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Through their eyes: Hastings woman learns Tibetan plight from those who have suffered

Kelli Kenyon is pictured with one of her students, Darge, from the Tibetan Hope Center in Dharamshala. Kenyon was a volunteer and had conversations with Tibetans to help improve their English skills.

Kelli Kenyon had a decision to make. A Hastings native studying at St. Catherine’s University, she had to choose a course to fulfill the school’s Global Search for Justice requirement. It was a general education requirement, not related to her neuroscience major, but it led her to change her mind about what she wanted to do with her life after college.

Kenyon had a choice between two classes. She chose one called Spiritual Voices of Dissent, which had an opportunity to study in India. The three-week summer course put Kenyon and her classmates in the cities of Delhi, Dharamasala and Kausani to learn about the life and death of Gandhi, the exile of Tibetans, opportunities for women and social justice.

Kenyon knew she was going to experience something new and different.

“I expected it to be a huge culture shock,” she said.

But the trip taught her so much more than just how the people in India live. She was struck by the poverty there, she said. A lot of people need help there, she said, and they were getting help from American aid organizations. But it was the peoples’ attitudes that stood out. Although they were poor, they were some of the happiest people Kenyon has ever met, she said.

Another thing she noticed was how well versed the people there were in global politics and economics. She compared it to the U.S., where many people act isolated from the rest of the world and are solely concerned about themselves, she said.

“It was really eye-opening being in India,” she said.

It was the story of what happened to Tibet and its people that really affected Kenyon. Tibet, once an autonomous nation, was taken over by China about 50 years ago during the rule of Mao Zedong. During the conflict, the Dalai Lama fled to India, as did many Tibetans. Many of them still live in exile in India, Kenyon said. Some prisoners were taken by the Chinese government at the time and were made slaves.

Kenyon and her classmates got to talk with two Tibetans who lived the experience. Ama Adhe had been a prisoner in China and wrote her memoir so she could share her story. Now 85, she lives in India. Her story moved Kenyon to tears when she heard it, Kenyon said.

Another Tibetan author she met, Tenzin Tsundue, was a freedom fighter who was arrested at one point for three months just for holding a Tibetan flag.

“Meeting these people who lived it – it is just incredible,” Kenyon said.

The new knowledge of the situation in Tibet has made Kenyon redirect her plans so she can help make a difference.

“Now that I know, I feel a huge responsibility to let others know,” she said.

While she’ll keep studying neuroscience because of her passion for the human brain, she’s not sure she can see herself working in a lab all the time anymore, she said.

“There’s so many people who need help beyond America,” she said.

While she was still in India, Kenyon started asking the people she met how she could help. She was told that there’s already humanitarian support, but so far there’s no political support for Tibet, largely because of trade relations between the U.S. and China. So for her part, she’s focused on one simple thing: being a voice for justice.

“The biggest thing that I can do right now is speak,” she said.

Her hope is that she’ll be able to make more people aware of what’s going on in China, Tibet and India, and that increased awareness will lead people to push the U.S. to act.

Kenyon has two more years of college left. She said she’s considering getting into some sort of non-governmental organization work.