Take action for Tibet from the inside

There are many reasons I’m happy to be a Tibetan-Canadian. I get to eat both beaver tails and donkey ears [phungoo amjhok]. I get to enjoy cheese so dry it’s as hard as a rock [chura], as well as chewy cheese curds smothered in gravy and poured over fries [poutine]. But something I’m really proud of that we Tibetans have here in Canada that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, is the Parliamentary Friends of Tibet Internship program.

This internship was first launched in 2007 by the Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Tibet then headed by the Hon. Senator Consiglio Di Nino. The first internship, six weeks long, saw 4 young Tibetan-Canadian students hired and placed in the offices of various parliamentarians. It was a great first trial run and success, with three of the interns being hired into the offices of parliamentarians following the internship, including one in a Foreign Minister’s office, and the fourth subsequently finding employment in a government department.

Participants of the first internship program

Participants of the first internship program on the steps of Parliament

The second internship, in 2010, saw the number of interns hired more than double, with 9 Tibetans being hired into the offices of various Parliamentarians across all political parties.

Participants of the second internship

The third and last internship took place in 2012, with seven young Tibetan students being hired into offices at Parliament Hill.

Participants of the third internship meet with Kalon Dicki Chhoyang and Sikyong Lobsang Sangay

During all three internships, the participants were taken on tours of Parliament and various other historic sites in the nation’s capital to get a better understanding of Canadian history and politics. Meetings with Tibetan leaders, Canadian Aboriginal leaders, and Canadian Parliamentarians were also organized for the interns to help them see the Tibetan issue through various lenses. Interns were also taken to watch Parliamentary proceedings and meetings to grasp a deeper understanding of the Canadian political legislative system. Needless to say, connections were made with the Parliamentarians themselves and many of them have gone on to become much more vocal and active for Tibet, no doubt with the influence of the Tibetan interns they had in their offices.

This brings me to why I am writing about the internship on Lhakar Diaries today. The Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Tibet (PFT) is now under the leadership of Member of Parliament David Sweet, who recently took over as Chair of PFT after Senator Di Nino retired last summer. David Sweet has been extremely vocal and active for Tibet since becoming Chair, and has vowed to continue the internship program this year. His office has worked extremely hard over the last few months at securing numerous Parliamentarians to take in Tibetan-Canadians for seven-week internships this summer. However, the deadline is quickly approaching – this Friday, March 29th – and I’ve been told that applications aren’t flying in which is really worrying.

Over the last few years, Tibetans and Tibet support groups have been working extremely hard at actively lobbying legislators globally – to get the opportunity to speak for Tibet to the change-makers in our respective countries. The internship program allows us to do just that – but actually work INSIDE the offices of our Parliamentarians and help influence their policies and actions, and not just for a 15 minute meeting like with lobby days, but for several weeks. The gyami embassies have all the money in the world to lobby governments, so we have to grab opportunities like this to create change for our movement.

There’s also the fact that this is not just a short-term initiative, but one with long-lasting effects as well. These internships provide the young participants with the knowledge and connections to go on to become effective leaders in the Tibet movement. Of all the intern participants, I can’t think of one who did not become much more active in the Tibet movement, returning to their communities as smarter, more mature and effective leaders. Just a few of the numerous notable actions of the young interns following their internships include:

  • Getting hired by Parliamentary Friends of Tibet and pushing for and organizing the re-activation of the internship program.
  • Getting Students for a Free Tibet Canada invited to a conference at Parliament Hill to sit on a panel to present the issue of mining in Tibet to legislators.
  • Getting former parliamentarian bosses to sign the ‘Stand Up for Tibet’ pledges.

All in all, just through the internship program, an incredible 20 Tibetans have worked in the offices of Parliamentarians – something that I doubt has been replicated in any other country in the world.

This however is no easy feat. One large hurdle with the PFT Internship program is that some of the offices only offer unpaid internships, meaning that those interns have to be able to cover their own housing, food, and other expenses for roughly 2 months without pay. This can be quite costly and probably intimidating for students. So I’m making an appeal to Tibetan communities in Canada to please support the PFT internship program. I urge you to please contact MP David Sweet’s office to inquire about how to best offer financial support for the interns. Along with the financial support, these interns will feel the much-needed moral support by their communities to work for Tibet.

Here in Ottawa, the Ottawa Tibet Film Festival committee is offering several bursaries of up to $500 for interns, from the proceeds of our recent festival. Over the years, a few Tibetan organizations in Canada have provided financial support to the internship program, and I really hope these and new ones will step up to support this year’s internship as well.

I also appeal to young Tibetans in Canada to please please please consider applying for this program. I’ve already described above just how important this program is for Tibet – but it will also help you in your future endeavours whichever path you take. This internship has provided participants with invaluable knowledge, useful connections, an impressive addition to their resumes, and not to mention life-long friendships. Besides the work, this internship provides participants to meet other like-minded, bright, young Tibetans. It’s always surprising how little people apply for the program, and I hope it’s not due to a lack of confidence. Parliament Hill can seem like an intimidating place; however, if 20 other young Tibetans have already done it, you can too! Like all things in life, if you want something, you have to be proactive and just giv’er [classic Canadian saying]!

You can find information and a link to the application here.

Something else to think about is, like many things in life, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. If the internship program garners little to no interest by Tibetans, it’s less likely that it will continue. The organizing offices won’t see reason to take part in the program again in the future if there is no interest from our side.

At this critical time when we need to take action for Tibet more than ever, I hope you’ll see the value in this program and apply, support, and spread the word to any young Tibetans you know who should apply. If you have any questions about the internship, please don’t hesitate to ask questions here, or to leave me a comment.

At the core, the Tibet issue is a political one. So we need to become politically aware, engaged, and active if we want our country back.

Please note: You don’t have to be a student to apply for the internship.