Local store aids Tibetan orphans

Sylvia Fireman has opened a new store to raise funds for Manjushree Vidyapith Orphanage in Tawang, located in the foothills of the Himalayas in northeaster India.

The all-volunteer store, at 2252 Hwy. 20, is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday each week, offering merchandise crafted by refugee Tibetans.

Fireman’s sister, Nancy Fireman, established the nonprofit Tibetan Living Communities, which is dedicated to helping Tibetan refugees fleeing persecution, and opened a store in downtown Corvallis during the Christmas season.

Nancy Fireman is busy now helping her father, Sylvia Fireman said, so she asked the TLC board and has opened the store in Sweet Home, with plans to keep it open indefinitely.

“We did very well in Corvallis last year,” Fireman said. Seventeen children were sponsored while the store was open, and more were added later. TLC is committed to finding sponsors for eight more children. Another organization in the Midwest is committed to another group of children.

Everything in the store was made by Tibetan refugees and brought to Oregon by monks, she said. Everything the store makes will be sent to the orphanage, which is in the process of building a new structure, including a kitchen, dining hall, a study hall and cultural center.

Merchandise includes every-thing from Tibetan flags and t-shirts to “singing bowls” and wall hangings.

TLC has also funded projects at the Rabgayling Tibetan Refugee Settlement in southern India, including a solar hot water system, an electricity generator for the hospital, a playground for the preschool and medical supplies. It also has funded a solar hot water system at the orphanage.

To raise funds for these projects, monks from the Gyudmed Monastery created sand mandalas; presented dharma talks, guided meditations, prayer ceremonies and art crafts; and sold Tibetan handicrafts during tours of the United States in 2002 and 2003 and Russia in 2004.

“My sister was taking the monks on the tour where they do their mandalas,” Fireman said. TLC and the store grew out of that.

In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet under Chinese rule into exile in India, according to TLC. Thousands have followed and continue to flee systematic persecution.

After more than 50 years, great poverty exists in most Tibetan refugee settlements, according to TLC. Tibetan refugees in India have a difficult time earning a living in an already poverty-stricken host country. The first refugees are now old and must rely on their children and other family members who have a problem supporting even themselves.

The orphanage is home to 108 children, including 80 orphans, 18 destitute children and 10 physically disabled children. The orphanage runs a school through the fifth grade. It started with one building, eight rooms and 17 orphans.

The store is located in a building owned by John Cvitanich, who is providing the space free of charge.

“I hope they make some money for the cause,” he said.