Relaxing outside (photo: SOS archives).
Tibetan Children's Village Bir is located in the small village of Suja, which is about 50 kilometres south-east of Dharamsala.
The local population consists mainly of poor Indian farmers. Since 1966 Bir has also been home to people from Tibet, autonomous region of China. Back then, families, who were mostly from the Kham region in eastern Tibet, autonomous region of China were given land on which they could build houses. The Bir Tibetan Settlement (which is also known as the Bir Tibetan Colony) developed to include religious and cultural sites. Many people living in the settlement have been born and raised here. Children from Tibet, autonomous region of China are often sent here by their parents.
Many tourists, both from other areas of India and from abroad come to visit Bir in order to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, to visit the religious temples and monasteries, and experience the Tibetan way of life. Local Tibetans are involved in servicing the tourist industry by running restaurants, hotels and shops selling handicrafts. Others weave or make carpets. During the winter months most of the settlers sell traditional winter garments in various towns and cities throughout India.
In spite of efforts to create income generating enterprises, the levels of unemployment in the area remain high. As a result, there are an increasing number of families who struggle to make a living. Those who are most likely to be poor are the old, the infirm and families with children.
Tibetan Children's Villages was asked to help build a provisional programme for children and young people who arrived at Dharamsala after leaving Tibet, autonomous region of China. In Bir we began our work by creating a school, which soon developed into the provision of care for the children. All the children have lost parental care; while some children have no living parents, others have parents who are in Tibet, autonomous region of China, or in other locations throughout India, or have moved abroad.
A village celebration (photo: SOS archives).
In order to support the Tibetan population that had settled in Bir, Tibetan Children’s Villages decided to become active here. They provide day-care, primary and secondary education, as well as care in families.
Children who have lost parental care can live in one of the 20 families alongside their brothers and sisters. Due to the great number children without parental care, families may have up to thirty members and sometimes even more.
Young children go kindergarten. As the children grow older, the school allows them to receive primary and secondary schooling.
Young people live in special accommodation, while they start vocational training or go on to higher education. With the support of qualified professionals they are guided through this new stage of their lives.