publication of reading and learning materials. Reading and learning materials will be made widely and easily accessible especially to middle and higher school students and young adults. This will include textbooks, original and translated literature, animation, films, etc. The Department of Education’s (DOE) eLearning division will further strengthen the language learning website and transform it into a full language and cultural portal catering to a large audience both within and outside the Tibetan community.
3. Establishing a Language Fund. A special Tibetan Language Fund will be established to support a range of activities to promote Tibetan language including training a cadre of Tibetan language experts every year and providing support for Tibetan language teachers. High profile debates in Tibetan will be held where Tibetans around the world can watch and participate. Winners will receive prizes. This fund will be partially funded through the Green Book and Blue Book contributions as well as other sources.
4. Preservation of culture as a core development objective. When designing proposals and work plans for large donor funded programs, preservation of Tibetan culture will be designated as one of the key development objectives. Every major activity proposed in the plan and project will be required to explain how the implementation of an activity will also preserve and promote Tibetan culture. For instance, a new approach to health care that integrates Sowa Rigpa and Tibetan Buddhist practices to address mental health issues will be adopted.
5. Extension of programming into the diaspora community. In keeping with the transnational identity of a modernized CTA, the DOE and DORC will aggressively and strategically extend language and cultural programming to Tibetans living outside South Asia. Programs will include support for Tibetan weekend schools, Early Childhood Development programs, summer cultural immersion programs including intensive classes in Tibetan history and politics both in India and overseas, etc.