TRAS Scholarship Fund – Success to Date

The Rinchen Zangpo Society for Spiti Development is a non-government organization registered as a non-profit society with the Government of India, grassroots initiated by the people of Spiti in 1993 and was the first successful non-government organization in the district. The Society was established with a deep commitment to promote and propagate quality education among the poor children of Spiti and neighbouring area. The Society is also dedicated to providing modern educational facilities and to preserving their unique culture and traditions. In general, the Society wants to uplift the living standard for the people of the Spiti valley. Their mission is to offer young Spitians the best possible education as well as spiritual values and particularly to encourage education for girls at all levels.

The Society runs Munsel-ling School, which has approximately five hundred students, a branch school in Kaza with about three hundred students up to Class 5 and the Rewa school in Rongtonga which provides free education for girl children of poor families.

Their selection of students for the TRAS scholarship is based on the financial condition of the student’s family. Each year they receive many applications. In 2013 Rinchen Zangpo selected two students. Each student was awarded $1,000 yearly for three years. Since 2013 TRAS has been able to send $60,000, fifteen students graduated with degrees, and six are still studying.

From 2013 to 2023, four students have graduated with a BA’s, five with a BSc, one with a BSc and a BA in Teaching, one with a BSc in Mathematics, one with her Masters in Anthropology (the first girl in the Spiti valley to study this subject), one with her Master’s in Teaching, one with a Medical degree and one with a degree in Public Administration.

The first two students selected were Tenzin Y. and Tenzin A. Both young women attended Munsel-ling School until Class 10 and the Government School in Dharmsala for Classes 11 and 12. 

Tenzin Y, is from a single parent family in Chicham Village, Spiti. Her dream was to become a teacher and she graduated with her Master’s in teaching in 2017. She is now teaching in her village.

Tenzin A, is from a poor family in Lahoul, Spiti. She also wanted to follow her dream and became a teacher. She graduated in 2016 with a Batchelor’s degree and is now teaching at Munsel-ling school.

Tenzin A teaching at Munsel-ling School

Another young lady, Tashi T. was selected to receive a scholarship in 2015 and graduated with her BA degree and is now teaching in her village of Rangrik.

The Voice of Children (VOC) is based in Uttarakhand, North India and is comprised of two NGO’s, AMAN in Almora and VIMARSH in Nainital. In rural villages, education is often under-valued, and families would prefer that their children remain at home to work. Furthermore, the barriers to education including cost and distance are major deterrents. VOC has solved these issues with their Education Support Centres, Tuition Classes, and Computer Literacy programs and through gaining parental acceptance for the value of education. TRAS has supported the VOC Education Project since 2009. You can read more on the VOC under Projects at

VOC scholarship interviews

Since 2016 TRAS has been able to send $58,000 to the VOC Scholarship Fund, fifteen students have graduated and twelve are continuing their education.

Tanuja T. was one of the first students selected by the VOC in 2016. Tanuja is a resident of Village Dangikhola, Ramra District Almora, Uttarakhand. Her father is a private school teacher, and her mother is a helper at the Aganbadi Center (an integrated child development center). Her family’s income is $120.00US per month. Tanuja has three siblings, and her family could not afford the fees for Tanjula’s post-secondary education. Tanjula passed the entrance exam of Polytechnic in computer science and with the aid of the scholarship was able to enroll and graduated with a degree in Computer Science and Engineering. Tanjula says “I am a high performing girl from an underprivileged background. Through the scholarship program, I had the opportunity to continue my higher studies despite financial constrictions. I am thankful to AMAN and TRAS for my education.”

Tanuja T. with her proud mother and brother
Soni M.

Soni M. is an inspiring individual who is currently pursuing a degree in the Science stream from SSJ University in Almora, with a focus on Chemistry, Botany and Zoology. Despite being a bright student, Soni faced some challenges due to the language transition from Hindi, which was the medium of instruction during her 12th grade studies, to English, which is the language of instruction in her BSc program.

However, Soni’s dedication and hard work helped her overcome the language barrier. She is determined to excel in her studies and make the most of her educational opportunities. Soni’s academic journey began in a small remote village, and now she has moved to the city to pursue her higher education, showing her commitment to achieving her goals.

Apart from her academic pursuits, Soni has a passion for reading books. She understands the importance of education and literacy, which has led her to contribute to her community. Soni is actively involved in the Community Book Club library on a voluntary basis in Almora. This library is supported by the VOC and other like-minded groups, with the aim of providing access to books and educational resources for underprivileged students.

Soni’s story showcases her determination, resilience, and commitment to both persona growth and community service. Despite facing language challenges and coming from a humble background, she is striving to achieve academic success and make a positive impact on society.

Ruchi B.

Ruchi B. was selected in the fall of 2022 by the Voice of Children. Ruchi’s journey from a humble background in the village of Kesta (Daulaghat) to Almora City, where she is pursuing her BSc degree and aspiring to become a teacher, is truly inspiring. Despite facing financial obstacles, Ruchi’s commitment to education and determination to overcome challenges have been remarkable.

Having achieved first division in her intermediate exams from G.G.I. C. Daulaghat Almora, Ruchi’s academic excellence showcased her dedication to her studies and set the foundation for her higher education aspirations. However, with her father working as a farmer to support their family of seven, the financial resources were limited, making it difficult to afford the expenses associated with Ruchi’s education.

Undeterred by the financial constraints, Ruchi sought out a scholarship opportunity to continue her graduation in BSc. Through her connection with the AMAN organization working in her village, she discovered the TRAS-VOC Scholarship program. Ruchi confirmed her eligibility and started receiving the scholarship in 2022, which alleviated the burden of educational expenses. Her proactive approach and resourcefulness in finding support demonstrate her determination to overcome financial obstacles. Currently Ruchi is in her 3rd semester, studying for her BSc Biology.

The Dekyiling Tibetan Handicraft Centre – In 2016, the first two students selected from the Dekyiling Tibetan Handicraft Center were from poor and needy Tibetan families and had been sponsored by TRAS for many years for their basic schooling.

They each received a three-year scholarship and graduated with a BA in 2019.  

Tenzin T. wrote “Your financial aid has made my educational journey easier and possible. I know my gratitude will never suffice for your kindness because I owe you, my future. However, this is all I can say, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart and I assure you that your help and kindness will never go to waste.”

To date, TRAS has been able to support thirteen students with a total of $33,000 and seven students have graduated and six are continuing with their studies.

In the words of Tashi W. (BA, third year), “I am elated to share with you that I scored good marks (70%) in my previous exams, and I will keep trying to do my best in my coming days. I think I am very lucky … I am very thankful to you for your kind help.”

We are also very thankful to Tashi, as it was her hard work and dedication (not luck!) that led to her success!

“Democracy and HH the Dalai Lama”

by Karma Tensum, founder and executive director of the Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation based in Helena, Montana. TRAS has funded school projects in India jointly with the TCEF.

The Tibetan refugee story is fascinating – full of human dramas of immense suffering. It is also an inspirational one – and also a story of overcoming those challenges, surviving, and even thriving in exile. A fair amount has also been recorded and written about those facets, but today, I wanted to broach this remarkable story of Tibetan democracy in exile. Today, September 2, is Tibetan Democracy Day. 

Not enough is written about this and not enough credit is given to HH, The Dalai Lama, and the early Tibetan leadership for ushering in what must have been massive shifts in thinking to embrace the trends of the times and to embrace democracy. We have to place this in our historical context. We had a unique theocracy for centuries where the Dalai Lamas ruled and shared the powers with the powerful monasteries and aristocracy. Yet, within the very first years in exile, while tackling all the other problems of rehabilitation, His Holiness and the early Tibetan leadership came up with a draft constitution for a future free Tibet in March 1963.

HH The Dalai Lama

This draft constitution then became the foundation for Tibetan democracy in exile. With time, the democratic process and institutions were set up and grew. Perhaps a good starting point to write about this would be the Tibetan parliament in exile. It had elected representatives from the three main chokes or provinces of Tibet – U Tsang, Dhotoe, and Dhomey, plus representatives from the major sects of Tibetan Buddhism. It elected its own speaker and deputy speaker, debated Tibetan issues, passed legislation, and functioned as any other democratic parliament – all within the constraints of being in exile and operating on a much smaller canvas. 

One of the most impressive aspects of Tibetan democracy in exile is that we practiced it at the grassroots level. Perhaps we drew inspiration from the local village panchayats spread all across India. So, within each Tibetan settlement or community, we had a locally elected assembly or body – often with a chairperson and vice chair. The local assembly, especially its office bearers, would work closely with settlement heads appointed by the Tibetan administration in exile in many ways – if there is a 10th March demonstration to be organized or even an election to be conducted. Knowing this short history of Tibetan democracy and how nascent it is made this aspect of grassroots democracy all the more remarkable. 

In June 1991, the Tibetan parliament in exile adopted The Charter of the Tibetans in Exile. Based on the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights spirit, the Charter guarantees all Tibetans equality before the law and enjoyment of rights and freedom without discrimination based on sex, religion, race, language, and social origin. It provides for a clear separation of power among the three organs of the administration: judiciary, legislature, and executive.

The Kashak, or Executive branch, was headed by HH The Dalai Lama till 2011. That year, His Holiness voluntarily devolved power to pave the way for elections for a new executive head. Even before fully devolving power in 2000, His Holiness took measures to step back and initiate actions to bring some genuine democratic initiatives. In that year, His Holiness suggested that the Tibetan people in exile should elect their own Prime Minister. 

Samdhong Rinpoche was always the front-runner. He is one of the most well-known Tibetan public figures. As the speaker for the Tibetan parliament in exile for many years, he had done an outstanding job shaping how business was conducted in the house. In July 2001, Samdhong Rinpoche was duly elected Kalon Tripa, or Prime Minister, for five years. He easily won a second term. 

His Eminence Samdhong Rinpoche

Not enough has been written about the wisdom and nobility of this act from His Holiness to voluntarily step down and devolve power in 2011. I’m in absolute awe, and I write this in the context of our times when we see leaders go to extraordinary lengths to hold power, keep power, and stay in the limelight. And, here was His Holiness – the most popular Tibetan leader ever, who would have won any Tibetan election hands down, stepping down quietly, with grace and dignity – all with the genuine belief that this was in the best interest of the fledgling Tibetan democracy. 

There was much buzz and excitement about the election of a new Tibetan head in 2011. A young, charismatic Tibetan leader who checked all the boxes suddenly loomed into the limelight just months before the elections. Here came Lobsang Sangay – a young, dynamic Tibetan youth leader with a Fullbright scholarship at Harvard University throwing his hat into the ring. He blew away all the opposition – several veterans of the Tibetan administration in exile and became our next prime minister or Kalon Tripa.

In his second year, instead of the term Kalon Tripa or the prime minister, the termSikyong was adopted. The word Sikyong comes from our history. When the Dalai Lama was young, some regents would hold political authority until the Dalai Lama came of age and assumed control. Sikyong – or political power holder- was a term used for that person. In our democracy in exile, the executive head was now referred to by that term. So Lobsang Sangay became our firstSikyong in our modern democratic setup. Lobsang Sangay also easily won a second term and was Sikyong till 2021.

Dr, Lobsang Sangay

At the time of writing this, Penpa Tsering – former speaker of the Tibetan assembly in exile, is the new Sikyong.

Democracy and elections spread to non-governmental organizations also. In exile, two prominent organizations that readily come to mind are the Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Association. Both of them are impressive. Aside from a primary central body, they have regional chapters in almost all areas where Tibetans reside. Office bearers at all levels are duly elected through an impressive democratic process. Within a few decades, democracy as a way of life, thinking, and doing has been firmly entrenched among Tibetans in exile and in diaspora. This is remarkable because we don’t have a history of democratic institutions and practices. We embraced it with enthusiasm in exile! 

Karma Tensum, Executive Director

Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to helping preserve the Tibetan culture, educating children in exile and being of service to Tibetan elders.

Robert Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund

The Robert Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund was established by his wife, Marthena in March 2023

Robert Edward Fitzpatrick was born in 1945 on a farm near Vankleek Hill, Ontario.  His mother was a teacher and was widowed with six children to raise and a farm to run. Robert learned early the values of hard work and helping others—and he had the energy for it!  He studied at Laurentian University and later, he and his wife, Marthena were married in 1973.  They moved to Vancouver in 1984 and Robert ran his own construction company until his retirement in 2000. 

Robert and Marthena became enamored by the effective projects TRAS were involved in and became regular supporters. Marthena knew that creating a memorial fund would be a wonderful way to help support TRAS, and to leave a legacy for Robert and what he cared about in this world. Those who knew him variously described Robert as a man “whose smile made you feel as if you were just the person he wanted to see”, and “a good man with a good heart”. 

Marthena writes “He will always be missed. Thanks to TRAS for this splendid opportunity to commemorate Robert and the causes he supported.”

If you would like to donate to the Robert Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund to support Tibetan youth you can do so by:

  • Credit card online via CanadaHelps
    CanadaHelps is a registered charity that supports Canadian charities by providing a platform for online donations.
  • Bank e-transfer to and include a note that your donation is for the Robert Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund.
  • Credit card by phoning the TRAS office at 604-224-5133 (the phone line is monitored regularly).
  • Cheque made out to TRAS. Please note “Robert Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund” on the bottom of the cheque, and mail it to:

    1183 Melville St 
    Vancouver, BC, V6E 2X5