I’ve recently returned from an exhausting but wonderful trip to Riga, the capital of Latvia. This was the gathering place for the International Tibet Network’s European regional meeting. There were representatives from Tibet Support Groups across Europe but this time we were also joined by representatives of Tibetan Communities. This was a welcome addition and gave us all the chance to talk about ways to increase collaboration between Tibet groups and local Tibetans in Europe. The vast majority of Tibet supporters really enjoy meeting Tibetans and members of the public always respond well to hearing about Tibet from Tibetans – so any campaign or outreach event is strengthened when Tibetans get involved.
I was able to take two of the Free Tibet team with me to Riga: Josey, our Fundraising Manager, and Sam, our Media & Communications Officer. This was the first time that either of them had had the chance to meet colleagues from so many different Tibet groups and they both got a lot out of the experience. We all have easy access to so much technology these days but there’s still no substitute for face-to-face contact when you want to build relationships. Taking the time to get to know someone and understand how they approach their own campaigning can really make a difference to how you can work together and how much can be achieved.
We arrived in Riga on Thursday, the day before the conference started. It was also ‘Restoration of Independence Day’, when Latvians celebrate regaining their independence from the Soviet Union. We had time for a short walk through the old town and saw people preparing for the evening’s celebrations. We also managed to find the Freedom Monument, which seemed quite appropriate. We then spent the evening greeting friends and colleagues as they arrived at the hotel. For me, it was nice to have a few hours just to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in a while, before the hard work started in earnest.
The conference covered a lot of ground – briefings on events in Tibet and geo-political trends, strategy sessions, campaign planning sessions, training workshops, updates on existing campaigns, briefings from Central Tibetan Administration representatives and also from local politicians. However, when Tibet groups get together, the planning and strategizing often continues late into the evening. In fact, some of the most creative ideas arise when people are relaxing over coffee or trying the local beer.
Unlike Free Tibet, many of the groups in Europe have very limited resources and are run entirely by volunteers. It’s important for us to understand the challenges facing our colleagues because there are actually ways we can help. We’ve recently worked with the Norwegian Tibet Committee to translate some of our infographics into Norwegian. Following on from the meeting in Latvia, we’re now going to be working with other groups to translate our Larung Gar campaign video into Swedish, Norwegian, Czech, and possibly German. And we’re certainly open to working with more groups in more languages.
Working together in this way benefits both sides. The smaller groups get access to good quality materials which they might not have the time or resources to produce themselves. Meanwhile, we get to engage new audiences in different languages and extend the reach of the campaign. And all of this is good for Tibet!
Finally, on the last evening we found some time to carry out a couple of actions as part of the Panchen Lama campaign. We are asking our supporters to put up these missing persons posters in their area to encourage people to learn more about Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was kidnapped by the Chinese authorities at age six. He has not been seen for 22 years.
If you haven’t had the chance to get involved yourself yet then take a look at this Facebook page or this page on our website, where you can read more about the Panchen Lama and see how you can take action.
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.