Give 30 Young Tibetans the Gift of Education

 
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One of the cornerstones of our scholarship program at Trace Foundation is the belief that transforming the educational system for Tibetan students begins with individuals, the students who will achieve and sustain positive change in their home communities. It’s important to us not just to support high achievers with scholarships from the outset but to also engage our alumni in an ongoing conversation about education, to check in on what impact their studies have had and the realities of implementing what they learned on the ground.

It’s been several years since we introduced you to Norbu Wangyal, a young Tibetan man we supported to pursue a Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language at the SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont. Though Norbu switched to teaching at the high school level upon returning home, he was greeted with familiar challenges: classrooms swelling to sixty students, shrinking class hours, an ongoing emphasis on memorization and testing, and perhaps most frustrating, outdated and overly technical textbooks.

In other words, putting all the theory he learned at SIT into practice wasn’t easy.

“When I asked students to do anything that required critical thinking or team-work, they resisted,” Norbu said. "In my first semester, I pushed them to think and gave more time to finish tasks in groups work. The result of such lessons, however, was that I didn’t finish the textbook on time or fell behind in my curriculum.”

In January 2014, Norbu had the opportunity to try out what he learned at SIT with his colleagues: He trained thirty teachers from middle schools and high schools in Qinghai Province at Qinghai Nationality University for twenty days. During that training period, he discovered that the other teachers were struggling with the textbooks, too—and more specifically with engaging their students’ interest. Using what he learned about curriculum design at SIT, Norbu was able to share his knowledge about how to “localize” English and the textbook materials for students from third cultures.

Next, he plans to record short clips of talks from various fields and build a website where people can listen and watch all kinds of talks—whether they’re looking for teaching materials or plain old inspiration.

What does he have to say about his scholarship, these two years out?

“If I hadn’t received this funding, I would be still an ordinary middle-school English teacher, teaching English without thinking about changing any problematic teaching or changing textbooks. I would certainly have ruined lots of students’ interest in learning English by the time they took exams for colleges.”

Each year, we support more than 500 individuals in every field—from business to teaching to cinematography—by covering the costs of tuition and living expenses. With your tremendous contributions, we've raised $23,722 for our project since December 2012. With your continued support, we know we can transform education on the Tibetan Plateau from the ground up.

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Sonthar Gyal discusses his work at MoMA
Sonthar Gyal discusses his work at MoMA

Some eighty years after the first film projectors and cameras arrived on the Tibetan Plateau, a young man applied to us for support to go to film school. That young man, Sonthar Gyal is now widely considered one of Tibet’s first filmmakers.

We first gave this cinematographer and director a scholarship to study fine arts in 2001 at Qinghai Normal University.

“Studying at Qinghai Normal University is already expensive,” he told us recently. “And when you study fine arts, there are a lot of additional expenses—especially for materials and for renting a studio. Cinematography has one of the highest tuitions. The school charges you by second. They charge for processing the negatives. You are constantly handling expensive machines. That’s why I applied for a scholarship from Trace.”

Three years later, we were thrilled to support Sonthar Gyal again to continue his studies at the Beijing Film Academy. Since then, he has become a world-famous director and cinematographer. In 2011, his debut feature film, The Sun Beaten Path, won the Vancouver International Film Festival’s prestigious Dragons & Tigers Award for Young Cinema, and in 2014, this film was shown to packed theaters in New York as part of our anniversary film exhibition held at and in participation with The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

It's an understatement to say Tibetan film has come a long way in fifteen years, thanks in no small part to your generous contributions. 

Each year, we support more than 500 individuals in every field—from business to teaching to cinematography—by covering the costs of tuition and living expenses. With your tremendous contributions, we've raised $25,853 for our project since December 2012 ($22,353 through GlobalGiving and another $3,500 through other donations). With your continued support, we know we can transform not just education on the Tibetan Plateau from the ground up, but continue supporting emerging filmmakers and artists like Sonthar Gyal.

A still from "The Sun Beaten Path"
A still from "The Sun Beaten Path"

It’s a conundrum. Gynecology occupies a special place in Tibetan medicine, but in Tibetan areas—and especially in rural communities—many women are reluctant to talk about their health problems. And not just because of social taboos. Most of the Tibetan gynecologists they seek out are men.

In a field not just dominated by, but almost exclusive to men, Cuoji was among the first Tibetan female gynecologists, trained both in the Western- and Tibetan-medicine traditions. In 2008, we were proud to support her to overcome traditional biases against women practicing medicine and pursue an MS in gynecology and pediatrics.

“The majority of the Tibetan rural population is still poor and the living standards are low. Many Tibetans can’t afford education, and their parents can’t help them,” she told us in a recent conversation. “My brothers, sisters, and I couldn’t have pursued higher education without Trace Foundation.” 

She is now a Tibetan medicine doctor at the Tibetan Medicine Hospital, where she is overcoming traditional biases and trailblazing as the first female doctor in her region. 

What she won’t tell you is that she is the most sought-out gynecologist in Xining. 

Each year, we support more than 500 individuals by covering the costs of tuition and living expenses. With your tremendous contributions, we've raised $25,773 for our project since December 2012 ($22,273 through GlobalGiving and another $3,500 through other donations). With your continued support, we know we can transform education on the Tibetan Plateau from the ground up, one donation, one student like Cuoji at a time.

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Photo by Marvin A. Ross
Photo by Marvin A. Ross

Gerong Luobo has just finished his studies in cinematography at the Colorado Film School when he visits us at our library to tell us about his plans for his return to his hometown in Batang:

“I want to make a trilogy,” he says, smiling from ear to ear and pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Inspired by the 1968 Italian Spaghetti Western Once Upon a Time in the West, his dream is to one day produce an epic that will combine historical events, religious stories, and his own experiences.

First, though, he wants to capture on film the stories, traditions, songs, and dances of the older generation of his hometown.

“The people in my hometown and the surrounding areas have a lot of stories to tell. There’s a cultural gap between the older generation and the younger generation. I want to pull back and start documenting those things before it’s too late.”

The students we’ve introduced you to through our project reports over the last year had one thing in common: they were all training to become teachers. But teachers are just a portion of the thousands of students we’ve supported in pursuing degrees in all fields—science, business, law, information technology, and film.

Gerong has become the latest addition to a storied pool of Trace alumni, filmmakers and cinematographers who include Pema Tseden (Silent Holy Stones) and Sonthar Gyal (The Sun-Beaten Path).

“I felt I could use this tool to tell a lot of the stories I’ve heard and seen in my part of the Tibetan Plateau.”

For us at Trace, it’s a win-win. We are as proud of Gerong Luobo’s achievements as we are excited to see what stories he has to share with the world.  

Each year, we support more than 500 individuals by covering the costs of tuition and living expenses. With your tremendous contributions, we've raised $25,668 for our project since December 2012 ($22,168 through GlobalGiving and another $3,500 through other donations). With your continued support, we know we can transform education on the Tibetan Plateau from the ground up, one donation, one student like Gerong Luobo at a time.

Photo by Marvin A. Ross
Photo by Marvin A. Ross
Photo by Marvin A. Ross
Photo by Marvin A. Ross

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Photo of SIT Graduate Institute by Jeff Woodward
Photo of SIT Graduate Institute by Jeff Woodward

Tenzin, one of our recent international fellows, has just a few days left in the States when he sits down with a cup of green tea and explains: “Trace gives students from very remote places the opportunity to see the bigger world. The young generation in these remote counties is the future. If you can open their minds, if you can give them a hint of what’s going on in the world, that’s the beginning of change. You ignited that.

At the International Language Institute, where he studied first, mornings were devoted to grammar and vocabulary, and afternoons were devoted to poetry, to art, to music. His favorites. That’s how he learned that teaching English is not just about reading, writing, and speaking, but about opening his students’ eyes to the bigger world. It was here that he fell in love with country music, and it was here that he read Robert Frost for the first time. He went on to a masters program in teaching English at the SIT Graduate Institute, then an internship at an immigrant-learning center, where he taught English of all ages.

Teaching all ages is not new for Tenzin. In the nomadic area he grew up, it’s not uncommon for middle schoolers to be as old as nineteen. If a kid’s family needs support at home—whether it’s in herding sheep or running errands—school can wait. In his school now, he is one of five English teachers, and the only teacher who has taken the road less traveled, the only teacher who has studied English abroad and the only one with a graduate degree. He smiles. “This opportunity and this scholarship totally changed my life, in terms of my future plans and profession. This will be my lifelong treasure.”

Each year, we support more than 500 individuals by covering the costs of tuition and living expenses. With your tremendous contributions, we've raised $25,353 for our project since December 2012 ($21,583 through GlobalGiving and another $3,500 through other donations). With your continued support, we know we can transform education on the Tibetan Plateau from the ground up, one donation, one student, one teacher like Tenzin at a time.

Links:

About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

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Organization

Trace Foundation

New York, NY, United States
http://www.trace.org

Project Leader

Johnathan Wilber

Communications Officer
New York, New York United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Give 30 Young Tibetans the Gift of Education