A Second Beginning for Tibetan Refugees

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By ChildFund India
Posted on 3/16/2015

Reporting by ChildFund India


At ChildFund, when we leave a community, it’s usually a good thing. It means success, and that we’ve reached our goal of empowering that community to become self-sufficient. This is the case today in southern India, with the conclusion of the Dhondenling Family Welfare Project.

beautification project

Children are encouraged to help with the beautification of the settlement.

The project, which covers 22 villages and serves about 4,000 people, was originally created by the Indian government in 1974 to support Tibetan refugees who had settled in India to escape China’s communist regime. Though free from communist rule, the early settlers found themselves living in desperate conditions; poverty was rife, malnutrition was rampant, and dangerous illnesses like tuberculosis were all too common. And without basic necessities like clean water and toilets, disease spread quickly. School enrollment was very low. Villages were connected only by mud roads, so it was difficult for many children to attend school regularly. The majority of settlers depended on farming to survive, and during the winter months they struggled to find additional work to make ends meet.

So, in 1989, ChildFund (then Christian Children’s Fund) began supporting the community through sponsorship and community development programs to help meet the most pressing needs of the children and families living there. Since that time, life for the settlers has improved remarkably, and in 2014, ChildFund concluded its work, passing along administration of the programs within the settlement to the local government.

Now, happily, children are healthier than ever before – vaccination rates for children under 5 are at 100 percent, and parents are given ongoing education and training on disease prevention. A water purification plant and a waste management system were established to create healthier living conditions. Hundreds of new houses were constructed or repaired, and roads between villages were paved. Early childhood development programs have improved nutrition for children and families through supplemental meals, health check-ups and distribution of vitamin and deworming tablets. More than 500 families received financial assistance to help them access medical care.

computer classes

Computer skills training helps youth improve their employment prospects.

School enrollment is also at nearly 100 percent. In addition to typical school subjects, children learn about issues related to health, the environment and child rights. They also receive career counseling, as well as coaching for board exams to apply for higher education programs. More than 100 children received support for school fees, and the Parent-Teacher Association ensures community involvement and investment in children’s futures. Many children have found employment opportunities outside of the settlement — in India and abroad.

Nineteen-year-old Tenzin is just one child who is realizing his dreams thanks to a solid education and support for his studies. While enrolled in ChildFund’s child sponsorship program, he remembers, he was in touch regularly with his sponsor, who encouraged reading and helped him buy books. “I used to love that moment when my mother said, ‘Your sponsor has sent a letter,’” Tenzin says. He eventually became a top student in his class and was able to take a pre-university course that helped him score high enough to be accepted to medical school, where he is now studying to become a doctor.


In this historical photo, youth learn skills in tailoring.

Agriculture remains the mainstay of the settlement, and families have received support including solar fencing for farms, saplings and fruit trees for family gardens, cash subsidies to purchase seeds and fertilizers, and bore well installations. Training for youth and adults in organic horticulture and agricultural development has also strengthened livelihoods, and savings and loan programs administered by self-help groups help families to save and establish credit. About 200 youth and adults were given vocational training in trades like carpentry and tailoring, and entrepreneurship support to start small businesses. Initiatives like these help families build self-sufficiency and create long-term income opportunities.

For the refugee children and families of Dhondenling, finding freedom came at a price. But after many years, true freedom – from poverty and the struggles that come with it – is finally within reach.

To help a community like the Dhondenling Settlement break free from the cycle of poverty, consider sponsoring a child today. Your contributions will combine with other sponsorship dollars to provide programs like these that help empower communities — and the children that live within them — to thrive.

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