I’ve just returned from the Blood on the Snows tour with Lhagyari Namgyal Dolkar from Gu Chu Sum Movement Association, and it’s been quite an experience. For those of you who didn’t make it to any events, the idea for the tour came to us about a year ago when Free Tibet and Tibet Watch were working on our submissions to the UN Committee Against Torture.
The stories that we get from former political prisoners are not easy reading or easy listening. Nevertheless, they are incredibly inspiring. The people we’ve interviewed have no regrets, despite everything they’ve been through, and are still completely committed to their country, their culture and the Tibetan freedom struggle. Many of them are also committed to sharing their stories – they really want people to know what happened to them and what’s still happening inside Tibet. I’m sure it was difficult, at least at times, for these torture survivors to relive their experiences and give us their testimonies. I’m so glad that we’ll be able to report back and let them know how many people came to listen to their stories during the tour and were moved by what they heard.
The stories that we get from former political prisoners are not easy reading or easy listening. Nevertheless, they are incredibly inspiring.
We started in Scotland and our first event was in Aberdeen. We managed to draw an audience of 60 people, thanks to the efforts of Tibet Support Group Grampian and some student groups from Aberdeen University. The next day we headed down to Edinburgh, where we had some time for tourism and I was able to show Namgyal round Edinburgh Castle and share a little Scottish history. Before we started planning the tour I hadn’t realised there was a Tibetan community in Scotland so it was a very pleasant surprise to meet a group of Tibetans at the Edinburgh event. We also had some lovely food at the Tibetan owned Himalaya Café.
Glasgow doesn’t have an established Tibet group at the moment so we had a small but very passionate audience at the event. Afterwards, I took Namgyal along to a gig that was happening a few doors down from our event venue – and we carried on campaigning. We managed to fill another couple of pages of the petition for Free Tibet’s Robed Resisters and in the end the band donated their gig fee to the campaign.
Our last stop of the first week was Manchester. I knew there was quite a strong Tibetan community based in Manchester and now I know how friendly they are. After the event we were treated to a great meal at the Tibetan Kitchen. I’d tried some of their momos last year at the Womad festival and I’m looking forward to catching up with them again this summer.
Our second week started in Corsham, a picturesque little town near Bath. Our venue was a slightly cold, but quite beautiful, 17th century alms-house. Once again we discovered a very friendly Tibetan community – some of whom had travelled from Bristol for the event - and we even had some live music.
Our trip to Cardiff had an additional motive – to try and help drum up support for the new Tibet group. I think we succeeded – we certainly had a few people showing a lot of enthusiasm by the end of the event. There’s also talk of a potential flag-raising for 10th March next year.
Our next stop was York – a city I’ve wanted to see for many years. It did not disappoint. We didn’t have a huge amount of free time but we got the chance to walk along the old city walls, wander through some medieval snickelways and pop into the Minster. I think I’ll definitely have to go back one of these days.
Norwich was a last minute addition to the tour. We met a small group of very committed supporters and Alison Reynolds from the International Tibet Network popped in too. At the end of the second week we had our London event and then we wrapped up the tour with some excellent food at Kailiash Momo in Woolwich.
Nine events in 12 days – it was exhausting but it was a wonderful experience. Obviously it helped that I had such a great partner in Namgyal Dolkar and lots of support from local groups and individuals in all of the places we visited. We met so many lovely people on the road. Some had been committed to the campaign for years while others were coming along to a Tibet event for the first time. Everywhere we went we got an incredibly warm welcome and managed to pick up at least a few new supporters. It was amazing to discover how much support there is right around the UK. We’ll certainly be getting out of London more often in the future.
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.