By Janhabi Nandy
Remember being 16 years old, still thinking about your place in the world – who you are, what you’re about? Now imagine being 16 years old and taking on the responsibility of preserving a centuries old culture in danger of disappearing. Now imagine sitting in front of three dynamic women Nobel Peace Laureates and Jody Williams’ message to you is, “No one is “important,” not a President, not the United Nations. It is my world and it is your world and all of us ordinary people will change it.” Trying to imagine it all myself, I felt a little overwhelmed. The teenagers spending a day with the Laureates as part of a Peace Jam program were all students at a Tibetan Children’s Village, one of a system of schools run by the Tibetan Government in Exile to educate young Tibetans in a full academic curriculum as well as provide classes in Tibetan language, culture, history and religion. While many of them were born or grew up in exile, many others are children of parents still living under Chinese occupation. Their parents made the heartbreaking and dangerous decision to send their children to school in India so that they could learn Tibetan teachings forbidden in China. If the Chinese authorities know that the parents have sent their children away, or if those children try to return to Chinese controlled Tibet, they will be penalized with losing their jobs or worse.
After they listened to the Laureates, they asked them some difficult questions like this one to Mairead Maguire, “I know you preach love and compassion towards others, but what were you really thinking when you were shot at and tear gassed in Palestine?” They then worked alongside with them, Laureates and Tibetan teens alike picking up garbage with their bare hands. The day finished with personal conversation with the Laureates and presentations from the students.
Listening to and watching the students, I think, in fact, that they weren’t overwhelmed at all. I think they were encouraged, inspired and affirmed. I think they know who they are and what a responsibility they have and I think that they step up to the challenge every day. And I am so very happy for them that they got to hear what I would have loved to learn at 16, from Shirin Ebadi explaining prejudice as a root cause of terrorism, “When we don’t know something, we fear it. When we are afraid, we lose our tranquility. Then we may hate the person who made us lose our tranquility.”