September 28 2012

Providing a home for Tibetan children for 50 years

28/09/2012 - On 17 September 2012, the Tibetan Homes Foundation, a member association of SOS Children's Villages International, celebrated its 50-years-anniversary in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Mussoorie, Northern India.

Photo: Conor Ashleigh
Offering Tibetan children a sound education is one of the main goals of the Tibetan Homes Foundation © Photo: Conor Ashleigh
Since the 1960s, there has been a close co-operation between the exiled Tibetan community and SOS Children's Villages. In May 1960, the Dalai Lama founded the Tibetan Children's Villages out of concern for the many destitute Tibetan children in India living in miserable conditions. In 1962, the Tibetan Homes Foundation was established. Now there were two organisations which would put into practice the concept of SOS Children's Villages for Tibetan children. Both organisations finally became member associations of SOS Children's Villages International in 1972. They follow the mission to care for orphaned, semi-orphaned and destitute Tibetan children in exile, provide them a sound education, and cultivate the cultural identity so that the children become self-reliant and contributing members of the Tibetan community and the world at large.

Photo: Conor Ashleigh
One of the SOS families in Dharamsala   © Photo: Conor Ashleigh
In 1971, what was initially a make-shift children's home was turned into the first Tibetan SOS Children's Village in Dharamsala. Over the years, SOS Children's Villages for Tibetans were founded in several locations for many thousands of children. Tibetan SOS families generally care for much more children than usual due to the high demand for alternative care. Thus, it is not only one SOS mother but several family assistants who help educating the children. In the 29 SOS families in Mussoorie-Happy Valley alone some 1,700 children are growing up. A large number of schools, day care centres and training workshops provide education for other thousands of children and youths.

Photo: SOS Archives
Two friends meeting: HH the Dalai Lama and Helmut Kutin © SOS Archives
The Dalai Lama, as the Chairman of the Tibetan Homes Foundation and the Tibetan Children's Villages, was the chief guest at the golden jubilee celebrations in Happy Valley, Mussoorie, together with many other dignitaries - amongst them Honorary President of SOS Children's Villages International, Helmut Kutin - and hundreds of children, youths, co-workers and friends from the neighbourhood and from abroad.

Heavy rainfall had the left the ground wet, but this did not prevent the stirring display as teams of students marched past to the beat of drums. They came from various houses of the Tibetan Homes Foundation (in Mussoorie, in Happy Valley-Mussoorie and in Dehradun), from the SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools in Rajpur and Rishikesh and from the Central School for Tibetans in Happy Valley. Students also performed traditional songs and dances typical of the three provinces of Tibet, followed by official speeches.

Photo: SOS Archives
Helmut Kutin at the celebrations in Mussoorie © SOS Archives
Helmut Kutin, who 35 years ago already helped translating when SOS Children's Villages founder Hermann Gmeiner and the Dalai Lama met, especially addressed the assembled children: "Never ever give up hope. You all have found a home here. The home country is in my mind and in my heart and this is stronger than any location. You are fantastic children, you are beautiful children. Take care of each other."

The Dalai Lama in his address thanked all the contributors in the 50th anniversary commemorations and for the work in the past five decades: "Today, when we are celebrating the 50th anniversary, everything has gone very well and I'd like to thank all of you. The Homes Foundation has asked us all not to lose hope but to keep our homeland in mind, which is a very good advice."

Photo: SOS Archives
His Holiness the Dalai Lama mainly addressed the children and young adults © SOS Archives
Speaking on the growing relevance of Buddhism, the Tibetan spiritual leader noted, "Today, while we learn from science, scientists are learning about the mind from us. These days, it seems a lot of people think Buddhism is only about prayer, when it is actually about study and maturing the mind. In order to practise you have to take account of reality, both of the external world and especially the inner world. This is what makes our heritage so valuable and what we can be proud of."

After lunch, the Dalai Lama together with the honorary guests viewed a photo exhibition covering the 50 years of the Tibetan Homes Foundation. He also met with sponsors and friends from abroad whom he thanked on behalf of the Tibetan people for their support for this project to preserve Tibet's identity and culture by educating its children and care for them in the best possible way.