Tsering, IS

Tsering Wangyal arrived in Canada over fifteen years ago as a Tibetan refugee. Like the thousands of others in the Tibetan community, exiles who had fled their homeland following the Chinese annexation of Tibet and their descendants, he was stateless. However, he quickly adapted to life in his new homeland, and shortly after his arrival he was hired in the Information Technology (IT) department at The Salvation Army Toronto Grace Health Centre (TGHC). He has been a valued employee of TGHC ever since and has worked hard to build a better life for him and his family.

His ties to Tibet and its people remain strong, however.  Tsering felt deeply that he wanted to help in any way he could to preserve his culture outside of Tibet, and so he immediately volunteered his time, skills and energy to help the Tibetan community in Toronto. He continues to do so today.

Tsering was born in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India. His parents, originally from Tibet, fled to India as refugees during the 1959 Tibetan rebellion. Tsering, along with his siblings grew up and were educated in a Tibetan refugee resettlement community in India. He acknowledges India’s incredible generosity towards the Tibetan refugees, and the fact that they have afforded them many freedoms like travel, social activities and education. However, he also states that while many Tibetans were born in India, unfortunately they are not given citizenship and cannot own land. “A true sense of belonging,” says Tsering, “constantly eludes you, because essentially Tibetans are stateless.”

Upon his arrival in the North America, Tsering completed a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) specializing in international management at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in the United States. After his post-graduate studies, he was required to do his practical training in Los Angeles.

At that time, Tenzin, also a Tibetan refugee and his girlfriend in India, met him in Los Angeles. Shortly after her arrival, they were married, and in 1995 their eldest son, Sherab, was born. A year later, Tsering’s student visa expired. He took on all sorts of odd jobs to provide for his family while he and Tenzin tried desperately to extend his visa. These were some hard times and unforgettable struggles for him and his new family.

In 1999, Tsering, Tenzin and Sherab immigrated to Canada. Tsering and Tenzin applied for asylum. That same year, their daughter Tashi was born, and in September Tsering started working at the TGHC. It was his first IT job and his first job in Canada. Although he had studied finance, IT had always interested him. He was hired with the title of PC Coordinator, but he also worked with workstations and the network. There were only two employees in IT then, as there are now — the difference is that Tsering now has the title of manager.

Over the past decade, Tsering has volunteered and held many positions within the Tibetan community. In 2001, he became a founding and executive member of the Tibetan Parent’s Association. This organization was established to preserve the language, traditional dance and music of Tibet. In 2002, he became an organizing committee member for Kalachakra, a traditional Tibetan Buddhist ceremony, to be held in 2004. This was an initiation for world peace that was presented by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to a large public audience in Toronto at the CNE. Tsering was put in charge of the website, ticketing and registration, media passes and graphic designing. He also organized the public talk at the Rogers Centre where the attendance was approximately thirty thousand people.

Also in 2002, Tsering and Tenzin’s second son, Chimmi, was born, and Tsering became a permanent resident in Canada. In 2005, Tsering Wangyal became a Canadian citizen. This marked an important turning point for him. A true sense of belonging no longer eluded him; he had found his home here in Canada.

Tsering continued to volunteer for his community in a number of different capacities. While he was vice-president of the Canadian Tibetan Association of Ontario, the organization was able to purchase a community centre in Etobicoke. Although the Tibetan Parent’s Association was dissolved, Tsering was instrumental in continuing to preserve language, dance and music as a founding member and vice-president of the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre. The Centre’s volunteers recruit music, dance and language teachers from the Tibetan community to help with educational, cultural and language programs. The Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre not only shares its traditions with members of the Tibetan Community but with other Canadians as well.

In 2007, Tsering was a member of the organizing committee for His Holiness, the Dalai Lama’s very relevant visit to Canada. That year, the Dalai Lama met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and requested that Canada consider offering a larger number of displaced Tibetans living in India the opportunity to resettle in Canada. In 2010, Tsering was once again recruited to help organize a visit by the Dalai Lama. In October of that year, His Holiness gave a speech at the Rogers Centre in Toronto on world peace. Shortly after the Dalai Lama’s visit, it was announced that Canada would welcome one thousand displaced Tibetans living in Arunachal Pradesh, India.

The Toronto Chapter of Project Tibet Society (PTS), where Tsering has been an executive member since 2012, is committed to help resettle 275 new Tibetan refugees in three separate waves from 2013 to 2016. According to Tsering, a lot of planning, preparation and paperwork are involved when arranging a refugee’s immigration. Although initial housing has been arranged by PTS for the refugees, they also require Social Insurance Numbers, Interim Federal Health applications and help with banking. The newcomers need help with these applications and orientation when they arrive, and PTS members like Tsering are there to help facilitate their needs. The Toronto Chapter raises funds through community events, donations and procures housing and sponsors to guide the refugees through their first year. To date, PTS’s Toronto Chapter has settled seventy-eight refugees, and Tsering believes providing them with a place to stay and trying to find them jobs is crucial in helping them become self-reliant and well integrated.

For Tsering, volunteering isn’t just about assisting the refugees with the necessary paperwork or making preparations for the next wave of newcomers. Sometimes it involves simple things, such as shopping for linens, delivering new beds, and picking up furniture or simply helping newcomers to move. He smiled when he said, “It’s the reason I’ve kept my old van.” His caring and compassion is derived from his understanding of  the hardships of immigrating to a different country, and what newly arrived refugees encounter trying to begin a new life with limited support or with out the familiarity of their community.

When asked about his long employment at the TGHC he states, “I like working here because I can mix with the staff, patients and their families. The size of the TGHC allows and encourages everyone to mingle as a family. There are very few layers, so when you want to get something done, it’s not very hard. Ideas are easier to implement in this organization.”

He is particularly proud of an award given to the TGHC IT department at the 2004/05 Ontario Hospital Association Conference. The TGHC received the award for providing Internet access to their patients and families; TGHC was the first health institution to do so. “The satisfaction you attain from helping an individual communicate with the external world is amazing,” says Tsering. He goes on, ”In the following years since winning the award, we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from our patients and families who are grateful they are able to communicate with each other when they are not able to be with their loved ones.”

Three years ago, Tsering became head of the IT department. Along with Laszlo, his technical analyst, this two-man team have adapted and learned to facilitate a lot of different functions that would normally be parceled out in a similar-sized corporate IT environment. Although it can be stressful at times, both agree that they have managed to successfully provide a seamless network service for the TGHC community. In preparation for the infrastructure upgrade to the 650 Church Street site, TGHC patients and staff moved to their temporary home at the Hillcrest site in the spring of 2014. “The move for the IT department went very smooth,” said Tsering, “there was no communications loss, except for a short period during the actual move.” In the next two months the IT department is planning to move the hospitals entire data centre to a third party off site location for the construction period.

There is much to look forward to for Tsering in the future. As he prepares for the next wave of Tibetan refugees, he’s always ready to take on all sorts of different volunteer jobs. He also knows what it takes to manage his IT department. His leadership skills, a strong work ethic, care and compassion for others, are values that have helped him both professionally and in his volunteering, values that are all imparted at the TGHC.

BY: Gerry Condotta, Element eighty