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Flee Tibet
Sydney Morning Herald[Friday, March 04, 2005 20:21]
Little troopers: Karma Sherub, 11, Sonam Chelkyi, 8, and Chemig Dorji, 9, crossed the Himalayas without their families to flee Tibet.
Little troopers: Karma Sherub, 11, Sonam Chelkyi, 8, and Chemig Dorji, 9, crossed the Himalayas without their families to flee Tibet.
The children who fled Tibet have now grown up - and wonder why their country still isn't free. Katrina Lobley reports.

Valhalla Cinemas, 166 Glebe Point Road, Glebe
Thursday, 7.30pm
$14.50 at the door
The rally at the consulate is at 10am on Thursday, 39 Dunblane Street, Camperdown.

Tenpa Dugdak was just four years old when he and his mother trekked across the Himalayas under the cover of night from Tibet into northern India. The Sydney-based Tibetan activist doesn't remember the journey, but his mother has told him it took about 30 days to avoid Chinese patrols and reach India.

Dugdak's tough journey isn't unusual. Once he arrived at the Tibetan school in Mussoorie, the first of many established throughout India, Nepal and Bhutan by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he discovered that about 85 per cent of fellow students had also walked up to thousands of kilometres from Tibet into India.

Not every child survives. In Melinda Wearne's Australian documentary Children of Tibet, which opened at the Valhalla Cinema last night, three kids who walked together into India tell her about two others in their group who didn't make it, succumbing first to fatigue and then to extreme weather.

Wearne had originally intended to make a film about education, focusing on one of the Tibetan schools in India.

"But when I went there, everyone from the youngest who was four to the oldest, who were about 20, had all done this journey," she says.

"I thought the journey itself was a much more moving story. Most of them don't seem to understand what an amazing thing they've just done.

"We were looking for kids who had done the journey recently enough that it was fresh in their memory and they could talk about it, but the ones who had done the journey recently were very camera-shy and terrified and wouldn't do it."

The Sydney director didn't realise that three kids, aged 8 to 11, who "adopted" her and her husband to be, Luke Hardiman, on their first day at the Dharamsala refugee centre would end up being their stars.

"We filmed them a bit but it wasn't until we got home to Australia that we sat down in the edit suite and realised they were the main characters," Wearne says.

The Australia Tibet Council will hold a charity screening of Children of Tibet on Thursday, which is also Tibetan Uprising Day. It commemorates the day in 1959 when Tibetans protested against China's invasion of their country. Tens of thousands of Tibetans died in the uprising, while many fled to other countries.

On Thursday, the ATC and members of Sydney's Tibetan community will hold their annual demonstration outside the Chinese consulate at Camperdown.

Dugdak, who cannot get a visa to visit Tibet and whose father was a political prisoner there for 13 years, will be at the protest. He says Australians are enormously sympathetic towards Tibetans' plight, but it isn't enough.

"I would say, 'Thank you for your sympathy - but we need action.'"
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