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settlement-3Dharamshala: - The Belgian association Tibetan Flemish Circle of Friends is based in the Dutch (Flemish) part of Belgium and was founded in March 2007. The group works for Tibet in different kind of ways: on social, cultural and educational level.

Since the beginning of 2012 there is a new board of this organisation. Dennis Barbion is the new President and his wife Marijke Reynaert is the Secretary. In the past they have set up shoe projects for the Tibetans in Dharamsala. Recently, from the 3rd till the 12th July, Dennis Barbion has visited the Tibetan settlement in Mainpat, for the water filter project that was organised there.

The association was able to buy 114 water filters for Mainpat in total. This settlement consists of 7 different camps, and all the families in the camps no. 4, 5, 6 and 7 have received a water purifier. Water filters were also donated to the Tibetan School in Mainpat and the School Hostels, the Kindergarten, the Coorperative Society, the Tibetan Settlement Office, the office of the Regional Tibetan Women's Association etc.

Mainpat is situated in Central India and it's one the poorest Tibetan villages in whole India. Mainpat was the first Tibetan settlement that was established by the government of India in 1962 to rehabilitate 1,400 Tibetan refugees who came to India in the aftermath of the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959. Mainpat is very remote, the nearest town is Ambikapur and is situated at 50 km from Mainpat. The living conditions for the Tibetans in Mainpat are very hard.

At present, around 850 Tibetan refugees are living in Mainpat. The settlement has much problems because of the impurity of the water. This is due to the bauxite mining in the region that has affected the purity of groundwater thoroughly, and to the annual monsoon rains that last a long time and that causes diseases like malaria. Special water filters purify the water of all bacteria and they are completely ecological, without the use of chemicals. All the money that the Tibetan Flemish Circle of Friends raised for this project was entirely spent to the purchase of water filters, 100%.

For this initiative, the Belgian organisation has worked very closely together with the Tibetan Settlement Office in Mainpat (the local representation of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Settlement Officer Mr. Tsering Wangchuk and his staff) and with Chime Youngdung, the former President of the National Democratic Party of Tibet who is from Mainpat. Chime Youngdung grew up in Mainpat and he still has family there, so he knows the situation on the spot very well.

It was Chime Youngdung who suggested the water filter project to Dennis Barbion and his wife when they were in Dharamsala in April last year. He has also accompanied Dennis Barbion on his trip to Mainpat. It was the first visit of Dennis Barbion to a Tibetan settlement in India other than Dharamsala. Dennis Barbion: "Before I came to Mainpat I had no idea what to expect. When I arrived there, I was so surprised by the beauty and purity of the nature and the environment, and this reflectsin the people clearly. I was touched by the love, kindness and openness of the Tibetan people there. Although the living conditions are very hard and they all suffer a very difficult life, they have close contact with each other and try to help each other out, and this was so good to see."

Dennis Barbion: "Apart from our water filter project, our association has also financed the repainting of the outside of a Nyingma temple in camp nr. 1 in Mainpat and the purchase of a solar light for the central square in camp nr. 1 where the Community Hall, the Coorperative Society, the Guest House and the Tibetan Settlement Office are situated. A new basketball court is made there too now very recently and in the center a stupa is going to be built, so that people also can do circumambulations (kora). This central square should be a meeting place for all the people, young and old. As there is no light yet, the people should also be able to meet in the late afternoon and evening. In this way, a more vivid and thriving community can be established."

After visiting Mainpat and witnessing the life for the Tibetan refugees there with lots of needs on different levels, Dennis Barbion calls upon people and fellow Tibet organisations for more interest and support for the Tibetan settlements, especially the most poor like Mainpat, Bandara and Orissa.

The Tibetan Flemish Circle of Friends is going to launch more projects for the Tibetan Settlement in Mainpat in the future.

Article emailed by Dennis Barbion & Chime Youngdung, Dharamshala (India), 18th July 2012.