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29july200910Dharamshala: After years of life in exile, a group of young Tibetan refugees are learning about their power to change their environment here in India-literally. On July 29th, 20 students from Volunteer Tibet's English conversation class authored a petition to the local Tibetan government highlighting the deplorable pollution McLeod Ganj faces and offering a number of solutions to the problem.

The letter details the inadequate waste management and rampant pollution that plagues Mcleod, detracting from this Himalayan hill station's unique charm and threatening the health of its residents. The students explain that tourists, shopkeepers and restaurant owners, and local residents who litter in the streets of Mcleod all contribute to the accumulation of rubbish, which is then spread around by stray animals, and ultimately ends up polluting the town's water supply and making people sick. The result, the students write, is that, "Our beautiful town and the surrounding mountains have become untidy, unhealthy, and ugly."

In a call for action on the behalf of the local Tibetan government authorities and the Mcleod Ganj community, the students offer three potential solutions to improve Mcleod Ganj's waste management and clear the streets of rubbish. Their first item is to provide more dustbins near the bus stations, temple, and town center, "so that tourists and local residents can put their rubbish in them instead of on the road." Next, they suggest that local authorities implement a fine for littering, and use the money collected from this fine to teach about waste management in local schools and monasteries. Lastly, they propose a boycott of local shops and restaurants whose owners consistently empty their garbage onto the streets.

Susan London, an American volunteer who teaches the conversation class that produced this petition, was at first hesitant to raise the subject of environmental issues with her Tibetan students. She states, "I was skeptical about bringing it up to my students...I thought maybe it was not a concern for them." But to her surprise, on the first night she discussed the topic with her class of 25 students, "every one of them-100 percent-said that the situation with garbage and litter in the roads is a big concern to them." She explains that the students are disturbed about the litter in Mcleod Ganj because, "it affects the environment, this beautiful place that reminds them of their home in Tibet, but does not look like their home because of the garbage."

After discussing their own views on the issue and possible solutions to the waste problem, the class invited a speaker named Ms Tenzin Choedon from the environmental department of the Tibetan Settlement Office. They discussed with her their ideas about how to resolve the pollution in Mcleod, and Choedon suggested that they express these concerns and proposals in a formal letter.

"So, as a group, we decided to compose a letter expressing our feelings that would be sent to her office, but would be forwarded to the Indian Municipality," continues London. She emphasizes that his letter's publication presented a two-fold opportunity for the Tibetan English students: academically, it was an opportunity for them to learn the proper form for a business letter, "where they are explaining their purpose, stating facts, explaining the consequences, and they are also offering solutions, and then thanking the people that they are writing to for considering this an important issue." But at the same time, the purpose of this letter went deeper than acquiring practical English skills. "On another level, an emotional level," London states, "I wanted the Tibetan students to understand that even though they are living out of their country...collectively, as a group, they have a voice and can express their opinions, and hopefully make changes in the community to things they see as problems."

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