Tibetans Raising Children in the West
Dorje Wolokh grew up in a Tibetan settlement near Mysore in India and now lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife and six children – three boys and three girls ranging from six to twenty years of age – all born here. He talked to Cynthia Karena.
Here the Tibetan community of around 30 people is spread thinly over Melbourne.
“We try our best in the West and stick together,” says Dorje. “Back home we have a whole community, like a culture.”
But there is some family close by in Melbourne. The children’s maternal grandparents only live a couple of minutes drive away. “The kids like to spend time with them, and see them three to four times a week. They spoil the children. The younger one in particular prefers the grandparents to me!”
Ensuring that the children speak Tibetan has proved difficult within Melbourne’s sparse Tibetan community. “We speak Tibetan at home, but after going to school they speak more English than Tibetan,” says Dorje. “When they speak amongst themselves in English, we remind them to speak Tibetan, [because] they can speak English anytime.”
A monk also teaches the younger ones Tibetan, which they thoroughly enjoy, adds Dorje.
Raising children in the West brings more material benefits, but this also poses challenges Dorje never encountered before. “There is lots of stuff in the West, but kids get bored very quickly,” he says. “Back home, small things like playing soccer made us very happy. We were happy with whatever we had. But here – every year new things are coming. They were happy with their tape recorder, but now they want an iPod. And there are clothes, labels … it’s just too much. They take things for granted.”
In India these things are considered a luxury, explains Dorje. “And here it’s like a necessity. When I was young, we would go to His Holiness’s temple in Dharamsala and hang out with little money. We still got by and had a great time without too much money…”
[This story also includes interviews with Tibetans in Australia, Spain and the US]