Monday, May 10, 2010

A review of "Journey from Zanskar"

by Frederick Marx

The takeover of Tibet by China is yet another example of the attempt of a hostile, imperialist nation making a land grab, paving over any natives that stand in their way. History is filled with such examples, but in particular it reminds me of the way the US steamrolled the Native Americans, who are still struggling today.

The Dalai Lama has been very active in preaching to preserve Tibetan culture, religion, and language. Journey from Zanskar is a documentary about a couple of monks who take a dangerous journey with a small group of young children in an attempt to carry out these intentions. It’s a tear-filled documentary! The trip takes the children from their home in Zanskar, to Manali, where they can be educated in Tibetan schools. These children will be parted from their families for many years, because extreme poverty makes travel impossible on a regular basis.

The movie is very touching, and you get a feeling of how desperate the people are in this region. It’s definitely worth viewing.

After watching the movie, though, I had some misgivings. While it’s clear that the monks were well-intentioned, I had an uneasy feeling that they took excessive risks with the children. This is not to say that the monks were careless or clueless; they clearly had permission from the parents, who seemed grateful and happy that their kids were being given the opportunity. All involved felt that the risk was worth the gain. And it’s true that I’m comparing the risks taken here with the risks that typical American parents might be willing to take with their children; an unfair comparison, because Americans are so much more sheltered than these people.

It seems to me a wiser plan would have been to start a Tibetan school in Zanskar, and have the kids attend school there. I’m under the impression that there are, in fact, several schools underway. The problem with the movie, in this respect, is that it doesn’t present alternate solutions to the problem. Were there any alternative educational opportunities for these kids in Zanskar, at all? Might the monks themselves have set up shop in Zanskar as tutors for the Tibetan kids? So you’re not really clear whether the desperate journey was a noble cause or a hair-brained scheme. Probably it was a bit of both. Let’s hope good Tibetan schools come to Zanskar soon, so that no more families will have to make such painful decisions and face such terrible risks in the future.

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