Huge thunder storm last night. I’ve never seen anything like it! Streaks of lightening rip the sky apart. Three, four, five electric bolts collide and dance to the earsplitting growl of thunder. I want to go out into the downpour to cool off, but I know all too well that my clothes would never dry in this monsoon season.
When day breaks, the rain calms down and the fog envelops the mountains once again. I grab my umbrella and hop into a taxi with Lha Charitable Trust Director Ngawang Rabyal to meet Konga Gyatsen, editor at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives of Dharamsala. A children’s literature translation expert, Konga has generously offered to review Damdul, Lobsang and Konchok’s translations for a last round of editing before sending the books off to the printers.
Konga and his wife Tenzin Pema, a researcher for the Tibet Policy Institute, welcome us into their home on their day off. They both work for the Central Tibetan Administration’s Department of Education. For the past five years, the Tibetan government — or Central Administration — has initiated a policy to preserve Tibetan language. Managed by the Tibetan Department of Education, the government has opened more than fifty public schools with a special emphasis on developing a rigorous linguistic program for Tibetan children.
Like his wife, Konga has extensive experience teaching. Konga is also a professional translator and the editor/designer of one of the Tibetan government’s projects, Phayul Magazine, a publication of comic strips and short stories distributed free of charge in Tibetan schools. Launched in 1990, Phayul, which means “my homeland,” began in book form. Funding restrictions limited the publication to coming out biannually. In 1999, Phayul was transformed into magazine form in order to publish an edition every month. “But the children could not keep up with the stories,” Konga explained. “They would forget the previous month’s plot. This defeated the purpose of the project, which is to get kids to read Tibetan.” Phayul now comes out bimonthly, with a majority of stories written and illustrated by Tibetans, and usually two out of the ten stories translated from other languages into Tibetan. Depending on funding and timing, the comic strips are eventually compiled into book form.
Like Phayul Magazine, the Snow Lion Storytelling Initiative fits in perfectly with the Central Tibetan Administration’s Tibetan language policy. “Finding high quality illustrations is a challenge for us,” Konga said. He pats one of his daughters on the back as she hands him Stellaluna. The other little one shuffles over to him and collapses in his lap, thrusting Penguin and Pinecone in his hands. Konga smiles, breaking open the book. “Through these illustrations, our children gain access to new dimensions,” he tells me.
“You see how very curious they are about these books,” Pema said, turning Penguin and Pinecone to face one of her daughters who had the book open upside down. “The children will benefit so much from this project.”
Click here to read more about the Central Tibetan Administration and Pema’s work at the Department of Education’s think tank, the Tibet Policy Institute.