I know it seems like I abandoned this space, but I've actually been thinking about it quite a lot. I've been composing this post for awhile in my head. This is on a topic very close to my heart. If you've come looking for knitting, today you won't find it.
Two Sundays ago (February 14th) was the first day of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. It is now 2137, the year of the Male Iron Tiger. This year, the typical Losar celebrations were very muted as Tibetan continues mourn the many Tibetans who are being imprisoned, tortured and killed in China's continuing crackdown following the protests of the Beijing Olympics.
I can't remember when I first became aware of the situation in Tibet. I know that in high school my Dad kept saying I shouldn't buy things from China because they abused their own citizens. Some time in there, I read a National Geographic article that detailed a trip by a man that slipped a camera into China. I still remember clearly, nearly 20 years later, a man standing naked in a vat of toxic chemicals working man made leather with his feet. That is when I started realizing what my purchases were supporting.
Soon after that, I heard about Tibet for the first time. I began to learn about Tibet, a mystical country who's people had lived in near isolation in a mountain kingdom. I also learned of China's occupation in 1950 and slow overrunning of the country. And finally, I read about His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama fleeing the country in 1959.
In college, a student posted a message saying, if you want to correspond with a real Tibetan monk, stop by. I did.I started by sponsoring a young monk and then started sponsoring an older monk. I've now been writing to the secretary at Drepung Gomang Monastic College for 13 years.
Over the years, I've learned about day to day life at the monastery and traded updates on our families. The secretary, Migmar, lives at the monastery in Southern India while his wife and children live in Dharmsala. He usually is able to visit them once a year. He acknowledges that it is hard, but must provide for his family. I hope to meet him someday.
Many of the monks have never been in Tibet. Others are now in their 60s and 70s and left Tibet during the invasion of 1959. Still others were smuggled out of Tibet by their parents in the hopes that they would receive a traditional Tibetan upbringing and would keep Tibetan traditions alive. This arduous and dangerous trip through the Himalayan mountains takes weeks and many suffer from frost bite and other injuries. So that they may learn about their culture. So that they may practice their religion freely. Most will never see their parents again.
- is this available from another place? if it costs more in money, it has a lower cost in lives lost.
- do I really need this or is it just something I want?
- can I make this?
- can I get it used? Goodwill, Saint Vincent de Paul, or Freecycle are great options.
I feel I'm getting better at asking myself those questions. And yet, sometimes there is no way to avoid it, no matter how hard I try. But I remain unsatisfied. As I've become
friends with Tibetan refugees in the United States and watched parents
struggle to pass on a unique and beautiful culture, I realize that I
must do more.
Back in January, I decided that I would begin a personal Oppression Offset program. The idea is simple and follows the carbon offset model: every time my purchases support Chinese oppression, I will set aside an equal amount for freedom. At the end of this year, I will donate that money to The Tibet Fund. My Oppression Offsets, year-to-date: $16.99.
Clearly I've decided to document this decision here. I will be setting up another page on this blog, tracking my Oppression Offsets. As I discover other sources for stuff, I will post it there. When I discover hidden Chinese products, I will post them here as well. My intention is not to give more money. In fact, my goal is to have a year when my Oppression Offset is zero.