“Responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually. Peace, for example, starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighboring communities, and so on. When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace. And there are ways in which we can consciously work to develop feelings of love and kindness. For some of us, the most effective way to do so is through religious practice. For others it may be non-religious practices. What is important is that we each make a sincere effort to take our responsibility for each other and for the natural environment we live in seriously.”
~ His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama
The Tibetan Diaspora community is growing worldwide with a majority of the population residing in India, especially in those 58 Tibetan settlements established in different parts of India. In order to bring all Tibetans together and build a sense of sisterhood amongst the scattered communities, the 14th Kashag headed by Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay initiated the “Puensigh Shichaks Lehshid,” meaning Sister Settlement program. Under this initiative, two Tibetan communities living in different geographical areas are linked to form a sisterhood relationship, through which they can share and exchange information, culture, experiences, and assist in terms of socio-economic development of the community to strengthen solidarity between Tibetans and to promote self reliance. This program addresses all the three guiding principles of the present 14th Kashag i.e. Unity, Innovation, and Self-reliance.
Since majority of the Tibetan population reside in India, Nepal and Bhutan, according to 2010 CTA report there are 94,203 people living in India out of which 53,414 are male and 40,789 female.
The immigration program approved by the US Congress in 1990s, and immigration of ex-political prisoners from Tibet to Australia, has attracted a large number of Tibetan populations wanting to migrate to western nations in order to seek better livelihood and opportunities. Since then, the Tibetan Diaspora community abroad has been growing in recent years. The Demographic Survey of Tibetan in Exile – 2009 conducted by the Planning Commission, CTA estimated that about 9,309 people have migrated to the West between years 1998 to 2009. And now with the immigration of 1,000 Tibetans to Canada from Tibetan settlements in Arunachal Pradesh in the next three years will only increase the numbers of Tibetan migrating from India, Nepal and Bhutan.
Under such circumstances, there is a high risk of losing connectivity between the communities due to its geographical barriers, which threatens the very existence of Tibetan cause. There is a risk of gradual waning of our very reason for coming into exile. Hence the establishment of Sister Settlement Program has become utmost important to build relationships amongst Tibetan Diaspora communities, to make significant impact in strengthening solidarity as well as achieving self sufficiency using local resources available within the Tibetan community, and together preserve Tibetan culture and tradition as well as resolve the issue of Tibet non-violently. Some of the important aspects of the program is to create platform where interested partners can come together to build relationships, to educate each other of the local knowledge and share information, to preserve unique culture and tradition, especially to create and increase awareness amongst the younger generation about Tibetan communities in exile and the Tibet issue. . To fulfill the socio-economic need of the Tibetan settlements by financially supporting each other, likewise self-sustenance/reliance is promoted. The most important aspect is to build unity among the scattered Tibetan population all over the world.
Matching of the two communities are based on the economic status, population of a settlement and the population of the community abroad. Initially, a minimum of ten settlements in India and ten Tibetan communities from the western countries will be matched and introduced. Likewise the process will be replicated to match other Tibetan communities in order to create more Sister Settlements (Shijaks). However the success of the program rest solely upon the serious participation from the communities involved in order to explore new initiatives and fund new projects to support, especially by the communities in abroad. Once the two communities reach an agreement to bound each other in a sisterhood (Sister Shijak) relationships, further activities and events will be organized involving grassroots people to initiative projects to support the sustainability of the program and strengthening of the civil society.
The Settlement officers will be the key point of contact, they will form a management team including camp leaders, representatives from the monasteries and head of the institutions, whilst the Tibetan Association in abroad will manage their own team. The Department of Home of the Central Tibetan Administration will play an integral role of liaising between the two Tibetan communities and assist in strengthening the Sister-Shijak relationships. However long term sustenance of the relationship between the two communities rest in largely in the hand of the primary stakeholders i.e. the Settlements represented by the Settlement Officers and the Tibetan Associations abroad with their respective elected representatives.
Some of the outlined activities under the program include:
- Settlement development mapping – visualizing settlement five or ten years from now
- Develop program based on settlement development map
- Create a system to exchange information and knowledge – routine set up – flow of information
- Visit of community representatives to meet the communities to know the situation better and to build stronger relationship or partnership.
- Partnership agreement between two communities
- Children education or exposure trip to settlements or sister cities
- See various ways of doing commercial business by partnership
- Implement the first year plan of community development through fund raising, inviting volunteers, establishing businesses, producing entrepreneurs, educational programs etc.
- Create networking system between sister settlements to exchange experiences and strengthening the program
- Sister Settlement Committee will consist of minimum 7 members: including Representative, LTA President, School Principal/Rector/Headmaster, Hospital Secretary, Monastery Representative and Camp Leaders at the settlement level.
- The members of Tibetan Association will be the members of Sister Settlement committee in abroad.
- The committee will hold general body meeting once a year
- The Committee will review its plan twice a year.
- Each sister settlement committee will prepare yearly action plan in the beginning of year and both the sides shall mutually agree to the plan.
- Sister settlements will provide updates of its activities to the Department of Home, CTA to be shared online for transparency and accountability toward the stakeholders.
- Network meeting inviting the entire sister settlements will be held every three years starting from 2015. The Department of Home will facilitate the communication between communities.
- It is encouraged that members of the sister settlements to visit each other once in two years to strengthen the relationship.