I’m currently sitting in the Tibet Watch office in Dharamsala. The monsoon should have ended a few weeks ago but we’re still shrouded in mist and ‘enjoying’ occasional bouts of torrential rain. It’s amazing how quickly the clouds and the mist can move. Sometimes the clouds suddenly clear and we get a brief glimpse of some snow-capped peaks. Other times the mist and fog roll in so thick that everything disappears and we can’t see more than a few metres ahead.
The Tibet Watch office has a balcony and on a clear day you can see for miles. It’s really strange to stand there knowing there are shops and houses below and, beyond that, temples, schools and a whole valley full of villages – but it’s all invisible, all just grey. It can be quite atmospheric at times but I also hope it will clear up soon and we’ll get some good, clear October weather before I leave.
We’ll be celebrating Tibet Watch’s 10th anniversary while I’m here. Tibet Watch has come such a long way since it was founded. I’m particularly proud of some of the reports we’ve put out in the last couple of years, as well as our UN work and the speaking tour that we did earlier this year. The anniversary celebration will give us an opportunity to pay tribute to everyone who has helped make Tibet Watch’s work possible – current and former team members, board members, supporters, partners and individuals who have shared information with us.
Security is an essential component of Tibet Watch’s work and that has often meant keeping people anonymous. Most of our Tibetan researchers, both past and present, have worked anonymously due to concerns about their family back in Tibet or because they want to be able to go home one day without finding themselves on a Chinese watch list. We also have to be very careful with the identity of our information sources and people who give us testimonies. All of this has meant that Tibet Watch maintained a very low profile for a long time. I’m very glad that I’ve been able to raise that profile without compromising any of our security measures. In fact, thanks to our relationship with Benetech, our security is probably tighter now than it’s ever been.
It’s an eventful time in Dharamsala. A number of NGOs are celebrating anniversaries and other occasions. I was invited to an event hosted by Students for a Free Tibet when I arrived here on Saturday and most of the Tibet Watch team will be attending a Tibetan Youth Congress event on Friday. I’ve also been celebrating with my friend Namgyal Dolkar, who was recently elected the first ever female president of Gu Chu Sum, in addition to being the youngest member of the Tibetan Parliament. The team are also busy finishing off a couple of reports. On Monday we had a visit from Nyima Lhamo (picture below), who dropped into the office to add some final details to Tibet Watch’s interview with her – which will be published on our website by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, Free Tibet is busy working on the international campaign for Larung Gar Monastery. This campaign is one of the outcomes of the 7th International Conference for Tibet Support Groups which took place at the beginning of September. I must admit I was a little sceptical about the conference before I went. It’s always difficult when you bring together such a diverse group of people. How do you design a conference that will be useful for everyone when there is such a range of different skills, experience levels, priorities, interests – not to mention languages? If the pace is too slow then little is achieved but if the pace is too fast then some people can’t keep up and feel excluded. It’s a difficult balance. But as things got underway in Brussels I realised I was in the middle of something very positive and it was one of the best surprises I’ve had in a long time. Obviously not everything was perfect but there was an incredible atmosphere throughout the event – very engaging and open and energy levels remained high right till the end. I met some great people, got some encouraging feedback on Free Tibet’s work and had some very useful conversations which helped develop new ideas for our campaigning and research.
The other highlight from the past month has been our crowdfunding. The first time I ever did crowdfunding I was told that if you hit 10% of your target within the first 24 hours you’ll be ok. This time around we were crowdfunding for a poll on public perception of Tibet. It’s probably not as exciting as a billboard in New York so we weren’t sure how people would react. However, the response was amazing and we hit 50% of the initial target within the first 24 hours. I then had the opportunity to present the project at the TSG conference and get some additional support. We ended up with 199% of the target and we’ll be able to commission a much more comprehensive poll than we expected. The data we collect will help us to shape our future campaign plans and will hopefully be useful to other groups in the movement too.
Eleanor is Director of Free Tibet and also of our research partner Tibet Watch. She joined the movement professionally in April 2013, having previously been Director of Casework for legal charity Amicus, where her work focused on the death penalty in the US. With a law degree and an MA in human rights, Eleanor has worked for many other campaigns and projects, including One For Ten, PeaceBrigades International, the Burma Human Rights Documentation Unit and the British Institute of International & Comparative Law. She has been a supporter of Free Tibet since her student days and has supported the Tibetan cause for over 20 years. Read updates from her on Twitter and each month on our blog.