Bir is in Suja, a small village that is 50km south-east of Dharamsala, North India. It is home to Indian farmers, and since the 1960s, Tibetan refugees.
Tibetan families arrived mostly from the Kham region in eastern Tibet, and were given land for houses. SOS Children has been supporting vulnerable Tibetans in the region since 1993.
Tibetans living in exile
With many Tibetans moving to the region, the area became known as the Bir Tibetan Settlement (or Bir Tibetan Colony) and includes religious and cultural sites. Having been established since the 1960s, many living here were born in the settlement. Some children are sent to the area from Tibet, as their parents know their children will get a Tibetan education here. However, this can also result in children growing up in Bir without parental care.
Bir has beautiful surroundings, and many tourists visit to see the religious temples and monasteries, and to gain a sense of the Tibetan way of life in exile. These Tibetan make a living from the tourist industry: in restaurants, hotels and selling handicrafts and carpets. In the Winter, many Tibetan settlers travel through India and sell traditional winter clothes.
High unemployment affects families
As more refugees arrive from Tibet, there are growing pressures on existing resources and infrastructure. The Tibetan culture is protected and promoted by the Central Tibetan Administration, which runs schools and healthcare centres. It also helps the unemployed by offering training courses and small loans.
Despite these efforts, unemployment is at a high level. Consequently, many families struggle to provide for their children. Poverty is an added pressure and stress for families who have often suffered repression and brutality in Tibet, which forced them into exile.
What do we do in Bir?
In the early 1990s SOS Children was asked to support Tibetan children and young people who had fled to Dharamsala. We started by building a school, and later an SOS Children’s Village. Many funds came from Tibetans, including a special donation by the Dalai Lama.
Due to the large number of refugees, our Children's Villages for Tibetans usually have more and larger SOS families than in other Villages. At SOS Children’s Village in Bir, there are 20 SOS families that provide a new loving home for children who have lost parental care. Some are orphaned, while others have become separated from their families after fleeing Tibet.
Young children attend the SOS nursery, and once a little older go to the SOS primary and secondary schools. Our schools in Bir provide education in line with their Tibetan beliefs.
When the children become teenagers, they can move into an SOS Youth Home. here they are supported to complete vocational training or higher education. At each stage, they are helped to become independent young adults.
After fleeing Tibet and arriving in North India, children with no-one else need your support. Will you help them to grow up in a loving SOS Family by sponsoring a child today?