Future Generations Graduate Tsering Norbu (Class of 2009) Continues to Develop the Pendeba Society as One of Tibet’s Most Influential Non-Profits

The Pendeba Society, previously known as the Pendeba program, has faced many challenges throughout the years. The original Pendeba program was created in 1996 by Future Generations in Tibet as a method for local leaders to gain skills related to environmental protection, conservation, healthcare, women’s education, sustainable livelihoods, and renewable resources. In 2008, largely due to rapid economic development in China and an unstable political situation in Tibet, the Pendeba program was terminated.

Norbu (2nd from left) meets with pendebas in the Surmang region of Tibet.

Tsering Norbu (Class of 2009), who previously worked with the Pendeba program in Tibet, realized the significant impact felt by locals when the program was discontinued. He faced the same question from people everywhere as he traveled from village to village -“What became of the pendeba program that had captured the profound interest of the community?”  He knew he had to do something. He needed to go local. He decided to take the bottom-up, SEED-SCALE strategy to a new level by seeking the support of the Chinese government.

Norbu faced many challenges and restrictions. He spoke to countless officials, locals, and the movers and shakers in the communities who continually offered him support. One of his supporters included Mr. Gongu Duoji-La, the first Tibetan mountaineer to climb Mt. Everest, who also happened to be from a town close to Norbu’s own birthplace. After countless setbacks, frustrations, and tribulations, on June 26, 2009, Norbu created the Pendeba Society as one of the first civil organizations registered in both China and Tibet. The challenging process also became the basis for his master’s practicum at Future Generations University.

Pendebas meet in front of ancient, eroded towers in the Dingri region near Everest.

In 2012, the Pendeba Society was conferred as a Top Grade Civil Organization by the Department of Civil Affairs of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Recognition continued, and in 2014 the Pendeba Society won the United Nations Development Programme’s Equator prize and the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Prize. Although the difficulties of functioning as a community development organization are still an everyday reality, the Pendeba Society stands as an example of what one individual can accomplish if his or her heart is dedicated to the cause.

“As a leader, you should have a strong passion to do something and have infinite patience to do it in many different ways until you realize your dream,” expressed Norbu. Norbu, in all his efforts, is a beautiful example of what a Future Generations University student can accomplish by the SEED-SCALE methodology with passion and local knowledge.

For more about the Pendeba Society, visit www.pendeba.org.

Researchers Find Encouraging Changes in Mt. Everest’s Gama Valley

Yak relax in the setting sun with Mt. Everest in the background.
From late May to early June, Future Generations Graduate School faculty conducted a research expedition into Mt. Everest’s Gama Valley. The team, led by Dr. Daniel Taylor, were following up on conservation efforts that began with the establishment of the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve (QNNP) nearly thirty years ago. The team found that those efforts have continued to expand in the intervening years. As of today, eighteen nature preserves have been established throughout Tibet, which collectively protect over 54% of the autonomous region. Within the QNNP, the team discovered that many wildlife species appear to be rebounding in strong numbers with sightings of Tibetan gazelle, musk deer, tahr (wild goat), and numerous bird species. They also found many signs of snow leopard.
Located at the base of Mt. Everest’s Hidden (eastern) face, the Gama Valley is one of seven core zones of the QNNP. Established in 1989 by the People’s Republic of China within the Tibet Autonomous Region, the QNNP represents one of the first nature preserves in the world to be placed under the direct stewardship of local people in partnership with government. Since 1993, Future Generations has worked in partnership with the Chinese government to provide technical guidance, financial support, and capacity building to the Tibetan people to sustain the QNNP.
The Researchers in front of a map displaying Gama Valley trekking routes.

In accordance with the QNNP’s master plan, official trekking packages are now being offered in partnership between park authorities and local guides ensuring that good and equitable pricing practices are being adhered to. Designated trekking routes have been created with fixed camping sites, lowering the environmental damage, while maximizing the economic opportunities for local communities. Chinese tourists are now visiting the QNNP by the thousands each year. The park’s simultaneous mandates to preserve natural beauty and create economic opportunity are introducing new challenges for local communities such as trash collection and logistics management. Despite these challenges, the team was excited to find that both flora and fauna are increasing. Now back on North Mountain, the researchers are developing responses to the problems caused by overuse.

Dusty Dreams in the Desolate Wilderness

Chao  Erh-Feng
State Library of NSW, Australia
In 1909, Manchu General Chao Erh-Feng and his army swept through Tibet vowing not to leave a person or a dog alive. He came disturbingly close to reaching his goal. According to Wade Davis’ Into the Silence, Erh-Feng ravaged monasteries, devastated villages, looted cities and temples, burned sacred texts, raped women and children, and killed tens of thousands of Tibetans – including over a thousand monks. His occupation of Tibet was so brutal that he gained the nickname “Butcher Chao.”
Nearly one hundred years later, a staff member at Future Generations passed away before she could complete the translation of a journal kept by a captain in Butcher Chao’s army. “While an aggressive, get-ahead army captain, (the captain and author) was also sympathetic to the Tibetans, and while in Tibet married a Tibetan girl, so he puts a sympathetic human face to the Chinese invasion of Tibet,” according to Dan Jantzen, another former Future Generations staff member who is now working to complete the translation of the journal, titled Dusty Dreams in the Desolate Wilderness. Dusty Dreams was originally published in Chinese, for a Chinese audience familiar with background information and place names that most westerners are not. In addition to translating the work into English, Jantzen is working to compile detailed footnotes and a map in order to give context to the document.
Butcher Chao came to Tibet only after both the British and the Russians formally acknowledged Chinese sovereignty over the region in the early 1900s. Fortunately for the Tibetans, Manchu power was broken in 1911 when a revolution overthrew the Ch’ing Dynasty and established the government that became a forerunner to today’s People’s Republic of China. Tibetan monks led an uprising that resulted in the capture and execution of Butcher Chao. With Chao and the Ch’ing Dynasty gone, the Dalai Lama returned to Tibet and Britain once again considered Tibet a free and independent state.

“Davis takes a particularly negative view of Chao, and some commentators are a bit kinder to him, but he was pretty ruthless,” notes Jantzen. In another account, historian Alastair Lamb refers to Chao as “one of the last great soldier-bureaucrats of the Manchu era.”

Future Generations is proud to be part of this project to bring forth a new primary document about this controversial figure and an important period in Chinese/Tibetan history. In addition to Jantzen, a number of Future Generations faculty, staff, and alumni are working to complete the manuscript and get it published.