August 23, 2002 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - We are all mountain people 

China's occupation of Tibet and suppression of Tibetan culture continues, with the outside world paying little attention

We are all mountain people China's occupation of Tibet and suppression of Tibetan culture continues, with the outside world paying little attention

Whether we live at sea level or at the highest elevations, we are all mountain people. We are connected to mountains and are affected by mountains in more ways than we can imagine. Mountains provide most of the world's fresh water, harbour as much or more biodiversity than any other areas and are home to at least one in ten people. Yet, war, poverty, hunger, climate change and environmental degradation are threatening the web of life that mountains support. The International Year of Mountains is an opportunity to take steps to protect mountain ecosystems, to promote peace and stability in mountain regions and to help mountain people attain their goals and aspirations. By taking care of the world's mountains, we help to ensure the long-term security and survival of all that is connected to them, including ourselves.

- from the United Nations declaration 2002 the International Year of Mountains.

I am a free person. I have the right to use my freedom, my insight, not only for my benefit, but for sharing and communicating with others as openly and as compassionately as possible.

In Tibet, I saw labourers forced to construct roads while their Chinese oppressors watched.

I was followed by a Chinese spy, unless civilians carry side arms in China. (I referred to him as Maxwell Smart; this Maxwell needed to go back to spy school.)

I saw the red flag of China flying over the Jokhang Temple, the holiest temple in Tibetan Buddhism.

In India, I edited college applications for my Tibetan students.

I winked at His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet and shared a laugh with him.

I taught English to Tibetan refugees. They were all political prisoners of conscious; all had been tortured.

In Nepal, I shed tears at a Tibetan orphanage.

My experiences in Tibet, Nepal and India have humbled me. I feel privileged to have Tibetan friends who have openly shared their culture and stories with me.

Today there are approximately five million Tibetans living in Tibet, alongside an estimated 7.5 million Chinese settlers. Chinese authorities provide homes with substantial financial and social benefits to encourage Chinese citizens to settle in Tibet: higher wages, long holidays, housing, medical services and education. Tibetans are now a minority in their own country. Time is running out.

Dharmsala, in northwestern India, is home to the Tibetan Government in Exile and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Approximately 2000 refugees arrive to Dharmsala every year. Those who make it out of China have carefully made their way across the Tibetan plateau, over the Himalayas, and past the Nepalese border guards to Katmandu. Once they have arrived safely in Nepal they are processed and sent to Dharmsala for settlement.

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