Our initial aim was to help Tibetan refugees from Tibet: Lha Charitable Trust

Tibetan students in a classroom of the Lha Charitable Trust. Photo: Lha

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Dharamshala, India  — “Our initial aim was to help Tibetan refugees from Tibet and assist them in any way we could. The first projects we got involved in were teaching English and basic computer skills to the community, so they could develop their skills and lead a new life in exile," said Dorji Kyi, Executive Director of Lha Charitable Trust.

The Lha Charitable Trust is an award-winning non-profit organisation and one of the largest Tibetan social work institutes based in Dharamshala. The organisation was founded in 1997 with the aim of providing vital resources to Tibetan refugees, the local Indian population and the people of the Himalayan regions. Each year, their programmes and projects are adapted to meet the needs of the community. Lha also offers volunteers and students the opportunity to engage in meaningful community service and social work.

In an interview with Tibet Post International (TPI), Dorji Kyi talks about Lhasa's work and contribution to the Tibetan community, its various projects and initiatives, and the history of the organisation.

TPI: Please tell us more about Lha Charitable Trust and the work that you do for the Tibetan community.

Dorji Kyi: Lha Charitable Trust was founded in 1997. However, the Trust was only registered as a non-profit organisation in 2005. Our initial aim was not to create a proper NGO but to help Tibetan refugees who were coming from Tibet and assist them in any way we could. The first projects we were involved in were teaching English and basic computer skills to the community so that they could develop their skills and lead a new life in exile.

TPI: What does Lha mean?

Dorji Kyi: Lha is a sacred Tibetan word that means the fully-awakened state of mind and alludes to the fundamental nature of goodness. When the enlightened state of mind manifests as a sublime being to help guide beings towards enlightenment, it appears as a benevolent divine figure. The word Lha, therefore, means Deity and Divine. The word "Lha" is centred and surrounded by the combination of five colours in the logo. These colours are in the following order: white, yellow, red, green, and blue. According to Buddhism, they are considered auspicious colours.

TPI: How does Lha Charitable Trust contribute in preserving the Tibetan culture?

Dorji Kyi: Our main objective is to preserve and promote Tibetan culture and language and to raise awareness of the situation of Tibetan refugees. We also have educational programmes, social work initiatives, cultural exchange programmes, and volunteer opportunities. We regularly organise Tibetan language courses for anyone who wishes to learn.

Apart from that, we have also organised three-month intensive courses for advanced Tibetan language studies. Through our cultural exchange programmes, we introduce Tibetan culture, Buddhism, meditation, the current political situation of Tibet, etc. For groups of foreign students and professionals, we host them in Dharamshala for a period of time and introduce them to local Tibetan institutes and non-governmental organisations.

Lastly, our magazine Contact, which is the only monthly newsletter in English available free of charge, helps readers stay informed about news and issues concerning Tibet and the exile community. It gives tourists easy access to information on Tibetan issues, as Contact is available in many restaurants, agencies, hotels and shops in and around Dharamshala. It also helps to foster mutual understanding between the Tibetan community and people from all over the world who visit the area.

TPI: What are some of the services, courses and workshops that Lha offers?

Dorji Kyi: We always make sure that our programmes need to be grounded and evaluated before planning a new programme. Here are some of our programmes - Language courses: We teach English, French, German, Chinese and Tibetan. Computer courses: Computer courses for beginners and graphic design.

Livelihood training programme: We teach different life skills such as baking, special cooking, traditional Tibetan massage, bartending, beautician, nail art, fitness class. In the past, we have organised workshops for Tibetan teachers and NGOs in the field of early childhood education, with topics relevant to them. Next year we will add coffee making and tattoo design.

TPI: Can you tell us more about Lha's environment cleaning programs?

Dorji Kyi: At Lha, we believe in the importance of harmony and environmental protection. We have a website in English and Tibetan (tibetnature.net) dedicated to the environmental situation in Tibet. Through this, we want to raise awareness about the importance of Tibet's unique ecosystem and how the Chinese government is destroying it. We also participate in a mass cleaning campaign every third Saturday with volunteers and students to keep the town clean.

TPI: How did Lha cater to the Tibetan community during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dorji Kyi: We launched a programme with the support of the Tibet Settlement Office (TSO) to help the elderly at the height of the pandemic. Our staff and volunteers were on the front line every day since the national lockdown on 25 March 2020, helping the elderly to buy their food, medicine, and basic necessities. We distributed free groceries and Tsampa to many Tibetans in need as well as to local Indians. We also volunteered with the TSO to sanitise the Mcleod Ganj area once a month to control the increasing number of COVID-19 cases. Recently, the Central Tibetan Administration and the Tibetan Settlement Office in Dharamshala acknowledged our contribution during the pandemic.

TPI: What are some of the challenges and difficulties that Lha faces?

Dorji Kyi: Our biggest challenge is fundraising. Most of the programmes are free, and we do not have a specific donor. Every year, we approach a few institutes for grants for specific projects, such as our livelihoods training programme is funded by the Tibet Fund since 2019. We express our heartfelt gratitude to the individuals and organisations that have supported and encouraged us along our 24-year journey.