Tibetan activist Chime Lhamo explains why Tibetans self-immolated in Tibet at the College Freedom Forum 2023. Photo: file

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Guatemala – Tibetan activist Chime Lhamo spoke about Tibet at the College Freedom Forum 2023, on Tibetan National Uprising Day. She told the audience that the Chinese government has realised that violence, re-education camps and torture of our political prisoners have no effect on us, because Tibetans continue to rise up and if we are united, we will never be defeated.

Tibetan activist Chime Lhamo spoke about the Tibet issue, Tibetan National Uprising Day, Chinese government-run boarding schools for Tibetan children to eradicate Tibetan identity, Tibetan freedom movements in front of hundreds of students and audiences at the College Freedom Forum, Francisco Marroquín University, Guatemala on March 10, 2023.

The Tibetan activist introduced Tibet by showing a picture of Tibet on the screen and said, "This is Tibet, the way of life of the people and here it is on a map, the original Tibet, known as the roof of the world, the Tibetan plateau provides water to nearly 2 billion people on this planet, this is Tibet, my homeland."

"All Tibetans born after 1959 were born as activists, in 1959, because that was the year the Chinese government occupied my country, killing over a million people, destroying thousands of our homes and thousands of monasteries. These incidents caused my people to cross the Himalayas on foot to Nepal to follow our spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, into exile. Among the 80,000 people who left were also my grandparents," said Chime, explaining why Tibetans have become refugees and are living in several different countries.

The Tibetan activist said, while explaining her story as a refugee: "I was born in a refugee camp in southern India. Until the age of 11, when I moved to Toronto, Canada, I had no passport, but an identity issued by the Indian government, which I had to renew every year to maintain my precarious political existence as a person without a homeland, in short, a stateless person who longed to return home, but could not.”

"Those born in Tibet were born in an open-air prison whose walls are increasingly crumbling. According to Freedom House, Tibet has been consecutively ranked as the least free place on earth, tied with Syria and South Sudan. Photos of the Dalai Lama are banned in Tibet and owning the Tibetan national flag can land you in jail or even cost you your life. This is the life of Tibetans inside Tibet and every day the Tibetan identity is attacked, the nomadic culture and life, the Tibetan language", said the activist Chime while mentioning that Tibet is the least free country in the world.

"Culture is the way of life of an entire society, the collective programming of the mind that guides the actions, thoughts and feelings of the community; it is what makes us unique as human beings. This is what the Chinese government is trying to do to eradicate the Tibetan culture of the Tibetans. The Chinese government has understood that violence, re-education camps, destruction of our environment, forced sterilization of our women, torture of our political prisoners do not work on us, because Tibetans continue to rise up," said the Tibetan activist to explain the true situation in Tibet.

The Tibetan activist told the audience that Tibetans inside were seeking the return of their spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the freedom of Tibet by sacrificing their lives: "Since 2009, 159 Tibetans have self-immolated, self-immolation being the act of setting oneself on fire without harming anyone but oneself, a protest, a cry for the world, for all of you, calling for two things: the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom for Tibet. There are thousands of protests going on constantly in Tibet, but you don't hear about them, because Tibet has been locked up on purpose.”

“The Tibet Institute recently released a report that 800,000 Tibetan children are being placed in colonial boarding schools. This is a tactic used by the Chinese government based on the genocide playbook, but it hides something, a hidden policy that forces even younger children, even pre-schoolers, which means that children as young as four or five years old are being stripped from their parents, forced to attend these state-run colonial boarding schools, where they are taught to speak, read, write, think, and even dream in Mandarin Chinese instead of Tibetan,” Chime added.

"Tibetan educational sociologist Dr Gyalo, has seen this firsthand with his own little grand nieces. He says that they behave like strangers in their own home, that when they come back from these Chinese boarding schools, these children stay away from their families, don't hug each other, don't kiss... Dr. Gyalo is a Tibetan sociologist specializing in education who has seen this phenomenon in his own little nieces. Gaylo estimates that there are at least hundreds and thousands of four and five year old Tibetan children in these pre-boarding schools, bringing the total to one million Tibetan children in state-run colonial boarding schools, or 80% of our next generation. This insidious transformation of our next generation is exactly what the Chinese government is counting on to carry out its 'cradle to grave' project and assimilationist program to completely eradicate our Tibetan identity," she said.

“Thanks to our elders and our ancestors, our communities, who worked so hard and sacrificed everything they had to build and invest for the next generation, people like me were able to grow up and ask questions, questions about why, why am I stateless, why can't my people go home, and continue to fight to answer the question of how we are going to go home. In fact, today is March 10, the day of the national uprising of my people. Every year we take to the streets all over the world to protest, which started in 1959, in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, where hundreds and thousands of Tibetans rose up, held hands and vowed to protect themselves and not back down this is the spirit that is inside of me here today with you, it is a constant reminder of the responsibility and duty of each and every one of us to make sure that we are fighting for a free world,” said the Tibetan activist, recalling the Tibetan National Uprising Day, March 10, and the Tibetan heroes and heroines who sacrificed their lives for the cause of Tibet.

"When we come together and organise, we win, there are victories, the UN committee has issued a statement calling for the immediate abolition of boarding schools in Tibet, but this is just the beginning, we have so much work to do. In fact, this is March 10, the Tibetan Uprising Day, and this is probably the first march I missed in the streets with a megaphone, shouting at the top of my lungs 'Free Tibet', 'Tibet belongs to the Tibetans', but, because I want to be here in Guatemala City with all of you, to share the message of my homeland and ask for your solidarity," said the activist.

"The rise of autocracies today is only possible because of the complex network of oppression they have. It is therefore all the more crucial that we, the people, remain united, because when we remain united, we will never be defeated," said the Tibetan activist, who encouraged people to stand up against autocracies and defend freedom.