Bridging the Virtual Gap: Lessons From Central Tibetan Administration

December 16 was an unusually cold winter day in Lucknow. In a year that had tested us in myriad ways, the frosty weather added to the lack of warmth generated by social distancing. This year our AIF Clinton Fellowship cohort missed out on the cheery interpersonal connections during the fellowship orientation and for me, the work from home protocol was implied with my host organization. I wondered how I will build a rapport with different stakeholders so as to work effectively with them to create the impact that I aim to. I worried about not being able to fully immerse myself in the Tibetan culture, which is a quintessential part of this fellowship project for me.

The interim solutions that I came up with involved making time for social video calls along with the usual work ones. Through these calls, I attempt to get to know the people that I will be working with at a more humane level and as they narrate their stories, I feel more connected to them and to the community. I have observed people’s body language shift to a more open stance, a glimmer in their eyes and smiles spreading on their faces, as they see that I am interested in knowing about the lives that they have led as members of the community. It has instantly broken the ice and made even a Zoom call seem personal. 

Shivangi on a video call with two female members of the Women's Empowerment Desk at CTA.
Social and work calls – getting to know the people as members of the Tibetan community.

However, what my host organization did surpassed my efforts by miles and left me truly humbled. On December 16, I received a huge parcel from the Social and Resource Development Fund (SARD) office of the Central Tibetan Administration. The same day my supervisor communicated that last year, to welcome the incoming AIF Clinton Fellows, they organized a social gathering where they met members of the CTA including the stakeholders for their fellowship projects. Since the same wouldn’t be possible this year, they decided on sending us a welcome kit. They shipped these kits from Dharamshala to our home towns, Lucknow and Jamshedpur.

Brochures, books and other educational material, flyers, incense, stickers, a porcelain cup with CTA logo, Tibetan prayer flags, a pen pouch and notebook diary in traditional Tibetan print, personal protective masks, and banners of the CTA.
The contents of my welcome kit sent by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) from Dharamshala to Lucknow.

What I received left me speechless! I was completely overwhelmed with emotions and heartfelt gratitude. The humble tag of ‘Welcome Kit’ does a poor job of describing Santa’s gift sack that was delivered straight to my home address. From the flag of Free Tibet to traditional Tibetan prayer flags to handcrafted incense and handmade paper diaries to coffee mug, masks, cloth bags and bookmarks – my parcel of happiness and love from CTA contained all this and more. There were two letters addressed to me – one from my Supervisor and one from the Interim Director of SARD – welcoming me to CTA and wishing me good luck on the journey ahead. It went beyond the goods in the parcel and to a feeling of being understood as was evident from the reading material enclosed. My host organization had preempted my research needs for the fellowship project and sent official records and books which I would have requested from them in the near future. 

Book titles include: SARD Annual Report 2019-20, Training Manual on Understanding Gender, Gender Based Violence and Child Sexual Abuse, Status of Tibetan Women and Girls in India and Nepal, Training Manual on Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace, Tibetan Diaspora Community Outside of South Asia.
The books enclosed in the welcome kit that would be needed for research for my fellowship project.

I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I could barely string words together cohesively to thank my supervisor for their unparalleled thoughtfulness, generosity and kindness. Here I was – a remote foreign worker deployed to work with them for a few months and they didn’t think twice before taking the pains to carefully pack and send this parcel my way, making me feel cherished and valued. They were under no obligation whatsoever to do anything of the sort and it was a gesture straight from their hearts. The magnanimity spoke volumes about the values they believe in as an organization and the faith they bestow upon those who work for them. My desolate heart asked, “Do I even deserve this?” as I gasped in wonder and awe! 

Close-up of Free Tibet bookmarks and sticker, Tibetan prayer flags and coffee mug.

My takeaway from the experience, once my emotions settled, was that while it is easy to complain about the distance generated by COVID-19 safety norms, it is also banal. There are numerous ways in which we can take this opportunity to show people that we care. When all seems bleak, even a meek source of light appears to be magical. Ice breaking and rapport building are not restricted by these safety limitations just as human relationships find new ways to flow, like water charting its course through multifarious terrains. It is the thought that one puts into it that counts. If life gives you the chance to be in the supervisory role, make sure you value and cherish your employees as much as my Supervisor, Mr. Tenzin Norsang, does. And just like my host organization, the Central Tibetan Administration, make kindness the center you operate from.

Shivangi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. For her fellowship project, she is integrating gender education and entrepreneurship modules into the school curricula for the Tibetan refugee community. Shivangi brings in diverse personal, academic and professional experiences to her work towards achieving gender equality. Having focused on providing gender sensitivity training and education matching, Shivangi runs her own social initiative called Drishtikona - Changing Perspectives, volunteers as a speaker for SpeakIn and as a Global Shaper for the World Economic Forum, and a Climate Ambassador for the International Youth Committee. Through her experiences, Shivangi has gained relevant skills including data collection and analysis; planning and strategizing; research and documentation, and more. Her personal and professional aims align with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals especially, UN SDG 5. It is her mission in life to make the world a more inclusive place for everyone and she is passionate about human rights and mental health.

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One thought on “Bridging the Virtual Gap: Lessons From Central Tibetan Administration

  1. There are very important lessons to be learnt here. Very well expressed by AIF Clinton Fellow Miss Shivangi Singh. Every organization should be as kind and welcoming towards their employees as CTA. This is heartwarming to see.

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