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18 Years for Song and Dance

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18 Years for Song and Dance



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18 Years for Song and Dance

In 1965 a two-year-old Tibetan boy was carried by his pregnant mother over the Himalayas to the safety of a refugee camp in southwestern India.

Twenty-three years later that same woman, Sonam Dekyi, the mother of Tibetan musicologist Ngawang Choephel, flew from India to the United States. For the first time in her 60 years she boarded an airplane to appeal to politicians, ambassadors, college students and anyone else who might help her son.

After spending a year at Middlebury College in Vermont as a Fulbright scholar studying musical notation and filmmaking, Ngawang journeyed to Tibet. He was arrested by the Chinese government, accused of espionage, and given an 18 year sentence. His crime? Videotaping Tibetans singing and dancing: documenting Tibetan culture.

During the course of Sonam’s stay in the Boston area, I drove her to the Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusetts . She accepted their Courage of Conscience award for her son. The interview I taped with Sonam can be viewed at photojournalist Eugene Louie’s page on Dirck Halstead’s Digital Journalist website.

I am thrilled to report that five years later during the spring of 2002, Ngawang re-traced his mother’s journey to the Peace Abbey. His release after enduring six long years of harsh conditions within the Chinese prison system only came about because many of us spoke up and protested on his behalf. Many others have not been as fortunate.

For more information:
Amnesty International:
The International Campaign for Tibet:

Ngawang is continuing his documentation of Tibetan culture from his home in New York City. The film he started when he was arrested should be completed sometime soon.




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