While my previous posts have been covering the environmental degradation and modernization in Tibet, this post will cover the waste management problems that is a direct result of modernization and project I plan on implementing in Tibet to address this issue. Currently there are no waste management infrastructure in Tibet; it is a very pressing issue that has immediate affects on the environment and communities environment of the Tibetan grasslands.
While rapid modernization is taking place in Tibet, flocks of tourists and consumeristic goods are coming in, too. Plastic snack cover wrappers and soda cans discarded by tourists and locals are now a very visible part of the Tibetan grasslands as my friend Yishin Khoo, who traveled to Tibet this past summer, mentioned.
Waste Management is a serious problem affecting the public and environmental health of Tibetan rural areas in China. It is a very pressing issue as Tibetan areas are facing rapid modernization and the locals are not exposed to the consequences of mismanagement of proper waste disposal. These areas do not have any facility for waste management; the current option is either burn or bury, which seriously degrades the land. It also raises a serious environmental concern. This causes many problems but the most serious with the heaviest repercussion one is contamination of drinking water sources because, as I mentioned in my last post, Tibet is the headwater of billions living downstream all over Asia.
Since Tibet is a very large land mass and the population is spread out, the government states that it is difficult for them to set up waste collection system to these remote areas. This fact strongly urged me to lead a service trip to Tibet to build resources such as waste receptacles and teach the community on proper management and composting. This is a very urgent need in the local Tibetan communities and they do not have much resources to create and raise awareness about the issue.
- In order to lead this trip, I will be partnering with Conscious Journeys, a travel agency which operates under the Tibetan Village Project, a non-profit, non-political organization dedicated to promoting sustainable development while preserving the rich cultural heritage of Tibet through Tibetan agency in a bottom-up approach. Most of their projects are small-scale initiatives that work directly with Tibetan villagers through project-coordinators chosen from each village who know the local situation, understand the culture, and speak the language. They have been running trips for western tourist groups for the past ten years. Conscious Journey is the brainchild of Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia; Weatherhead also continues to serve as an advisor and financial sponsor for it.
Working with Tibetan Village Project will help us accomplish our team goals because TVP is very well connected in the Tibetan areas since they are part of the local community and have been working together for the past decade. TVP’s goal in giving agency to the Tibetans is very similar to our vision and once the participants from the service trip set up the foundations for waste management, TVP will ensure the longevity of the project.
Team members will be expected to commit to weekly meetings and participate with the core commitment of Plateau Engage at Columbia University to the ideals of service and engagement. Plateau Engage works to develop new opportunities for education and training, as well as supporting initiatives that advance the challenges of community revitalization and sustainability on the Tibetan plateau. Participants will work on developing a shared understanding and engage directly with these challenges to strengthen communities on the Tibetan plateau. These efforts will enable us to create a portal for developing new partnerships and synergies in our community to address these issues.
The core ideal of the trip will be to promote the welfare of the public good by moving beyond the boundaries of separated communities through collective action to influence others while cultivating shared understandings, cultural awareness, using critical and integrative thinking. I want to address the immediate need within the community for long-term, sustainable solution to the challenge by working with the locals and fostering their agency.
The service trip will be directly publicized to the students in the East Asian, Environmental Science, and Sustainable Development departments, and will also be added as blurbs in a few mailing lists. Team members will first fill out an application and go through an interview in which Professor Barnett and the trip leaders will do the selection process. Participants will be assessed on their commitment to service, sustainable development, environmental/social justice, and East Asia; also on how they will incorporate the experience they will gain from the trip to their academic pursuits. Every participants will be mandated to commit to every meeting, which will prepare the participants to develop cultural competency and understand the local issue.