Educational Support Tibet (E.S. Tibet) is a ten-year-old non-profit organization which has established a school (Kunpan Cultural School) to educate Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala, northern India. In the last ten years E.S. Tibet have successfully educated 102 Tibetan refugees and is currently educating a further 24 students. They will finish their studies in the summer of 2013.
The original idea to set up E.S. Tibet came from a long and very serious discussion between two volunteer teachers and one student during the time when we were all still in the Tibetan Transit School (T.T.S.). Many of the Tibetans who grow up in rural areas of Tibet often have no possibility to attend school. They either live too far away from schools, or they cannot afford the high fees for the Chinese state schools. Motivated by the desire for education and wishing to avoid the fate of illiteracy, every year more than 4,000 young Tibetans risk their lives by crossing the Himalayas on foot. They come to India, where they can safely receive an education.
T.T.S (set up by the Tibetan Government in Exile) educates the newly arrived Tibetan refugees for 3 years, in English, Tibetan and some Computer Studies. This is not enough of an education for the majority of the students to go back to Tibet and find a job and stand on their own feet. All the students hope that after leaving T.T.S they will be able to continue with their further education and that they will have a very good foundation for making a positive contribution in Tibet. At that time no institution existed that could provide them with any further education in India, which is why we came up with the idea of the Kunpan Cultural School.
Having had the idea of setting up this educational organisation, but not having any actual experience on how to proceed in this field, we started our project Educational Support Tibet (E.S. Tibet) in October 2000 with five students (four boys and one girl) who were leaving T.T.S. at that time. We rented two rooms in Delhi and found a computer school for them to start studying Java Script and C ++. Alongside that we registered them for the NOS (National Open School),
to get either the 8th or 10th grade normal school qualification (equivalent to secondary school).
While they were studying in Delhi, we officially registered our project on the 12th of October 2001 in Switzerland as a friendly society, with five board members. At the same time we started looking for donors and sponsors to expand our project. By the beginning of 2002 we had found enough sponsors and donors to increase our student intake from 5 to 20, and luckily we had also found a house with enough rooms for our 20 new students in Bangalore, south India. Bangalore is one of the most advanced cities in India and the IT level there is the best in India.
The specific target of our project was not overtly clear at that time; one of the board members went to Tibet to investigate what kinds of job prospects there were. At the same time we were collecting information from the students by asking them what kind of dreams they had for the future. From their many and varied answers we were able to identify three overall
different aims for the future, which were: going back to Tibet; staying in India; and going to a Western country if that was a possibility.
According to these three aims, we created different objectives. For those who wanted to go to Tibet, we would teach them Chinese to the point where they would be able to deal with everyday life, Computing to the level of being able to create websites, and in English we prepared them for the Cambridge University English Exams which are recognised all over the world, including Tibet.
For the students who wished to remain in India, we registered them for the NOS in order to get the 10th grade certificate from the Indian Government, in Computer Studies and English. And for those hoping to one day go to the West, we developed a partnership with a college in Switzerland (Hochschule Luzern) who offered us the equipment for teaching CISCO system at our school in Bangalore.
It was really challenging for all of us who were working on this, as we still had our own daily lives in Switzerland to deal with too. Dealing with Indian bureaucracy and coordinating the many volunteers required lots of our energy and time. However, it was a successful start as 80% of the first group of students who went back to Tibet found jobs. One set up a school Labdrakhampa.free.fr and two others started their own travel agency. With it being so time consuming for the board members to focus on all three of the identified aims, we agreed to focus on only one - the Tibetans who wished to return to Tibet one day.
In August 2004 we accepted our second group of 20 students in Bangalore, with the aim of providing them with enough further education to enable them to find work back in Tibet. Therefore, we taught Chinese, Computing and English, and also at that point offered workshops on Buddhist philosophy, mathematics etc. These extra workshops proved very beneficial for the students in many ways, but paradoxically made it emotionally difficult for them as they were so far from their Tibetan families and friends, and the Tibetan Government in Exile, which is based in northern India.
Thus, at the beginning of June 2006 we moved our school north to Dharamsala – the location of the Tibetan Government in Exile, and the residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. This was a big decision as we had to move everything from the school in the South to the North of India. Fortunately we were able to find a truck that had delivered something to Bangalore and was willing to take back our things to Dharamsala for a reasonable price. The students, staff and our two dogs travelled by train and then by bus separately.
Since June 2006 we have been renting a house from an Indian army officer to use as our school and home. The third group of students started in July 2006 and finished in May 2009. This third group was special because after two years of further education with us we found their level of English would not be good enough for them to get jobs back in Tibet. So we decided to keep them almost another year to bring them up to a better level.
The fourth group of 24 students started their two years of study with us in June 2009 and they finished in August 2011. Five of them passed FCE and twenty of them already passed the Cambridge University PET (Preliminary English Test) Exam and eight of them passed KET.
Our fifth group has started their time at E.S. Tibet at the beginning of September 2011 and will finish their time at the end of August 2013. They are three different classes at the moment and all of them are preparing for the PET and FCE the tests in May 2012.