2001: Preserving Tibetan cultural identity and resistance to its destruction

Ariadna Khafizovaj
Ariadna Khafizova

In the summer of 2001 The Chase Coggins fund allowed me to travel to Dharamsala, the Tibetan capital in exile, to work at Norbulingka Institute (www.norbulingka.org) and learn more about its mission to preserve traditional Tibetan art and culture while providing recent refugees with apprenticeships that offered them a chance to earn a living. While my initial intent was to learn more about the religious underpinnings of the artistic forms practiced at Norbulingka, the project evolved into a collection of oral histories. I spoke with a number of refugees, among them monks who participated in rebellions against the Chinese rule, were imprisoned, and then fled to India to practice their religion and openly venerate His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Other interviewees came for economic opportunities that were lacking in their remote villages, preferring to move to India instead of mainland China because they felt educationally disadvantaged by their lack of training in the Chinese language. What drew me to the stories was the immediacy of the experience and the similarity to what my own family had gone through in the early years of the Soviet Union, being forced to abandon their land and religion with the advance of communism into the Urals. This potent reminder of universality of human suffering and resilience has remained with me many years after that summer, urging me to be responsive to social injustice and natural disasters, wherever they may occur.