The Gift of an Education

Khando Kyi '12 was nominated by her fellow Davis UWC Scholars to speak at the Annual Celebration Dinner. Khando thanked Shelby Davis and Middlebury for her education.

Listen to Khando's remarks:

Good evening to all. My name is Khando Kyi. I come from a nomadic family in the eastern part of Tibet, which is called Kham, one of the three traditional provinces of Tibet. Until I was about ten years old, for me, my world revolved around my parents, my three older sisters and our animals. But in 1995 my parents decided to give up on the nomadic life, and move to the capital city, Lhasa.

Life in the City of Lhasa
Though I was only a little girl, I could tell that life was much different in the city. I would no longer run after the animals. I would instead, go out to the supermarkets and collect cardboards. We would use the cardboards to cook our meals. My parents would go out and sell handicrafts, such as necklaces and bracelets—which they still do today.

It was during my spare time in the city, when I first met many other kids my age, who went to school. Every morning they would head out to the school with their little backpacks, and every late afternoon, they would sit around in the courtyard to do their homework. I was deeply fascinated with their daily activities, and would often watch them do their homework. While observing them, I envied them. I wished to go to school just like them. I did not want to collect cardboards anymore.

Desire for an Education
After bearing the thought for a while, I decided to tell my mother. One day, after she came home, I gathered enough courage to tell her, “Mom, I want to go to school like the other kids!” Though she did not give me a clear answer on the spot, she must have thought about it for a while. One day, she said to me, “You said that you wanted to go to school. But as you know we cannot afford to send you to a school. But, if you really want to go to school, there is a way. You will have to go to India and study there.” I was too naïve and innocent to understand fully the gravity of her proposal. I was so happy that I was going to a school. I did not care much about whether it was a school nearby our home or a school in India. I had no idea that India is a different country, and that it is thousands of miles away from Tibet.

Journey to India
In August of 1996, I was sent to India with other Tibetans who were escaping. I was so brave and so sure of my decision to leave home, until a van came to fetch me in the middle of the night. And then, I started to cry and begged my parents not to send me away. But it was too late. The time had come for me to leave all my beloved ones behind, and embark on a journey that would forever change the course of my life. I still remember that night, sixteen years ago, when I saw my sisters’ and father’s face for the last time.

As I grew up at the Tibetan Children Village School in India, I learned to appreciate the sacrifice my parents made. They wanted to educate at least one of their four daughters. I was sent away to India, so that I could attain an education. Thus the price paid for my education is the last sixteen years of our family separation. As the situation inside Tibet intensifies, it is impossible to predict the time when we will be reunited. Enduring the pain of sending her youngest daughter away, today mother proudly says, “education once acquired can neither be stolen nor be robbed off you.”

The Red Cross Nordic United World College
My life took another turn when I got the scholarship to study at Red Cross Nordic United World College. At UWC, I experienced so many positive challenges that would influence me tremendously. I encountered people who encouraged me to think outside the box, and study various issues at hand, from many different angles. Specifically in regard to the Tibet Issue, I met so many people with very diverse views and understandings. Most importantly, I had the rare privilege to meet students from China, who further consolidated my understanding of my country’s fight for freedom. Though there were ups and downs in our relationship, I became very close to two Chinese friends, whom I love so dearly. As our friendship grew stronger, we sowed the seeds of mutual trust. We learned more about each other’s lives, and the struggles we overcame on the way.

Unexpected Friendships
When I told my Chinese friends about my family, our separation from each other for more than a decade, and the impossibility of our reunion—due to the political sensitivity between Tibet and China—I saw tears of genuine compassion in their eyes. Subsequently they did their best to find ways to express their sympathies and empathies for me.

Whenever it was the time for vacation, they would express how sincerely they wished that they could take me with them to their families or bring a letter to my mother in Tibet. They encouraged me to hold firmly onto my convictions, and never to lose my hope. A hope that one day, there will be peace and justice in Tibet, and that the Tibetan diaspora dispersed around the world will be able to return home, free of fear. But I would be hiding the truth, if I were to end the story of our friendship here. Because the strength of our friendship was tested in the most painful way, just a few months before we graduated from UWC.

Political Turmoil in Tibet
In 2008, when China hosted the Olympics, there was a nationwide protest in Tibet against the Chinese rule. The time was intense and lives were lost on both sides. Personally, it was period of immense struggle. I worried about my family in Tibet. I could not call them for almost a month. I was not sure if my family was safe or not. But when my focus became too centered on my family’s safety, a corrosive guilt crept in. I would question myself, “How can I be so selfish to think only about my family’s safety, when so many other Tibetans are risking their lives on the street?”

Amidst all the tension and chaos, Tibet once again became the focus of the world. The whole world suddenly started to heed to what was happening on the Roof of the World. Our small UWC world in the middle of nowhere also got wrapped up in the discussion of the situation inside Tibet. But the ones who were affected the most by the situation were the Tibetan and the Chinese students. There was a dividing force that was pulling us further apart from each other. There was friction in our friendship. There were tears. There was anger. There was fear. There were disagreements. Two sides of the story thus clashed. Not long after, I realized that I had distanced myself from my Chinese friends. Though they are the last people to be blamed for what was going on inside Tibet, my sense of reasoning had lost its battle to overwhelming emotions.

UWC Tibet-China Presentation
As the situation further deteriorated in Tibet, it became clear that we could no longer circumvent the reality. Therefore, my Tibetan friend and I met with the Chinese students. Only after several attempts, we agreed to work together on a presentation on the Tibet-China conflict, and present it to the entire school.

Though it is hard to tell how much good our presentation did in solving the Tibet-China conflict, we had many people, who appreciated our efforts. In fact, it was the first time at RCNUWC when the Tibet-China conflict was brought up as a topic for formal political discussion. After the presentation, among all the people who came to see me, there were my two good Chinese friends. I appreciated their effort to mend our friendship. Though we went in different directions after UWC, our friendship has remained intact.

The Gift of an Education 
Though I might have lived a rather solitary life, away from home and family, my fate has compensated me in the best possible ways. I met the kindest people, from different corners of the world. I have friends, families and teachers, who brought so much warmth, joy and hope into my life. And the Davis family is one of the many to name.

Through the gracious generosity of the Davis family and Middlebury College, my dream to pursue a college education came true. Bringing the nomadic tradition to Middlebury campus, I moved from department to department in my first two years here, exploring the best Middlebury had to offer. At the end of my second year, I had made up my mind to channel my focus to the studies of film and media culture.

I have always been intrigued by the power that resides in the film medium—breaking through different barriers to accommodate communications across borders and cultures. Over the course of my four years here, I have tried my hand at developing ideas into stories, and stories into films. Through films, specifically, through documentary films, I hope to tell stories. The stories that have profound learning value for human beings, but are often left untold. Though the uncertainties of life often play games with our plans and goals, I am looking forward to the awaiting future. I am ready to embark on another journey—a journey on the pathway of a filmmaker. I am so grateful for the fate or karma that brought all these great opportunities my way. As my mother said, by affording me an education, Mr. Davis, his family, Middlebury College, RCNUWC and my former school in India, have given me the best gift of my life.

I am more than certain that my friends here at the dinner have many great stories to share, and the same feeling of gratitude to express. On behalf of all of my friends here, I thank you so much, Mr. Shelby Davis, your family and the College. With the education you afforded us, we are ready to march ahead, and further in life. We might bump into unwelcomed speed breakers or fall into unexpected crests, but we will never stop marching on. Remembering your kindness and the light you brought into our individual lives, as well as our families’, we will do our best to replicate your benevolence. We will pass the light onto others as we sail ahead into future. Thank you so much once again!