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How Best is the Community Fund Managed?

We introduced the discussion forum in Migyul’s second issue as a means for our community to address various issues of pressing need. As a start-up community magazine, Migyul has sought means to raise funds to make Migyul free to the community while concurrently hosting community gatherings to further our goals: to bring our communities together.

We quickly realized that just as funds are vital for the survival of Migyul, they are also vital for all community organizations that do selfless work in our greater New York community. At the same time various Himalayan communities in greater New York raise funds to help our communities in the Himalayas. We began to pose the following question to Migyul members and others in our communities: How do you think community funds are best managed: For community development here or help communities back in our hometowns?

"Our gathering brought together people who had probably never been in a room together, let alone be provided with the opportunity to discuss and debate issues of shared concern. We did not know what to expect."

To address this issue an informal gathering of members of various Himalayan communities was organized on a Sunday evening in August 2004. The group represented the diverse spectrum of Himalayan ethnic groups and people wishing to share their various life experiences. This was the first of such discussion forums that Migyul will organize. Our gathering brought together people who had probably never been in a room together, let alone be provided with the opportunity to discuss and debate issues of shared concern. We did not know what to expect. In planning the discussion, Migyul’s editorial board members’ initial challenge lay in identifying people from various communities whom we thought would be forthcoming in their opinions. This process provided an opportunity for our board to find out more about the communities that each came from.

Sonam Sherpa most graciously accepted the role of the moderator. We informally sat in the basement of the Tibetan Yak restaurant as participants slowly trickled in. Recent immigrants, who still stand by Himalayan Standard Time, showed up half and hour late. Longer-term residents, who have assimilated some positive traits of American culture of punctuality, appeared on schedule. The Yolmo president identified this phenomenon of acculturation as “accepting good things of a culture and leaving behind the bad”. Our discussion began with each participant discussing issues of concern to their community. An issue of pressing concern was in the event of death of any community member, an issue that is not often faced in smaller communities but in larger communities that had experienced a few incidents prompted shared grieving.

• Sonam Sherpa (SS; Mod) Previous Board member, Sherpa Kyiduk, Tibetan Association of New York and New Jersey and Tibetan Youth Congress.
• Mohan Lama Yolmo (ML) President of the Yolmo Lama Society of America
• Sonam Topgyal (ST) Joint Secretary of the Tibetan Youth Congress
• Sonam Lama (SL) President, Mustang Community
Migyul Editorial Board
• Tenzing Chadotsang (TC)
• Mamta Gurung (MG)
• Rinchen D Sherpa (RS)
• Dhendup Chadotsang (DC)
• Palden Khando (PK), member of the Tibetan Women’s Association)

Sonam Sherpa:

"Our gathering brought together people who had probably never been in a room together, let alone be provided with the opportunity to discuss and debate issues of shared concern. We did not know what to expect."

“ We come from different areas in the Himalayas and Migyul represents us. This discussion has a greater purpose than just an article as it is brings together the community through an exchange of ideas. We need to discuss why community funds are needed, why raising it is very important and how we can help people from where we come from. Each community is different and has different issues and needs. Making money just to get your bank balances fat does not serve our purpose nor serve the community. The money is there to be used. While we were in India, we had Jindaks from America or Europe, who were pretty much like we are now. They had hearts to be Jindak. Now as we are here in NY, why don’t we help those people that we have left behind?

Community Funds and Why They Are Needed

ST: The Tibetan Youth Congress is a political organization and organizes campaigns on the Tibet issue. In order to do this we need funds. We have only one option — to organize parties. We make profits from that and use that money on the campaigns that we launch. We also have an office here in NY from where we work and we need funds to keep this office running

SL: Since we are in a foreign country, there are problems everywhere. We raise funds for that- we try to help any problem within our community and try to come up with a solution together.

ML: The Yolmo Community is a Kyiduk so we help the person in need during sickness and death. We are all in a foreign country i.e. US and though Tibetans do not have a country and we (Yolmos) do but like you, we are in a foreign country. So the question here is how to help our communities?

DC: For some, organizing a big get together is a big responsibility, as this is where people meet and get a sense of community. They need funds for activities such as the Sunday schools (the Tibetan community) and helping people with needs such as asylum cases. Collecting funds also makes them build a fund for bigger aims.

RS: Different associations are formed for different reasons. So we cannot really compare how their funds are used.

Mod: The Sherpa Kyiduk apart from performing Kyiduk work also organized a workshop for kids to find out about elementary, high schools and colleges. The other thing we did was to use the money for Buddha Jayanti or Saga Dawa.

PK: The TWA works hand in hand with the TYC and TC of NY/NJ. We also send a certain amount to India to the head TWA office where it is used for various causes.

DC: Migyul magazine also raise funds because without funds we cannot have a magazine.

Mod: To me, the perfect example is the Migyul magazine. You spend on the magazine for publishing. No one does it for free. It costs money. So you are not building your bank account because you’re spending it. You raise funds, you spend it.

On raising Funds for the Community and Problems Encountered

Mod: From my own experience, being a Tibetan Youth Congress member, Tibetan Association and Sherpa Kyiduk. We did have a membership fee for a year or two years. That doesn’t bring much money, as most do not pay. So that was not really that helpful. So we obviously have to organize parties.

MG: Why do you think people do not want to pay membership fee even though membership in most cases is automatic?

Mod: As an executive member you tend to think just because you are on the other side that you are doing a lot of work. There is no incentive to become a member. Since you’re born Yolmo, you’re a Yolmo. So why do you have to pay $25 to be a Yolmo, or a Sherpa. The one who pays the membership get to run for office and the ones who don’t, do not. You know what — nobody runs for office anyways. So why minimize the pool?

RS: I don’t know but the fundraising methods seem to be limited to parties. Do you actually think of going out and look for funds. Also if you have a capital at the end of the year do you think about investing them so that the money keeps rolling instead of just keeping it in the bank?

SL: (Trans): We also raise money through parties. We give small loans to people within our community. That way money is used and it also adds to the community’s investment while helping the community and individuals.

MG: In terms of raising funds, most of the communities that we are talking about draw funds from within. Most of us work 14 hours to 15 hours a day. I mean $25 might not be a big amount but for someone who is working 6 days, 72 hours a week at very low wages, $25 might be a lot of money. Also from what I understand, most of these organizations are registered as nonprofits making them eligible to apply for grants like the Tibet House.

Mod: Tibet house is Kueray We are Bhotay. [Laughs.]

ST: But as far as TYC is concerned we cannot do this as we are not registered yet. Even if we get registered, the corporations tend to think of TYC as a political organization. So once you’re a political org. you don’t get that kind of funding.

DC: Most of the members in all our community organizations are there for a year or so and that is a big problem. By the time a new member comes to a productive level it is the time for him to leave. That limits the capacity of organizations.

Mod: I feel that way too. Tibet House “types” of projects are way too big for us. They spend money to make money. We don’t spend any money and try to make money. It’s not possible. You’ve got to spend it. Our community still haven’t learned that. Instead of having food catered we want to cook and break our backs. When we do parties, we work days and nights to organize those events. How much do we make? We make a thousand dollars, sometimes $2000 and sometimes we even lose money. I feel that instead of doing that and breaking our backs, we should contribute $500 each. $2,000 is made in no time.

New Immigrants on Community Needs and Problems Faced

Mod: We have problems in our community here. Say someone gets sick, $5,000 is not going to help not even $10,000. If someone is in need of medical help and is in the hospital for a week, the costs maybe as high as $100,000 or even more. If you don’t have insurance or medicare, the community may find it very hard to help that person.

ML :We know that we do not have the capacity to help our community member pay all of his hospital bills. But if we could help with smaller things like paying his house rent...

TC: I think, as immigrants, we don’t know our rights and the system. Education is important. I think our community needs education of the American system. That is why we started the Migyul magazine. I think that community funds should be used to get access to knowledge that can empower people. For instance, someone dies or someone is sick, we should have the knowledge of what to do before he gets sick. Like what kind of insurance has the least amount of premium that a person can afford. Even in housing, people have low incomes but are paying very high rents but can be eligible for public housing. People do not apply, as they are not aware of those kind of schemes.

MG: I think there is this mixed feeling when we talk about the community. There is one part that falls into helping the community — about rights and stuff like that. The other part of the community is where we share our culture, events and our values together. We have get-togethers and things like that. It seems like two different objectives to me.

TC: I think our communities focus more on culture and not on our present needs as immigrants...

RS: As an organization, we cannot go with the concept that we are only going to have get-togethers. We cannot stop and say that we aren’t going to help now. We cannot just close our eyes and say that we are only going to help in maintaining our culture. We also need to plan ahead for the next generation, say a well deserving child that wants to go to college but cannot afford it. We as a community might want to sponsor a child.

Mod: The communities are not really spending money on parties and get togethers here. They are spending $2,000 to make $5,000. So it isn’t really an expense.

MG: So what you are saying is that if one is raising funds, one should also find an outlet to use at least a part of it, which is not happening.

Spending of Community Funds: Is this Happening?

Mod: To me, personally, it is not happening.

TC: I think it is slowly beginning to happen. In the Tibetan Community, they have a Sunday school where they are now employing teachers and have a space where they teach a hundred-something students every Sunday. They have a cultural education aspect as well. I don’t know what else they spend on but we do see a change.

ST: The Tibetan Community has a Sunday school. Do you think that is enough? I don’t think that is enough. In this country there are so many resources and we are not taking advantage of these resources. In order to do this, board members, people that you elect, should have the expertise and help. Or is it enough to organize events and put up some banners here and there. That alone does not help. You need people who have the knowledge and time to go out there and use these resources. Even though TC is a non-profit org. they haven’t earned a dime outside the community. It is always within the community. So that’s what we are lacking. We have not been able to take advantage of the federal funding. I think that third parties like Migyul magazine should be a medium to expose people of what all the organizations do so that we are fully aware of what’s happening in our communities. One of the main projects we recently initiated to help the Tibetans in their asylum paper works. We charge less than NYANA, giving Tibetans another option. First of all, they come from Nepal or India, and they have big debts to pay back home and then they have to spend $6-7000 just to apply for asylum over here. We felt that charging the least to work on their paperwork would give them an alternative. We have one of our own board member working full time. He is doing his best to help with the paper work and to compensate him we charge. So far we have been successful working on this project.

SL: (Trans) Usually when someone is unemployed or sick, we try to help him out. If someone does not get work and has to return back to Nepal then we pay for half the ticket.

MG: Is it not hard to find out if it is a true case?

SL: Ours is a small community with around four to five-hundred people so it is very easy for us to find out on the outcome of these community funds that have been spent. Mod: I for one don’t think that the funds are being utilized for any useful purpose at all. Actually, I don’t think it’s being used at all except make our bank balances fatter. There’s a lot more that we can do with that money.

DC: With the amount of time that they have in hand they do their jobs very well. But the thing is it is of course after all a voluntary based post and they only have that much time to give.

Mod: In this case, are they spending any money. [There was a lull in the answers. But everyone felt that the money spent was not enough.] That’s what it is. The community is not spending the money. Looks that is pretty much unanimous.

On the Issue of Sending Funds Elsewhere

ML: With regards to funds, we do not send anything outside. We try to use them to solve our problems here before we try to solve our problems there. There are monasteries there that we used to send some funds to. Everyone there seems to think that money making is easy here. We used to send some funds before but have stopped doing so. However, individuals still send money to monasteries as donations but as a community we do not. We feel that there is a greater need here for community funds.

ST: We as TYC have so many things to do. I am not for sending money back to India. Then some of you said, “we help during sickness and health”. Well, I think we help more through human resources; if not financially. If we start to go individually then we will never have enough. We give them the moral support, which in times are more helpful.

Mod: If we are not spending any funds here then spend it there. People need libraries there. People in Solukhumbhu or wherever. We don’t spend any money anywhere. If you want to take care of people here then give them green cards that’s what they need. You can’t do much with $10000 anyways. You can’t buy a house.

DC: They are Kyiduks that host parties and send money there to build buildings or monasteries. I think most of the people come from a particular region like say Mundgod, Darjeeling, Orissa, or also in Nepal and hold parties that are sent over to help out for some cause over there...

MG: It may also be to serve some monastery or something like that.

SL: (Trans) Five hundred of us started a community for Mustang. There wasn’t a single monastery in Mustang. We raised around $ 98,000 and sent it over there. With that money we were able to build a really big monastery in Mustang. Now since a lot of us are here, they say that we should not send any more funds there. Now the new generation is going to come and then we need to look after their needs . So we need to do more here with the community funds. So it seems like there is a unanimous agreement that community funds need to be spend here and not there. There was strangely an acceptance by various communities that the concept of a “Kyiduk” here in New York may not be the right choice for community development. Kyiduk- that literally means “Happiness and Sorrow” is a concept prevalent in the Himalayas, where families help each other in the event of death, sickness, gatherings and occasions such as marriages. The concept of Kyiduk does not hold in the Western world where these events have been taken off from the personal or the community level of interaction and is left to professionals to deal with. With this come professional fees “hence, the whole event of life and death” needs to be dealt with professional skills and tools like health insurance, disability and workers compensation. Our loyalties to the concept of Kyiduk, which in most cases have been reduced to a social group — Kyiduks in which the concept of amassing money was the need to spend it on various occasions for the congregation. The finances spent on such occasions were not high as the members of the Kyiduk provided manpower and the money amassed was sufficient for the community. Now in New York, professionals handle these activities and the costs involved are way beyond the capacity of the Kyiduk.

Our Kyiduks, to continue its role in the community either needs to evolve to community development organizations or have to take a back seat as social organizations and encourage the growth of new nonprofits and community organizations that can assist our communities in adjusting to our lives here as new immigrants.