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Aid Project for Ethnic Tibetans in Sichuan

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2003/10/29; October 29, 2003.]

27 October 2003
ABC Radio Australia Asia/Pacific

For most people Tibet is associated with religion, political crackdown or utopian wonderland. But for Pamela Logan the task of providing basic services to Tibetans in one of China's remotest areas leaves little room for little romanticizing or politicizing. Her Kham Aid Foundation runs grass root projects in the Kham region in western Sichuan province, one of the traditional homelands of ethnic Tibetans.

Presenter/Interviewer: Inka Kretschmer Speakers: Pamela Logan, founder of the US based Kham Aid Foundation

KRETSCHMER:Pamela Logan used to be a rocket scientist.

Then, thirteen years ago, she won a travel grant to go on a short research trip to the Eastern Tibetan Plateau in China. The trip turned into a life journey.

LOGAN: When I got there I did have these various epiphanies and that really led to that enormous attachment to the place and that enormous longing to go back. When I did my trip it was really pretty much on the sly. I didn't have any sort of travel permit, I didn't have a guide, I didn't have permission. I was arrested here and there and mostly kind of stepped sideways around all the police checkpoints. And that's fun for a while but you can't really do anything meaningful while you are on the sly and I wanted to do something meaningful and I wanted to have a way to go back.

KRETSCHMER: Pamela Logan decided to give up her career in science and began to volunteer for a Hong Kong organization doing art conservation at a monastery in impoverished Kham in China's Sichuan Province.

Though the area is not part of today's Tibet, officially the Tibetan Autonomous Region, the people living in Kham are mostly ethnic Tibetans with Tibetan traditions.

More than fifty per cent of Tibetans actually live outside Tibet, mostly in bordering provinces.

But Pamela Logan soon realized that the biggest hurdle wasn't to carry out the project in Kham - though that wasn't easy - but to get much needed overseas funding.

To attract more donors, especially from her own country, the United States, she founded her own non-profit organization in 1994.

Today the Los Angeles based Kham Aid Foundation runs a great variety of programs. Its work includes brining in Italian conservationists to restore Buddhist temple murals; planting trees; distributing medical equipment; publishing Tibetan-language books; and sponsoring teachers, students.

The success of all these projects relies entirely on volunteers from all over the world.

LOGAN: The one thing that holds education back is the really deplorable conditions that teachers live in when they are teaching out there so in order to attract more and better teachers to these areas you really have to provide better housing for them and the government is quite poor and can't afford to do that for them so we have been going out to schools and have been renovating teachers apartments. It's a lot of elbow grease and a lot of paint and a lot of sweat and a lot of wiring and a lot of day to day hands on, do it yourself work. But we are doing it in a Tibetan village and we are living in a Tibetan house with a Tibetan family and working side by side with the teachers and other villagers that we hire on to the project.

KRETSCHMER: The situation in Kham seems to be in contrast to that in Tibet.

Ms Logan says Kham authorities allow photographs of the Dalai Lama in temples and homes. In Tibet proper, officials have banned any images of the exiled Tibetan leader.

Religious activity in Kham, Ms Logan says, is also less restricted. And a more relaxed government policy and geographic inaccessibility have left Tibetan culture in Kham relatively well preserved.

Still, working for a foreign non-governmental organization in China isn't easy. Ms Logan says Chinese authorities are often suspicious of foreign charities, especially in sensitive areas.

LOGAN: The policies towards treating foreign NGOs varies a bit from place to place. You'll see some areas can become quite conservative and difficult to work with and others will be quite open. But what really has made it possible for me to work out there that I have been out there for a long time. I've been doing projects out there since 94. So I know a lot of people and most of the authorities that I work with are ethnic Tibetans which is not to say that automatically makes them great guys to work with but it does make them more favorable to helping there own people.

KRETSCHMER: Pamela Logan knows there is a lot of fascination with Tibet, much of it politically motivated. But she says there are not many people who actually go to the Tibetan countryside to help improve people's lives.

LOGAN: You get lured out by the mystique of Tibet and the beautiful mountains and the potential of being enlightened in some fashion by the lovely form of Buddhism they practice. But what keeps me out there as a connection to the people, and a lot of specific people, who are counting on me to come back and when you start looking into the suffering that goes on for lack of very simple things like medicines or school and these things are not difficult to provide than I think most people who feel any compassion at all would want to do something about it.

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