Art sets kids free
When Sarah Lukas and Kitty Leaken of Santa Fe, New Mexico met exiled Tibetan children in India, they were inspired to find ways of alleviating their suffering. The program they created, Art Refuge, now eight years old, has helped thousands of Tibetan refugee children regain their culture, their religion, and their hope as they begin life anew in India.
Art Refuge offers painting/creative playgroups for Tibetan children in Nepal and India. Tibetan children often first encounter the program at a Kathmandu reception center for those who have made the escape from Tibet into Nepal. Under Chinese rule, Tibetans’ cultural and religious freedoms are restricted. For decades Tibetan parents have been secretly sending their children out of the country to attend schools for Tibetan children operated in India under the auspices of the Tibetan government in exile and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The trek out is usually made in winter, traveling at night, when the Tibetans are least likely to be intercepted. A paid guide leads the escapees on foot. Depending on the weather, it can take three weeks — or three months — to cross the rugged Himalayan passes, some of which reach 17,000 feet. Children as young as six-years-old make the trip, usually without adequate clothing or food. Many arrive starving and injured, with frostbite and snow blindness, and more than a few have witnessed the deaths of siblings or others on the trip. Often it is not until they have arrived in Kathmandu and are given food and medical treatment that the children begin to realize what has happened — they may never see their parents again, and don’t know where they’re going or what will happen to them …