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Activity Report 2008–2009


In early March of 2008, a wave of civil unrest shook the Tibetan Plateau, claiming several lives. Only two months later, this was followed by one of the most devastating humanitarian disasters to affect the region in decades. The 2008 Sichuan Earthquake struck Ngawa Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on May 12, leaving nearly 70,000 dead and another 18,000 missing.

In the aftermath of these events, the Foundation encountered challenges in responding to these humanitarian crises. An online journalist, W. Engdahl, published an article in which he accused Trace Foundation of assisting in the instigation of the 2008 riots in Lhasa. Although we successfully pursued and won a legal case in Germany for libel and he later retracted these false statements, severe damage to the Foundation’s reputation had already been done.

Despite these unprecedented circumstances, we have pressed ahead in our mission, continuing to adapt to new situations and relying on the considerable experience of our team to assist our partners in the field in achieving their goals. The challenges we encountered and overcame strengthened our resilience and encouraged us to broaden our capacity, develop new tools, and continue to consider new approaches to development. Above all, these trying times highlighted the Foundation’s greatest attributes: our ability to come together in times of crisis and the depth of our commitment to the work we undertake.

In the past two years, the Foundation sought both to deepen our team members’ understanding of their specific areas and expand their skills, allowing for innovative approaches to the many challenges in the field. Project staff received training on subjects ranging from project cycle management to computer skills and videography. To further understand changes on the Tibetan Plateau, we established our Research Fellowship, a new program to expand research on issues critical to Tibetan culture and the social and economic development of the region. This project not only develops new knowledge about Tibetan areas, it provides critical support for individuals who might not otherwise find opportunities to pursue research in the field.

Through our grants and projects, Trace Foundation reaffirmed its continuing commitment to education, health care, rural development, and local culture in Tibetan areas of China. In 2008 and 2009, we supported 1,136 students from the kindergarten to the postgraduate level, and trained an additional 25 teachers, as well as provided vocational training to 150 villagers in rural areas. Support also went to thirty-three primary, middle, and high schools, providing necessary school materials and texts in Tibetan and school and classroom supplies. Trace Foundation supported the publication and distribution of 35,660 Tibetan texts, including contemporary fiction and nonfiction, as well as the filming, production, and distribution of three Tibetan documentary films. In supporting local rural development, Trace Foundation supported the construction of 6 local health facilities and community projects that utilize local resources and cultural knowledge.

At our headquarters in New York, we have continued our effort to further the conversation on development and culture in contemporary Tibet. Through the Foundation’s Library, Latse, we provide a unique collection of materials focused on contemporary Tibetan culture. In 2008 and 2009, Latse Library significantly increased their holdings, including initiating collection of Bhutanese-language materials. The collection was further enriched through the donations of the personal papers and documents of the Taktser Rinpoche, Thupten Jigme Norbu, a former professor at Indiana University, and the elder brother of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

Through open events the Foundation sought to engage academics, development professionals, and the general public in a discussion on the current state of Tibetan culture and development on the Plateau. In 2008 and 2009, we offered a variety of lectures, exhibitions, and workshops. These events covered a range of topics, from education and land use to momos and butter sculptures. In 2008, we launched our first lecture series, Minority Language in Today’s Global Society. The first three events of the series brought together noted academics and development professionals to discuss the preservation and development of minority languages around the globe, with a special focus on the Tibetan case.

In 2008, we launched a new website, designed to ultimately host a comprehensive history of the Foundation’s work. The website was designed to increase our engagement with the public, as well as to further spread awareness about the Foundation’s work and Tibetan culture. In addition, the website allows greater access to the resources available at Trace Foundation, and provides information on upcoming events and on-going projects.

In 2008 and 2009, Trace Foundation made a total investment of over $6 million in the future of Tibetan communities. Through the development of resources at home, and our grants and projects on the Tibetan Plateau, Trace Foundation is supporting the growth and sustainability of a vibrant culture. It is our hope that our efforts in 2008 and 2009 in the areas of education, culture, health care, and rural development will continue to benefit the Tibetan people for many years into the future.