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Learning with Students for a Free Tibet

Written by Will Clarke, OGHQ

Every June 20th, the United Nations recognizes and commemorates the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees around the world through World Refugee Day. This day, first observed in 2001, was created to bring awareness to the plight of refugees around the world and send a message to governments that they must do their share to support and assist refugees.

Our partner Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) works in solidarity with the Tibetan refugees in exile in order to support their struggle for freedom and independence. They’re a chapter-based network of young people and activists around the world; through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action, they campaign for Tibetans’ fundamental rights to political freedom.

Last year our India: Himalayan Adventure teams returned to SFT to unpack the occupation of Tibet, learn about non-violent direct action and communication, and help with the transition of the Tibetan refugees through daily conversational English classes. In our second year with SFT, our role was to train and empower youth as leaders in a worldwide movement for social justice.

Our primary goal in working with SFT is to become allies and ambassadors for the organization, by taking the time to understand the community’s reality on the ground. Through tours, discussions, lectures, and activities, the teams sought to better understand the Tibetan perspective, with the ultimate goal of leaving SFT with a desire to become activists in their own communities, ultimately leading to a groundswell of support.

This year’s India: Himalayan Adventure team with SFT

Our teams left with a much better understanding of the Tibetan struggle and the life of Tibetans-in-exile. They also learned how to be an ally in a more concrete way, and what it means to stand in solidarity with a community, even if it isn’t their own.

Working with SFT provides a very interesting learning opportunity for participants. So often we focus on doing ‘hands-on’ work in order to feel like we’re having an impact, but before getting down and dirty with partners it’s essential to understand their experience. SFT focuses on understanding the issues at stake, the work being done to address the issues, and the people involved, before even thinking about hands-on work.

By focusing on learning rather than ‘doing’, participants have the opportunity to really gain insight into the intricacies of the conflict and the Tibetan occupation, and how it impacts those involved. Many of our participants returned home with a better understanding of allyship and what it means to stand in solidarity with communities and people that are far removed from their own lived experience. Further to this, participants had a strong desire to get involved in work within their own communities, as well as the skills necessary to make that happen.

Over the last two years we have been fortunate to work with Students for a Free Tibet, and can’t wait to continue developing our relationship and supporting their ongoing work.

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