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A book of photographs taken by Tibetan refugees in Nepal. The accompanying text, "The Plight of Tibetans in Nepal", is by Mikel Dunham.
60 backers pledged $7,047 to help bring this project to life.

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GENESIS AND PROJECT AIM OF BOOK

Caught in Nepal is a photography book that documents the daily lives of Tibetan refugees stranded in Nepal. The photographs were taken exclusive by Tibetan refugees. 

The first step of the project began three years ago, when I traveled to the settlement camps and distributed ten inexpensive digital cameras. None of the recipients had ever owned cameras and only three exhibited any knowledge or experience with photographic equipment. Expertise was far less important to me than my volunteers’ daily access to the economic, social and spiritual challenges encountered by the Tibetan Diaspora. 

CONTEXT

After 20 years of close association with the refugee community, I can say, without hesitation, that – except for the infirm and elderly, who are too feeble to start new lives -- I do not know of one Tibetan stranded in Nepal who would remain in Nepal, if he or she were given the opportunity to move elsewhere. Ironically, few Nepalis -- even those Nepalis who live in close proximity to the Tibetans -- really understand this.

The international community is similarly misguided. Westerners who travel to Nepal, for instance: They visit the main Tibetan Buddhist hubs; they photograph the beautiful stupas, the Tibetan prayer flags, the devout followers; they hear the chants of lamas; they smell the incense; they purchase Tibetan Buddhist paintings, statues and souvenirs and interact with Tibetan vendors; and, finally, they return to their native countries with the impression that the Tibetan community in Nepal is economically thriving, that Tibetans have an easy relationship with the Nepali people and, above all,  that Tibetan refugees – unlike their brothers in Chinese-occupied-Tibet – are free to worship without State censorship or intervention. 


From a Tibetan point of view, nothing could be further from the truth. Tibetans have no legal status in Nepal. They are not allowed to own property or their own businesses and therefore lack the foundation to improve their opportunities. They are not allowed to register the births or marriages that take place within their families. Their children are not allowed to attend Nepali schools. 

The refugees no longer hope to be able to return to Tibet, but without the requisite papers to establish their identities, they find it nearly impossible to get the visa or exit permits that would allow them to begin new lives in other countries. In short, they are stuck. Nepal is a dead end from which the refugees see no escape.

Even their freedom to worship has been seriously compromised in the last decade. Under increasing pressure from the Chinese government, Nepal has – year by year – tightened its stranglehold on they ways in which Tibetan refugees may practice Buddhism. They are no longer permitted, for example, to publicly gather in celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday. And since the Dalai Lama symbolizes their own plight as exiles, any attempt on their part to commemorate Tibetan historical anniversaries is met with the full might of Nepal’s security forces.

So who is in a better position to illustrate and clarify what is going on within the Tibetan refugee community than the Tibetans themselves?


That’s why I believe Caught in Nepal: Tibetan Refugees Photographing Tibetan Refugees is of such value – both as an historical document and a cultural commentary. There is one other dimension to the project that should be mentioned: In many instances, these young novice photographers – in spite of rudimentary equipment and training – produced powerfully framed photographs, beautiful in their own right and with the virtue of an intimacy that no Western photographer could have ever hoped to achieve. 


PROGRESS OF THE BOOK

The book is in the final stage of production. 

The accompanying text, which I wrote, focuses on the history of Nepali-Tibetan relations – beginning 2000 years ago up to present time. The narrative also explains why Tibetan refugees find themselves in today’s economic, political and spiritual lockdown.

The final selection of photographs, singled out from thousands of shots, is completed. The layout of the book has gone to proofs. 

The publisher, based in Kathmandu, is ready to go to press. 

The only missing piece of the puzzle is the printer’s cost. For that, we need $6000. If we meet our pledge drive, the book will be available to the public as early as October of this year.

I hope that you will join me in my effort to publish what I and my Tibetan associates regard as unique historical documentation of the Tibetan refugee situation and their ongoing struggle to achieve even a fraction of the freedom that we Westerners take for granted.

ADVANCED PRAISE FOR CAUGHT IN NEPAL

"The plight of Tibetan refugees has long been documented with startling clarity and insight by renowned author Mikel Dunham, who has brought their voice to the world through his powerful writing, commentary and deep immersion into the complex political situation of Nepal. It is thrilling and ingenious then that he is empowering those same Tibetan voices that the world desperately needs to hear by aiding them through the medium of photography. By giving cameras to Tibetan refugees, he has given them voice in documenting the intimacy of their daily lives. Caught in Nepal: Tibetan Refugees Photographing Tibetan Refugees is an inspired undertaking and an invaluable addition to the study of the Tibetan Diaspora."

Jonathan Green, author of Murder in the High Himalaya

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"Caught in Nepal is an immensely valuable record of the reality of Tibetans' existence as refugees in Nepal. Mikel Dunham and his amateur Tibetan photographers have made a tremendous contribution to our understanding of Tibetan's lives in Nepal and the existential issues that daily confront them."

Warren W. Smith, Jr., author of Tibet's Last Stand?

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"The raw and heartfelt moments captured in Caught in Nepal reveal the grit, courage, and fortitude of refugees from Tibet as they struggle to maintain their unique cultural identity outside their occupied homeland.” 

Matteo Pistono, author of In the Shadow of the Buddha

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Many thanks to William Hinman Foundation and International Campaign for Tibet for continued support of this project.

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    Pledge $20 or more About $20

    A handwritten thank-you card illustrated with the cover of the book, sent from me to you.

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    A thank-you card and signed copy of the book.

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    A thank-you card, a signed copy of the book plus an acknowledgement of your support on the "Contributors' Page" in the back of the book.

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    All of the above, plus a separate page at the back of the book reserved for your name as a major contributor to PROJECT CAUGHT IN NEPAL.

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    All of above and for those who wish it, a letter from the William Hinman Foundation qualifying your pledge as tax deductible.

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Funding period

- (45 days)