Mr. Chime Youngdung, currently Director of Tibetan Social Service (TSS) with its main office in Dharamsala (India), has started his European tour with a 5-day visit to Belgium. Mr. Youngdung is the former President of the National Democratic Party of Tibet. He arrived to Europe with the aim to raise further awareness about Tibet and the Tibetan cause and to introduce his new initiative, the non-profit organization Tibetan Social Service to the European friends of Tibet. As a successful political campaigner for his community and a knowledgeable promoter of freedom and of empowerment for Tibetans, he was warmly welcomed by many friends, political representatives as well as the local people in Belgium.
Arriving to Brussels airport on the morning of November 17th, Mr. Youngdung was greeted by International Board Members of TSS in Belgium: Mr. Dennis Barbion, President of the Tibetaanse-Vlaamse Vriendenkring (Tibetan-Flemish Circle of Friends) and Mr. Han Vandenabeele and his partner Liesbeth Van der Haegen, Board Members of Vrienden van Tibet (Friends of Tibet for the Dutch part of Belgium). They prepared a tight, though a very interesting schedule for the TSS Director, consisting of meetings with the Tibetan community in Belgium, with Mr. Jan Peumans (Chairman of the Flemish Parliament), with the UNPO Program Manager Mrs. Maud Vanwallegem and the Tibet Support Groups and Tibet supporters in Belgium. In between the busy schedule, they also included some interesting leisure activities and historical visits in various Belgian cities.
On his first day, following a short rest after the long flight, Mr. Youngdung gave a public lecture in the city of Brugge, Flanders (Northern part of Belgium), where a mixed nationality audience was eagerly listening to his presentation about Mainpat where he was born, the Tibetan settlement to the South of Varanasi near Ambikapur. The lecture was co-chaired by Mr. Dennis Barbion, President of the Tibetan-Flemish Circle of Friends, who translated the English lecture into Flemish for the local audience and enriched Mr. Youngdung’s presentation with his own comments and impressions from his visit in Mainpat. Listening to the difficult, but truly inspiring life story of Mr. Youngdung, along with his presentation about the conditions in Mainpat raised mixed feelings in the hearts and minds of the 30 listeners.
The speech was followed by a well-elaborated photo presentation with a commentary in Flemish by Mr. Dennis Barbion. The photos were very successful in bringing the life conditions of Mainpat closer to the audience and in presenting the actual results of the projects, which were implemented in Mainpat this July. We got to learn more about the water filter project, the solar light for the central square in camp no. 1 and the repainting of a Buddhist temple in Mainpat, which were financed and undertaken by the Tibetan-Flemish Circle of Friends.
During the short break, the attendees had the chance to taste delicious Tibetan momos, salads and butter tea and to enjoy other refreshments. Mr. Youngdung as well as Mr. Barbion caught the audience for more than two hours with the interesting, though sad pictures and true stories of the Tibetan people in India. We could see an honest and successful collaboration, with a true friendship in the background between the Representatives, who were both eagerly working for the empowerment and betterment of the life of Tibetans.
Following the lecture, Mr. Youngdung received abundant questions concerning Mainpat, the life of Tibetan refugees in India, the situation in Tibet as well as about the rights, feelings and about the potential opportunities of Tibetans at home and in exile. We finished the evening with lots of pictures, discussions and with a happy audience, with a feeling of a rewarding and interesting evening thanks to our Tibetan friend.
On the second day, the TSS Director had a meeting with the representatives of the Tibetan Community in Belgium in the city of Antwerp. Following this meeting, he had the opportunity to give a speech to about 200 Tibetans in the dharma centre in Schoten. During the talks he presented the mission of TSS and explained in details the aims and objectives of the organization. The public reacted in an enthusiastic way and expressed their support for this initiative.
After a day of resting and sightseeing in the historical city of Ghent, several important meetings were on the program of the 4th day of his stay in Belgium. It started with a morning meeting with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in Brussels (http://www.unpo.org/), where Mr. Youngdung was welcomed by the Program Manager Mrs. Maud Vanwalleghem. The UNPO was founded in 1991 at the Peace Palace in The Hague in The Netherlands. The members are composed of indigenous peoples, minority groups and occupied and unrecognized territories. The Tibetan government in exile was one of the founding members of the organization. During one hour and a half, the Director presented the TSS and its activities to the UNPO representative who was very interested in the organization’s vision, aims and its future work. Seen the common interests in numerous issues like in the question of leadership training, the UNPO and the TSS expressed their wish to work together in the future.
The main aim of TSS is to serve and to create a social platform without any political stand. Because of the need for a social structure for the Tibetan people in exile, the TSS is going to work on different kinds of levels.
One of the objectives is to prepare future leaders in the society through trainings and workshops on media, communication and global awareness.
Secondly, the promotion and funding of further and higher education for students after class 12. Currently, only those students who obtain the best results, are eligible to receive a scholarship from the Central Tibetan Administration. Since the funding is very limited, the lack of finances still leaves many well motivated and bright students with no chances for further schooling in any field. The aim of the TSS is exactly to overcome this gap and to create opportunities for those youngsters who would like to achieve further development and to improve their knowledge and vocational training in specific fields. Over the years, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has emphasized the importance of specialization, so one of the main priorities of TSS is to create possibilities in order to realize this initiative in practice.
Another focus of TSS will be on the issue of community help. This consists of two different kinds of services: to serve whole communities on one hand, while at the same time, to provide individual help for needy families and people on the other hand, especially in the poor settlements across India.
Fourthly, the organization will work on awareness programs, which need to be put into practice especially in the Settlements across India, since there is still lack of information and education. The idea is to raise more awareness on the social and political levels, and to draw more attention to health care issues.
The fifth point of interest of TSS is the promotion of the Tibet Support Groups (TSG), whether they are focused on political, social or cultural level. There are more than 150 Tibet-related organizations in the world, but their work often remains unknown to the global Tibetan community in exile. TSS aims to create a platform for the TSGs to raise more awareness about the work which is done by the supporting groups in the benefit of the Tibetans in exile. On the other hand, TSS is also going to offer services to the TSGs, for example programs for visits in India, arranging meetings, bookings, providing a translator and specific information about any point of interest of a TSG.
In the afternoon of November 20th, Mr. Youngdung continued his busy schedule with a meeting with Mr. Jan Peumans, the Chairman of the Flemish Parliament in Belgium, and with Mrs. Paola Trevisan of International Campaign for Tibet, taking place at the Office of Tibet in Brussels. During a discussion of one hour and a half, the Director presented the aims and objectives of TSS and provided his views in a following questions and answers session. Mr. Peumans, who shifted a meeting that day in order to join the discussion with Mr. Youngdung, was very interested in this initiative and even offered his help and provided valuable advice to the representatives.
The very busy Tuesday of Mr. Youngdung ended with a delicious dinner at the Tibetan restaurant “Le Tibet” in Brussels (http://www.letibet.be/), where he met the International Board Members of TSS in Belgium, namely with Mrs. Erika Patho, Mr. Han Vandenabeele, Mr. Dennis Barbion, Mr. Jamyang Dorjee and Mr. Rinchen Tenzin. In a relaxed atmosphere, the participants enjoyed their tasty Tibetan meals and discussed actual questions of the organization and a series of initiatives and fundraising opportunities for TSS in Belgium in 2013.
On the last day of his visit in Belgium, Mr. Youngdung participated in a meeting with the Tibet Support Groups and Tibet supporters in Belgium. 12 people joined the presentation and open discussion in Ghent, with representatives of Vrienden van Tibet (Friends of Tibet) and Tibetaanse-Vlaamse Vriendenkring (Tibetan-Flemish Circle of Friends) and individual supporters.
The TSS Director is now continuing his European trip to Switzerland and Italy, where he will further engage in the representation and promotion of TSS and where he will be meeting with other International Board Members of the organization.
Written by Dennis Barbion, Erika Patho, Han Vandenabeele
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