Empowering the Vision Project (ENVISION) was set up in December 2007 as a Trust to strengthen the Tibetan community through youth empowerment. Its vision is to see genuinely self-reliant and dynamic Tibetans who can hold their own in the global world. Last month, we visited the Sontsa Hub at Majnu Ka Tilla, Delhi, and interacted with its Director, Kunsang Tsephel la.
Excerpts from our conversation with Kunsang Tsephel la.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about the Empowering the Vision Initiative and its goals?
Empowering the Vision was set up in 2007 as a trust, and our vision is to see a dynamic Tibetan community. Our mission is to empower the youth. To create a community of empowered youth, we have a few initiatives; we have a mentorship program and a network of Tibetan professionals. We reach out to schools, and we have school exchange programs for schools and universities where we give students career guidance, career workshops, and skill training, and guide them as to how they can apply for jobs after graduation. Recently, we have started a fellowship program to support the career goals of young Tibetans residing in India.
I find that the Tibetan community is very complex. First, we have refugee status here. So, the options for a government job are limited. And to get into a private job, we need more exposure. The trend is changing. More Tibetan youth apply for private employment, especially in the IT sector. I think we act like a gateway or an icebreaker that they need.
2. How does the initiative seek to empower Tibetans in the diaspora?
In the diaspora, we try to focus more on exile in India. Our main focus is on schools. Earlier, we had limited choices- medicine, engineering, and commerce streams were more popular. But things are changing. Today, even science students can become writers because it's all about exploring. The school children should be made aware of these choices and given the confidence to explore them.
So, there are a lot of schoolchildren who visit here. We try to give them ideas about the careers that they can dream of. Whatever passion they have, there is always a career they can make out of it. We try to do tests in which they find out about their weaknesses and their strengths. And also, if there are some dropouts, we connect them to different centers like Ritanjali, which focuses on dropout students so they can complete their education. At the university level, we help students figure out their strengths and weaknesses and help them be job-ready by providing the necessary guidance, confidence, and training.
3. What are some of the specific programs and initiatives that Empowering the Vision has implemented to achieve its goals?
We have recently started fundraising activities and we have a fellowship program. This year, we have 15 fellows. Next year, we are trying to expand it to more of a professional course in tune with the community's needs. For example, the veterinarian community needs more veterinary doctors. So, if there is someone who wants to pursue it, we want them to get an opportunity to find fellowship.
Global Tibetan Professionals Network (GTPN) is a platform where Tibetan professionals from diverse backgrounds can network with each other and find creative ways of contributing to the community. Through this network, Tibetan professionals around the world can share ideas, information, and resources among themselves and with those aspiring to become like them through mentorship.
We do school visits and then we have the school role model initiative. As a child growing up, every time a resource person comes by, they tend to feel that if someone can do it, we can also do it. There are Tibetans who excel in different fields. So, we bring them to the schools where they interact with the students. And as I've mentioned before, we have a school outreach program too.
4. How does the initiative work to preserve Tibetan culture and promote Tibetan values and traditions?
The Tibetans who have excelled in different fields have Tibetan values they have been taught in families and schools as a child intact. When they grow up and they go to a community and work in different companies, we have different stories that Tibetans have that gestures of kind interactions with their colleagues. They have that sense of universal responsibility. This harks back to the Buddhist upbringing we have had. And that, in a way, contributes to the Tibetan community, and the world at large. I think, that each of us becomes an ambassador of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Every Wednesday, we have a Lhakar event where we try to celebrate Tibetan culture. We invite Tibetan writers and Tibetan singers and conduct stand-up events.
5. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges that aspiring young Tibetans face today, and how is the Empowering the Vision Initiative working to address these challenges?
I think, as I've mentioned before, the key challenge that we face is that we are refugees. It is a challenge and also an opportunity. It gives us room to think and to become more than what we are meant to be. If you are not a refugee, if you have a home to call, then you feel that, okay, I'm going to settle here and do something for myself. But then being a refugee, you have that responsibility, and also the urge to do more, go beyond borders, and contribute to the community. There are Tibetans who want to follow their passion and pursue a job in private companies. Then also, I think, that kind of idea is always there, that once Tibet will be free, they will contribute to their sector.
In a way, there are challenges because being a refugee, you have limited options for landing a secure job. It kind of directly impacts the decision-making of youth. That adds up to your confusion. But if you see it as an opportunity, then there are a lot of career choices and opportunities to go beyond the limits.
The Tibetan youth are very creative and versatile and also kind-hearted. They always try to connect their career with other people or the community. They always try to find a job or a kind of career in which they can earn a living but also help the people living around them.
Social media has enabled Tibetan youth to speak out. For instance, if they are learning about mental health, they speak out about mental health. Social media opened up a platform in which they can be themselves, express their thought and ideas, and connect with the larger world.
One of our main objectives is to build confidence in the Tibetan youth. The Sonsta hub is not a typical kind of office. Sontsa is a space for everyone to engage, come together, collaborate, and host a range of community-friendly activities, services, training, and workshops in addition to providing co-working space for anyone interested.
6. Can you share some success stories or notable achievements of the initiative, and how they have impacted the Tibetan community?
Karma Gyurmey, a Class IX dropout, approached ENVISION for guidance and support. Office introduced him to the Second Chance Programme- a two-year residential program for boys at the Ritinjali NGO in New Delhi. With support from ENVISION and Ritinjali, he enrolled in the program focusing on life skills development. He successfully cleared the Class X board exam from the National Institute of Open Schooling and completed a Graphic Design course from MAAC Institute.
Tsering Dorji, a former monk from Darjeeling, approached ENVISION for Guidance and Financial support to pursue his dream of learning Culinary Arts from one of the prestigious institutions. He was enrolled in a Culinary course at the Asian Academy of Culinary Arts in New Delhi, where ENVISION supported his fees through a fellowship program. He has completed the course and is currently interning at Bercos, a well-known restaurant in New Delhi.
Tsewang Choezom, a MA graduate from JNU, approached us for Career guidance. She enrolled in a six-week "Inclusive Matters" course at ADAPT in Mumbai on ENVISION's recommendation because she was passionate about working with Special children. ENVISION and the UK Women's Council fully supported her short-term course. After completing the course, she was hired for a job at the same institution.
7. What are the plans and goals of Empowering the Vision, and how do you see the initiative evolving in the years to come?
Our vision, as I said before, is to see a dynamic Tibetan community through youth empowerment. And our goal will be to touch all the Tibetan youth and instill in them that kind of feeling that there is always an organization or group of Tibetan youth, who are working in the fields they want to build a career in and could guide them. They should always feel free to connect with us. And then through us, they can connect with Tibetan professionals who can mentor them. If someone wants to become a lawyer, we have a lot of Tibetan lawyers out there. We strive to connect with them and help the youth find their ways ahead. There is always a support system; the Central Tibetan Administration is there. We are there too and I always feel that Empowering Vision is a gateway to connect Tibetan new youth to the mainstream.
8. How can individuals and organizations support the work of the Tibetan Empowering the Vision Initiative, and get involved in efforts to empower Tibetans and promote Tibetan culture?
I think the most important thing is collaboration. There are new ideas, and new groups working in the same field of education of youth. Now it is time to collaborate, share ideas, reach out, and do it together as a team. We should bridge the gap.
In schools, for instance, TCV Schools, we can have a year-long kind of collaboration, where we can have a month-long session with students every day, so we can interact with them daily. Put us into their curriculum.
NGOs like Active Nonviolence Education Center (ANEC) talk about non-violence, so if you want to make awareness about non-violence among Tibetan youth, we can collaborate with them. And I feel that kind of collaboration is important.
9. How do you keep yourself motivated to help the Future seeds of Tibet?
I always feel that whatever I know, I have to know more. That keeps me going - curiosity, the hunger to learn new things, and also to understand other people's perspectives. We have to constantly learn from each other. That keeps us going and always helps us connect, especially with children. Recently we visited some schools in the northeastern part of India and we could connect with them well. We have a brilliant team at Empowering the Vision.
10. One of the aspects we have been working on is the idea of including Compassion in the modern school syllabus and teaching children Compassion. This is a vision often shared by HH, the 14th Dalai Lama himself. How have the values of Compassion and Peace – values that we desperately need as a society today – and Dalai Lama's messages on the same influenced you? Do you believe in the power of Compassion to change the world?
Talking about His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s education on Karuna and compassion, I think that should be the priority. In Delhi, schools have a ‘SEE Learning’ Happiness Curriculum. But in reality, I feel that we haven't listened to HHDL over the years, over many years. Even in Tibetan schools, we do have Tibetan Buddhist philosophy classes. But this is more of a philosophy class, right? I feel that, if I'm in school, if I'm being taught about our emotions - what love is, what compassion is, then that should also be a priority. Because I feel that if someone is taught those kinds of aspects in life, then he or she always will keep trying to transform their mind every day. if someone is taught how emotions work, and what our mind is about, it will help us become more at peace with ourselves and the world which will contribute to becoming the peaceful world that we always envisioned.
In earlier days, we had Gurukul, where we had the guru shishya relation. I had the opportunity to take 30 students to Dharamshala as a part of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Gurukul program. Indian university students and recent graduates got a chance to live the life of the Tibetan community in exile, offering first-hand insight into their civilizational heritage, Tibetan Buddhism, and His Holiness’s teachings. So that kind of education system vanished after the introduction of the British-style education system.
11. Finally, can you share any upcoming events or initiatives that Empowering the Vision has planned for the near future?
The hub is the main hotspot for our program. We organize events like workshops, interactive sessions, and discussions, and every Friday, we have the Friday social. Friday social is more interactive as students can come in and express themselves. Youth can come in here, stay here, and have friendly talks. This is a space where the Tibetan community can freely come up and discuss their career and what they want to do. We want to help build more Tibetan professionals. For instance, we need Tibetan horticulture specialists and environment specialists. So, we want to build those professionals through our fellowship. And GTPN Global Tibetan Professional Network is one of our main focuses. We want to bring them together as professionals and improve our community. We can guide Tibetan youth and help them fulfill their dreams.
Find Empowering the Vision on Instagram here.