Tibetan Refugee Centre

A sign about self-immolation hangs in one of the workroomsMany photos and shrines in honor of the Dalai Lama are present throughout the CentreA prayer pamphlet lays on a bench in a workroomA worker explains the dyeing colors and process. Some of the colors are made from natural sources and some from chemicals.A carpet weaver's box of suppliesA woodcarving in progressA woman paints in a workroomA woman in the carpet weaving workroomSheep's wool is dyed in preparation for weaving Messages are written on a window in the painting workroom A woodblock used in the printing press shows the Dalai Lama's sister-in-law who helped get the Centre off the groundOfferings sit inside the small temple at the CentreOn the basketball courtPrayer flags hang across the courtyard
The Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre in Darjeeling, India was established in 1959 as more and more people entered India from Tibet, due to political and cultural persecution. Although the Centre started with only four people, it quickly expanded. Eventually there was an orphanage, health clinic, home for the aged, a small gallery space, and a printing press. The Centre supports itself through an extensive handicrafts program where items such as carpets, clothing, and woodcarvings are made. This not only helps the Centre to operate in a financially self-sustaining manner, but is also a way for Tibetan artistry to be passed down to the next generation. However a major concern today is that the master artisans have either passed away or left the Centre, and many of the youth are more interested in computers than in learning traditional craft skills. Therefore some of the art forms have already been or are likely to be lost in a generation. For the older generation of the community, a subtle sense of anxiety pervades as the identity of the younger generations reflects the current hybrid ethos - of both Tibetan and Indian cultures, and traditional and modern influences. As for the situation in Tibet, the community keeps a close eye on the political unfoldings between China, Tibet, and the exile government (headquartered in Dharamsala, India). Many people in the community also track the growing number of self-immolations by Tibetans. There is great respect for the Dalai Lama who has visited the Centre three times. In fact, two of the men who work in the sewing workroom were guards for the Dalai Lama when he fled from China. Many are proud of the commitment to nonviolence although there are some differences regarding what the goal for Tibet is - while some advocate for autonomy, others want complete independence from China.