The production of handicrafts continues to be our mainstay both in terms of activity as well as its source of income. To date, the Centre has been exporting to 36 countries all over the world. Some of the traditional items are Tibetan carpets, thankas, wood carved items like folding tables, frames, wall hangings, metal items like bronze and copper pots, prayer wheels and leather items such as gents and ladies boots and shoes. Tibetan apparel such as woollen coats, jackets, caps, chuba, pullovers, mufflers, socks, gloves, ladies aprons, shawls, blankets are some of the other items made here. Besides, Buddhist utility articles and other items of daily use are sold from our Show Room located on the premises. From time to time, we experiment in testing new ideas incorporating traditional Tibetan motifs which would find a ready market both here and abroad.
Among the successful items are footwear and coats which, while keeping the traditional Tibetan styles, are nevertheless modified for suitable modern wear. The immense popularity of these items along with numerous letters of praise and encouragement we receive from all over the world has proved the success of this venture. In this connection, we would like to thank our friends who extended useful advice and invaluable suggestions.
In traditional Tibet, the market for fine handicrafts was generally limited and hence master craftsmen, who had to undergo long periods of apprenticeship were few. Even fewer have managed to escape from Tibet and it was of the utmost importance for the survival of Tibetan handicrafts that the ancient skills and expert knowledge of these masters should be passed onto a new generation of workers. Thus, right from the initial stages, the Centre laid great emphasis on training new workers.
This strategy was guided by three considerations. First, on an individual level, the Centre seeks to give useful and marketable skills to refugees who would otherwise have to earn a precarious livelihood living as coolies or unskilled labourers. Secondly, without a sufficient number of skilled craftsmen and trained workers, the Centre would not be able to produce and sell handicrafts, which provides its main source of income. Finally, on a wider level, the training programmes at the Centre ensure that the skills and expertise of the few master craftsmen are passed on to a new generation of workers and thus ensuring the survival and growth of traditional Tibetan arts and crafts.
The production and sale of our high-class carpets with their traditional and intricate motifs continue to be our forte. Demand outstrips supply and the normal waiting period for each Carpet order received is one year; a trend that is unheard of and unique in today’s highly competitive global market. However, we repeatedly receive letters from grateful customers that the year-long wait was worthwhile after all.
During its 46 years of existence, the Centre has been able to train 1800 persons in various crafts of which 1000 to 1200 persons have left the Centre to set up their own enterprises. All of them are now fully self-supporting and several of them are doing very well.
Although the production of handicrafts forms the main activity of the Centre and its primary source of income, the Centre was not planned to be and has never been solely a business concern. From its beginning, the Centre has undertaken the task of helping orphans, the aged, the infirm and the needy among the refugees. For example, out of the total population of 650, the Centre accommodates 90 old, infirm and needy persons who are entirely dependent on the Centre.
The Centre provides free housing, food and rations, medical care, pocket money for children, clothes, uniform and stationary. This program consists of the bulk of the Centres expenses and has been carrying on ever since its inception.
The Centre has cared for almost 400 orphans till date. Most of them have been sent to various schools around the country and several have been sponsored for study abroad. These orphans have no relatives or anyone to care for them and thus rely wholly on the Centre. With the generous help of several individuals scattered all over the world, the Centre has not only been able to feed and clothe them but also to give them an education thus laying the foundation of their future.
Great stress is also laid on adult education. Classes are held every morning to teach the workers at least the rudiments of reading and writing. As a result, we now have 70% literacy, whereas only a dozen or so refugees could read or write when they joined us. The refugees are also taught some basic knowledge of Hindi and English in the morning classes to help them get by in interacting with others in their daily lives.
We have many less fortunate people in our Tibetan community in this area, who have problems in supporting themselves. Many are single parents whose partners have died through illness, leaving behind young children. The Centre takes in many families and helps the children receive an education and at the same time teach the surviving parents a handicraft skill to support the family.
We also have a growing number of old and infirm members who have spent their entire lives here. For them, we have a programme where the skilled craftsman and women amongst them teach the younger workers so that traditional skills are preserved for posterity. The Centre has been very lucky to have the kind help of the organisation, HelpAge U.K. and HelpAge India, who have very kindly granted funds for a 2 storey building for an Old People’s Home in the Centre. We now have twenty rooms to house the aged, which in turn has led to more living space for the other members of the Centre.
Tibetans by nature are deeply religious. We have built a monastery fulfilling a long-cherished desire of our workers and their families for their spiritual needs. Alongside the pantheon of Buddhist deities and Thankas made of silk and brocade, a throne has been placed, as in all Tibetan monasteries, for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Spiritual and Temporal Ruler of Tibet. A suite too has been constructed for His Holiness in the rare event of an overnight sojourn. His Holiness graced the Centre with His Divine presence in May 1975, November 1981 and again in February 1993 and blessed our chapel, the Centre and its people.
As an offshoot of the monastery’s activities, our late Founder-President in her foresight, initiated an arrangement with the famous Drepung Loseling Monastic Institution, Mundgod in South India, whereby the latter would send to the Centre, a Geshe – equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist Philosophy, Theology and Metaphysics; to take charge of all religious ceremonies during important and auspicious days in the Tibetan almanac. The present Geshe la is especially active and under his tutelage and active interest, a Tsechu Association was formed in September 2002 consisting of the more religiously inclined staff, workers and students of the Centre.
Besides gathering for prayers on auspicious days every month, this group numbering 60, also converges at the house of a recently deceased person to recite prayers for the peaceful rest of the departed soul. During the monthly prayer sessions, people voluntarily offer tea and food to the group. Tsok (blessed cake made of barley flour, butter, sugar and nuts) is distributed at the conclusion of each session. Under Geshe la’s guidance, the members have become adept at chanting various Tibetan prayers and reciting verses from religious texts. At times, a terminally ill worker of the Centre requests the group to visit their home to recite from the sacred scripts. Such gestures give peace of mind to the patients and help them to contemplate and reflect on their lives.
Just recently, fifty large Copper Prayer Wheels have been installed outside the monastery and Workshops for the benefit of the Centre people. This was made possible as a gesture of remembrance and gratitude by the children of one of the workers who, as with most other people here, spent the better part of their lives serving the Centre and making it their second home.
Another important field of welfare work undertaken by the Centre is its health programme, which benefits not only the refugees of the Centre but hundreds of surrounding local people. The hospital was established in 1961 through the American Relief Services. It has grown from a small infirmary to a 20 bedded hospital today staffed by a well-qualified and highly experienced doctor, two nurses, an overseas volunteer and some helpers. Every year, thousands of patients are treated in the Infirmary. Apart from normal consultation and treatment, the hospital also carries out blood test and grouping, screening for TB and follow-up medication and care, vaccinations, pre and postnatal care, home visits to patients and old people too weak to come to the hospital etc. The overwhelming majority of those who avail of the medical facilities themselves are very poor. But for the services provided by the Centre, they might have had to go without any medical care.
In spite of the loyal services of our medical programme we are seriously faced with the possibility of closing or at least drastically cutting down the programme. It is nearly 50 years since the original organization, AECTR largely responsible for financing the programmes had ceased to exist and none of the other relief organisations engaged in Tibetan projects is in a position to take its place. The Centre’s consistent policy of issuing heavily subsidized and free medicines including consultation to all its patients is a big drain on its resources and finances. We, therefore, welcome contributions in whatever form for our hospital such as medicines, equipment or cash so that we can continue this humanitarian service not only for our people but to the locally deprived people who live in and around Darjeeling.
With the establishment of a pathological laboratory and X-Ray Clinic in the office premises, the Centre’s medical services were greatly enhanced. This expansion was warranted out of the need to provide a more professional touch to the growing clientele of people needing immediate and personalized attention. Also, the need was felt for a well-equipped laboratory investigation unit. Our x-ray clinic consisting of a small unit along with the requisite generator was set up by a grant given to us by the government of West Bengal through the Hill Affairs Branch Secretariat, Darjeeling. The Laboratory and clinic have proven a great success and a boon to the local people. It is entirely staffed by trained personnel who have graduated from the Cochin School of Paramedicals in South India. We have been regularly sending batches of students for this one-year intensive training course after which they are absorbed in our Clinics often filling the vacancies left by senior colleagues who have left of their own accord. Without a doubt, both ventures are running successfully.
A more recent addition to the Centre has been the dental clinic, which opened in October 2000. It is also based within the head office complex in town and treats people from the Centre and surrounding communities in and around Darjeeling. It has a full range of dental equipment at its disposal. This unit was set up from the Centre’s internal resources as a natural complement of services already on offer. The venture was also partly aided by Dr. Simon Idelman of France.
So far we have had 9 French dentists working for short stints voluntarily mostly arranged for by Chagpori, France. We thank Dr. Idelman and all the French doctors who have made special efforts to volunteer their time and money to work in our Clinic. Not only the members of the Centre but the general public at large have benefited from their skilful hands. At the same time, we hope that more dentists from France and other countries will continue to devote their time and impart their skill to our apprentices. In the long term, we intend to send seriously dedicated students for further apprenticeships in dentistry. These steps would ensure the continuance of services to the patients long after the doctors have left.
Future plans for the clinic include allied services and expansion but at the moment we are still integrating the clinic into the facilities provided by the Centre. Once all the activities are streamlined, we hope to provide a complete dental package that will be the envy of Darjeeling.
In June 1960 the Centre started a small Nursery School. Within a short span of time, the school grew into a full-fledged primary school. The present enrolment in the school is 45, which includes many children from nearby Tibetan settlements. As aforementioned, the children are not only provided with free education but also free meals, besides textbooks, stationery, uniform and shoes and pocket money. This facility carry’s on right till college. The primary school follows the syllabus of the General Tibetan Schools Administration and caters up to KGII. It is a source of great pride to the Centre and especially to the teaching staff that the children who later join other schools for higher classes regularly receive good reports both in the study and general behaviour. The staff consists of four teachers and house parents and until recently, 2 volunteer teachers from GAP based in England.
We have constructed an indoor playground for our small children with well-equipped games as well as a Basketball court for the older students. In addition, there is a library with educational books, magazines, periodicals and daily papers for both children and adults. Students who excel in the study are encouraged to follow their chosen stream during college. Specialized and technical training is sponsored by the Centre for potential candidates too. Presently, we have around 250 junior and senior students attending different higher secondary schools and colleges in and out of Darjeeling.
Life is, fortunately, not only work and study and the Centre has tried its best to provide a wide variety of recreations and entertainment. These include a recreation room with indoor games, Cable TV and video shows. Cultural programmes are organised and performed by the Centre’s people themselves. The staff, workers and students of the Centre have formed a Sports Club, which provides an opportunity to learn different games and participate in local tournaments. The club has its own artists who stage different historical dramas and traditional cultural shows for the entertainment of the Centre people as well as the general public, thus raising funds for the maintenance of the club. These events never fail to draw a big crowd including many foreign tourists.
The most popular Tibetan festivals are ‘Losar’ or Tibetan New Year, Birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 6th July, Foundation Day on 2nd October, Children’s Day on 14th November and Commemoration of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to His Holiness on 10th December. These are eagerly awaited holidays which can range from one to five days. Traditional butter tea and specially prepared Tibetan food not forgetting the ever-popular ‘Chang’ or Tibetan beer is lavishly served and the merry-making continues from early morning to late evenings. Games of dice, dominoes and playing cards have their aficionados. Sometimes, fairs are also held for which local people make a beeline to the Centre.
In order to generate more income and as part of its policy of adapting to the times, the Centre has diversified its activities and started a new offset printing press in town. The printing unit was started with one Heidelberg T-Offset machine with the later addition of one bigger Heidelberg GTO 52 machine along with Printing Down Frame, latest computer equipment for desktop publishing, state of the art German cutting and bookbinding machines, stitching machine and other accessories. Since its beginning in 1994, the jobs have included printing of letterheads, circulars, certificates, textbooks, invitation cards, coloured calendars, magazines, flyers etc.
It is managed and run by the Centre’s own personnel who have been trained at the press and have hands-on knowledge of the whole printing sequence. The operation has so far been successful in meeting the printing needs of Darjeeling and at the same time, opens an avenue for a career in this field. As a community service, we also print a bi-lingual newsletter detailing news and events concerning Tibet and the Tibetan diaspora.
We are proud to mention here that with the introduction of the T-offset and GTO Heidelberg Printing machines in Darjeeling, we have pioneered into uncharted territory by introducing the hitherto unknown concept of Quick Print Jobs, large quantities of printing at high speeds, high-quality colour jobs etc. The success of this venture can be gauged by the fact that apart from satisfied and repeat customers, we regularly receive jobs from other printing presses and DTP units as well, based in and around Darjeeling.
In its quest for expansion as well as improvement of facilities for better administration and delivery of services, the Centre has embarked on ambitious health and educational program. The immediate beneficiaries would be the Centre’s children and members and the general public at large. Under the aegis of our incumbent President Mr. Khedroob Thondup who charted this course, the undertaking would be achieved with the active participation and support of the International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) based in Taiwan. ICDF has launched a few projects in the Centre such as Mobile Clinic, Computer Centre and Chinese Language and Twaekondo Classes which are running smoothly.
The donation of a custom-built Mobile Clinic has been a major boon to the Centre as well as to the people of this region. It has given a new dimension and changed the horizon of medical facilities available thus far in the Darjeeling hills. The Mobile Clinic encompasses Ultrasonography, Radiography, Clinical Pathological Laboratory, Electro-Cardiography (ECG), Dentistry, Pharmacy, Consultancy services etc. The extended facilities involve electronic mass Public Health Education and an uninterrupted power supply from its onboard captive power plant.
With its introduction, the Mobile Clinic carries out regular camps at remote towns and villages that do not have access to adequate or proper medical facilities. It serves those economically backward patients too poor to come to Darjeeling for proper medical attention. The consultancy and service charges are either waived or heavily discounted according to the economic status of the patients. We are proud that the inauguration of this Mobile Clinic was done by none other than the Defense Minister of India Mr. George Fernandes in October 2003 and before that by the Chairman of the ICDF himself a few months earlier.
In February 2004, again with the help of ICDF, 10 new computers with printer were installed at the Centre for the benefit of the staff and students. 24 hour Internet facility has been set up so that users have instant connectivity with the outside world and also keep in tune with the latest developments. Computer lessons are imparted by an ICDF volunteer to the children and staff on a rotational basis.
A third activity made possible by the ICDF is the conduct of Chinese language and Twaekondo classes for the staff and students of the Centre. These classes are conducted by an ICDF volunteer too.
The present set of ICDF volunteer nurse, computer instructor and Chinese language and Twaekondo teachers are well qualified and passionate about their responsibilities. ICDF has promised to send more highly qualified teachers and volunteers in the future.
The Centre has also embarked on expansions in other fronts such as total computerization of office and factory. All important departments are linked by LAN network for instant access of reports and status by the President and the administration. 24-hour internet access has also been set up as an added facility.
With the help of the Department of Health, Central Tibetan Administration Dharamsala, a new Bathroom cum Toilet block has been constructed on the western fringe of the Centre. This addition incorporates the flush system and improved water supply which has greatly mitigated the problems faced by the people from this most essential but neglected sector.
Likewise, in 2004, many of our boys and girls who are well settled in New York but still has strong ties with the Centre have collectively donated US$6537.00 for the renovation of the Community Kitchen, construction of additional toilets cum bathrooms as well as renovating the small path leading to the Nursery School and adjoining family quarters. Other well-wishers also living in New York but still having strong ties with Darjeeling have contributed wholeheartedly for the amount collected above.
Again, the Department of Health along with Dr. Pema Gyalpo and Dr. Tamdin (former students of Centre now practising in Japan) has been instrumental in donating a fully equipped ambulance jeep which was a long-felt need to complement our medical services.
With the lofty vision of providing medical diagnosis and treatment services by specialists to the general public on a professional scale, the Centre has opened on 14th March, 2006 the TRSHC Diagnostic Clinic in a newly opened block within the office complex in town. This would provide easy and convenient access to different specialists under one roof – more on the lines of a Combined Diagnostic Facility. With the elaborate medical facilities and trained personnel already available on hand, it is proving to be convenient for the visiting doctors to refer further examination and tests to us thereby saving time and expense for the often harried patient.
In any society, children are regarded as its future citizens and some among them are nurtured to take over the mantle of responsibility and leadership. The Centre has right from inception, invested liberally in its children and now is in the process of reaping the benefits. The 1st and 2nd generation children are happily married adults and successfully working in different organizations, schools, businesses and the like. A few have served the Centre giving back in service what they had got in education and direction in life. Lately, children who have graduated from college or technical schools are harnessed and encouraged to share part of the responsibility and man the various departments of the Centre as assistants and trainees. This solves two issues; one that the Centre seldom sees a shortage of highly motivated staff and two, the opportunity to work gives them the much-needed stimulation of experience by practising what they have been trained to do. Overall, it gives them a sense of responsibility and belonging to work at a place where they have been born and brought up and in the process, be prepared to face the harsh realities of life.