A Voice for the Exiled

Alumnus elected to Tibetan parliament

By USF NEWS STAFF Posted Thu, 11/10/2016 - 15:06

Tenzin Jamyang ’15 came to USF to earn a master’s in environmental management, with the goal of fighting climate change. But after graduating, he found himself fighting for his compatriots' votes — as he vied for a seat as part of the Tibetan parliament in exile.

Jamyang won. The USF Asia and Pacific Islander's Graduate ChangeMaker Award winner is now, at 32, one of the youngest members of the 45-member parliament established nearly 60 years ago by the Dalai Lama to represent the 150,000 Tibetan refugees scattered around the world.

The spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama led the government in exile until 2011, when he stepped down to promote a new democratically elected leader.

'Our identity is threatened'

Many exiled Tibetans that Jamyang visited while campaigning in India — where the majority of Tibetan exiles live — spoke of wanting fresh ideas from the new generation and for them to carry on the movement that started in 1959, when the Dalai Lama and others fled to India and established a government in exile when communist China sent soldiers to crush an uprising Tibet.

“Tibet is at the most critical period perhaps in its history," Jamyang says. "Our identity is threatened, as is our history and our rich culture."

As China has developed Tibet, wave upon wave of Chinese migrants have poured in, assimilating the local cultural, marginalizing local residents, and restricting Tibetans’ religious practices, Jamyang says.

“Things are so bad that 144 Tibetan people inside Tibet have resorted to self immolations in desperation and deep resentment of the Chinese government’s control, since 2009,” Jamyang says.  

As a parliamentarian elected to a five-year term, Jamyang raises awareness about the Tibetan government’s pursuit of political autonomy from Chinese governance, promotes its causes, and enacts laws that govern Tibet's exile communities. Called the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the government in exile provides schooling, health care, and jobs for exiles.

Campaigning for the environment

At USF, Jamyang started the Friends of Tibet club. He embraced the Jesuit values of social justice and fighting for those without a voice, principles that resonated with his desire to help his people. 

Fighting to preserve the natural environment and combating climate change were part of his campaign and won him support among voters, says Jamyang, who lives in his birth town of Dharamsala, India — the home of the Dalai Lama and the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile.

He believes more elected leaders should be concerned about protecting the environment and cites Tibet as an example of why. “The annual rise in temperature here is nearly double the global temperature increase,” Jamyang says.

His goal is to help educate the Tibetan community about the environment, the threat of climate change, and to build an effort to combat it, Jamyang says.

Know someone with a powerful USF story? Let us know! usfnews@usfca.edu Twitter @usfcanews