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voiceforstruggleDharamshala, India: - Situated on Jogiwara road in Dharamshala, north India, the organanisation Gu Chu Sum offers education, housing and support to Tibetan former political prisoners who have escaped from China.

Its name comprises the Tibetan words for 'nine', 'ten', and 'three', representing the year 1959, and the date 10th March, which saw the beginnings of the resistance movement and the flight into exile of Tibetan refugees from the Chinese occupation. To some refugees, it also signifies the months of September, October, and March - each of which saw significant Tibetan uprisings in 2008.

Academic classes at Gu Chu Sum (the organisation also offers vocational training) include Tibetan language and history, and computer skills, but the most popular class is English. Students attend lessons six days a week, and also join English conversation classes with volunteers in the evening.

23-year-old Dolma has lived at Gu Chu Sum for three years. Originally from the Tibetan capital Lhasa, she came to Dharamshala to study English. "It is a very useful language and you have more employment opportunities if you can speak English," she said.

Her journey from Tibet had a rough start. She paid a guide to take her to India and they took a car from Lhasa to Shigatse, where they were pulled over by the police and thrown in jail for the night. Unsure if she would be sent back to Lhasa, Dolma told the police she was on her way to Nepal. She and her guide were released the next day, and Dolma eventually reached the reception center for Tibetan refugees in Kathmandu.

Dolma grew up as a farmer in Tibet, where here parents and four siblings still live. "In the town I grew up in before our family moved to Lhasa, there was no school or chance to go," she explained.

Before coming to Dharamshala, she worked at a bakery, but eventually decided that education was important to her, and came to India.

"I learned how to speak English from Gu Chu Sum, but I also learned how to read and write Tibetan since I never attended school before. It has been really great," Dolma said, smiling.

She also met His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2007. "It was a very big moment for me."

Dolma plans to continue her studies at Gu Chu Sum, and then hopes to return home to Tibet and possibly become a tour guide for foreign tourists.

"Tibet is so beautiful and my family misses me," she said.

Pasang, 26, another student and resident at Gu Chu Sum, comes from a family of farmers in Tibet's Kham region. He himself made a leaving trading clothes between Nepal and Tibet.

Pasang's family has a history of involvement with the resistance movement in Tibet - his maternal grandfather led their village in the 1959 protests.

The villagers were later forced to hide in the mountains and eventually, nearly all 300 of them, including Pasang's grandfather, were killed. His mother, who was 14 at the time, was arrested and spent five years as a political prisoner.

Many members of Pasang's family, including several uncles, have been killed during the Tibetan struggles. His father, who was involved in the independence movement, died from sickness at the age of 55.

Pasang, his brothers (who are both monks) and his sister have grown up with their mother's deep respect for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a love of traditional Tibetan culture. He regrets that, in Tibet, he was unable to study his native language much in school, as his teachers taught mainly in Chinese.

Pasang, his mother, an uncle, and all his siblings now live in India. His mother decided on the move partly out of her wish to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but also to find a better life for her children. In Tibet, she was monitored by the Chinese authorities, and often the family did not have enough to eat. Pasang also wanted to meet His Holiness, and acquire a better education.

Describing the family's flight from Tibet, Pasang said that, after a two-day bus journey, they walked for nine nights through the high mountains into Nepal, with Pasang often carrying his mother on his back.

He arrived in India in 2006, aged 26, and joined the Tibetan Transit School in lower Dharamshala, where he studied English, Tibetan and computing. In July last year, when he was required to move on, he enrolled at Gu Chu Sum.

Pasang hopes to continue studying English and is soon to take entrance exams at the Indira Gandhi National Open University in Delhi. If he passes, he wants to study for another three years and then travel the world to learn about other ways of life. He hopes one day to return to Tibet to teach Tibetan and English - saying he feels that many people of his age in Tibet are lost for the lack of a good education, and that he wants to help them connect to the world.

Although he is happy with the recent democratic advances of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Pasang believes their is a delicate balance between 'right' and 'duty' - that many Tibetans in exile may not understand the privilege of democracy, because it has simply been handed to them, instead of their having had to struggle for it.

"All people want their rights, but not the responsibility to practice their duties," he noted.

"The Chinese government is powerful, but not the problem in Tibet. People are the problem. If they do not understand and do not work together, then they become the problem."

Pasang believes the 'Middle Way' approach is perfect for the relationship between China and Tibet because it will allow both groups to live and work together peacefully.

"All people want happiness. We can help each other to do that," he concluded.

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