When I was eight or nine, I remember seeing bumper stickers and tote bags everywhere that read “Free Tibet!” It was practically all I saw for a long time. At that age, I had no clue what they meant and eventually the buzz died down. Tibet was a trend. Then a year ago, I was sitting in my aunt’s house in Santa Barbara, looking at a map she had on her wall and I noticed Tibet. And I noticed how tiny it was. By this time, I knew a little more about what was going on over there. And I asked my mom why China was so obsessed with controlling it. She tried to explain, but it became clear very quickly that there really was no good reason. China, a country of 1,359,380,000 people, has been occupying Tibet (population 6 million) for the past sixty years. Over these sixty years, the citizens of Tibet have suffered greatly, having their religious, cultural, and nomadic beliefs oppressed, as well as their basic human rights infringed upon. It’s not the latest trendy cause. It’s a real issue.
Enter Students for a Free Tibet. After returning home from my aunt’s house, I wanted to learn more about Tibet and how I could possibly get involved. While researching, I discovered Students for a Free Tibet, a grassroots organization that offers the opportunity to start or join local chapters. Upon searching for a chapter that I could join, it appeared that the majority of the chapters were at universities. And since I was not a college student, this was of little use to me. So I decided to start one at my high school.
There are clubs at every high school that are dedicated to community service like Interact, and even international awareness ones such as Model UN. Yet there is a lack of clubs that focus in on specific issues. High school students are capable of understanding complicated world affairs and identifying issues that set their hearts on fire. The teenage years are formative ones, so it only makes sense that we should be delving into deeper issues in these formative years. Through Students for a Free Tibet, high schoolers can get involved in something bigger than themselves. The organization provides all of the necessary materials for getting the club off the ground, from action toolboxes to fact sheets, and they even assign someone at the offices to help you out personally as you are getting started. Really, the only thing you need to provide is passion.
I started my high school’s chapter of Students for a Free Tibet almost a year ago. And I can’t lie, getting teenagers to care about something as serious as this has been a struggle, but it has been worth it. The passion I feel coursing through my veins when I talk about the injustices in Tibet and the motivating anger I feel when I think about how the livelihood of innocent Tibetan citizens has been made into a fad rather than a source of incorrigible anger makes up for any discouraging days.
Teenagers are complex beings. We are impressionable and ready to be molded. The things we are exposed to now are likely to leave lasting imprints on the rest of our lives. We are more than able to identify things that are not fair and recognize things that we need to care about. We can pay attention, and we can make a difference. To quote The Monkees “We’re the young generation/and we got something to say.” School clubs are about so much more than making your college resume look good. They are the perfect opportunity to learn about what you care about. Students for a Free Tibet offers all students the opportunity to ignite passion both in ourselves and in the people around us.
Start a new trend at your high school: educate your classmates on what’s going on in Tibet. Start a chapter of Students for a Free Tibet. Make this something that lasts longer in people’s heads than those bedazzled jeans from last season.
These were senior editorial intern Kathleen Norton’s thoughts on Tibet’s situation and subsequent experiences with Students for a Free Tibet. Please feel free to put your personal thoughts in the comments section below.