New Literacy Project to Bring Beloved Stories From Around the World to Children of Tibet
Snow Lion Storytelling Initiative preserves Tibetan language, promotes cultural curiosity.
Dharamsala, India – An exciting and significant new literacy project has been launched to give thousands of Tibetan children living in exile in India, Nepal and Bhutan the rare opportunity to read popular children’s books in their own language. The Snow Lion Storytelling Initiative (SLSI) promotes literacy and proficiency in the Tibetan language from an early age and seeks to inspire curiosity in other cultures.
There are over 190,000 Tibetan refugees in India and 5.4 million Tibetans living in territory that has been claimed by China over the past 60 years. Despite the significant Tibetan population, there is limited opportunity for the study of the Tibetan language. The curriculum is taught in Tibetan only in primary schools. As a result, education levels among Tibetans in Tibet are much lower than those of Chinese. An estimated 30 percent of Tibetans in India are children and students seeking a Tibetan education.
Thanks to the generous support of Dalai Lama Fellows , the Snow Lion Storytelling Initiative is translating some of the most beloved children’s books from around the globe into Tibetan. The SLSI will distribute to Tibetan government schools across India, Nepal and Bhutan freshly printed copies of beautifully illustrated stories from Africa, Asia, North America, the Arctic and more.
“The Snow Lion Storytelling Initiative will help open the door to a world of possibilities for thousands of Tibetan children,” says Marty Krasney, Executive Director of Dalai Lama Fellows. “Dalai Lama Fellows supports the project not only because we share a common goal of enhancing understanding and cooperation across peoples and culture, but because we want all children to achieve their highest potential.”
The SLSI hired three students from Lha Charitable Trust in Dharamsala, India, to translate the books, which have already been translated into many other languages and were chosen for their international appeal. The books include children’s classics like Stellaluna by Janell Cannon, Barbara Joose’s Mama, Do You Love Me?, and Alice McLerran’s The Mountain That Loved A Bird, but also new books like Salina Yoon’s Penguin and Pinecone.
The SLSI is indebted to Konga Gyatsen, editor of the Central Tibetan Administration’s Phayul magazine for children, who proofread the translations pro bono. An educator and father of two, Gyatsen finds the illustrations of the SLSI books especially important for Tibetan children’s development. “Through these illustrations, our children gain access to new dimensions,” he says. Geshe Lhakdor, director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, agrees that the art in these books is a precious addition to the available children’s literature in Tibetan. The SLSI speaks to the dire need for creative artwork in children’s literature, something that is lacking in Tibetan publications to date. “The children read the pictures,” the Geshe explains.
The SLSI is the brainchild of Eléonore “Nelly” Buchet-Deàk, a student at McGill University in Montreal and 2012 Dalai Lama Fellow. Buchet-Deàk grew up in a multicultural family attempting to master two languages herself, as she was taught English at home but attended school in France. From this experience, she recognized early the value of having access to reading materials written in both French and English. Dalai Lama Fellows partner only with select institutions, including McGill, which conduct a rigorous selection process on campus using Fellowship criteria and guidelines to evaluate project proposals and candidates.