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Sandpoint Youth Creates International Non-Profit

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Sandpoint Youth Creates International Non-Profit

Travis Thompson is not your average 23-year-old

The weather didn’t cooperate the evening Travis Thompson introduced his new nonprofit, TACTIC, to the residents of his hometown. On what was probably the worst driving night in Bonner County so far this winter, only a small group of hardy souls ventured out, a donation for Toys for Tots in hand. Once inside the Panida’s Little Theater, however, all was festive. Attendees dined on delicious Thai food from a Sandpoint restaurant, while a local musician performed. A brief slide show explained the new non-profit’s goals and purposes.

If all goes according to plan, Sandpoint can expect to hear more of TACTIC (Targeting Advocacy to Traditional Indigenous Cultures) in the future. Its founder, Travis Thompson, is not your average 23-year-old. Despite his tender years and modest means, Travis has already traveled widely for the purpose of helping the poor and disadvantaged with whom he comes in contact. He is now once again in northern India, his second time there, expecting not to come home again for another six months to a year. He works with Tibetan refugees in the area around Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama.

Travis says his interest in the developing world began with a visit to China as a high school senior, giving him his first introduction to a culture far different from his own. After his freshman year at the University of Idaho, he dropped out for a time to backpack around New Zealand, but also spent some time teaching alternative education to Maori youth. Coming home, he returned to college and learned about genocide in Darfur, a region in the African country of Sudan. It inspired him to organize and lead a Stand Chapter at the university calling attention to the problem. One of his activities was to try to persuade the state of Idaho to divest its ties to companies that do business in the Sudan. That put him in opposition to Gov. Butch Otter’s goals for the state. A letter Travis wrote to a Boise newspaper countering Otter’s policies was picked up by another southern Idaho newspaper as well. In 2009, the letter reached Sudan, appearing in the Sudan Tribune.

Travis again left school to concentrate on what he refers to as his “original passion,” the plight of India’s Tibetan refugees. He says his interest in Tibetan Buddhism was sparked by a course in World Religions he took while in his freshman year at the U-I. He traveled to Dharamsala with Volunteer Tibet to teach English classes at a refugee school called E.S. Trust. He also served as the school’s director for a short time, then began working with the Tibetan Women’s Association, coauthoring a book to commemorate the “50th anniversary of the Tibetan Women’s Struggle” in 2009. Proceeds from that book, “Breaking the Shackles,” and with the above subtitle, along with five other books published by the TWA last year, go into the education fund that sends Tibetan women to university.

Travis returned home from India in May 2009 and founded the nonprofit he named TACTIC. He has three co-partners, all U-I students: Emily Wettstein of Boise; Amanda Carnahan, a Washingtonian; and Grayson Stone, Idaho Falls. TACTIC is designed to work with local grass roots organizations already existing in indigenous communities. “TACTIC will assist those local groups with volunteer coordination and fund-raising management,” Travis said. “The indigenous peoples know what they need; we just want to help them any way we can.”

Currently, TACTIC has three volunteers in Dharamsala teaching English to Tibetan refugees. Why English? “It’s the national language of India,” Travis explained. “The country has 50 different local dialects.”

TACTIC is implementing three projects this year. One will assist in providing housing for Tibetan nuns. Why is this so important? According to Travis, the Chinese government has a policy encouraging its soldiers to rape Tibetan nuns. “They are then not allowed to return to their nunneries because they are considered ‘tainted’,” he said. “They become homeless; they are hermits.” Their only option is to emigrate, which means they have to cross the Himalayas to reach India or Nepal. “Since 1986, there has been a massive influx of nuns crossing the border. The Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in the 1980s to provide housing for them, but the influx has become so strong the organization can’t keep up.”

TACTIC’s second project is a soccer program, intended to be run on Big Brother-Big Sister lines. “The Tibetan young men and women refugees are becoming alcoholics and are abusing drugs because there are not enough jobs for them to make a living and there is no outlet for them to do anything.” The soccer league would use the older youth to teach the younger ones how to play the game. “Parents often stay behind in Tibet while sending their kids out of the country with total strangers. They need role models and an outlet.” TACTIC will supply equipment and uniforms; their instructors must promise to abstain from alcohol and drugs.

The third initiative will be a joint effort by TACTIC and the Tibetan Women’s Association to provide education sponsorship. That will assist with projects such as the six books already published that raise funds for higher education for Tibetan women.

TACTIC’s main contact and assistance in India currently come from four Tibetan youth whom Travis helped find housing during his first volunteer stint in India in 2007-2008. Two of the young men have gone on to jobs with the government and the other two are employed directly by TACTIC: Rigden, who is the web site designer, and Jamiyang, who heads up the soccer program. Travis hopes to be able to bring them both to the U.S. next year to help with fund raising and presentations to local communities.

TACTIC’s future goals are ambitious. Travis foresees the organization working in other regions of the world, such as Botswana with the Kalahari bushmen; Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; and with indigenous tribes in South America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. He also hopes there will be projects in this country, too. Only time will tell, but the need is great the wide world over.

On December 5, 2008, Travis sent an e-mail to his family describing the conditions at the school in which he was teaching. “Being at E.S. Trust, I have been sent back 70 years. We have no hot water and no clean water, so we have to walk a half a mile every day to wash ourselves, take showers, get drinking water, and hand wash our clothes. The water from the spring is so clean, and I am able to drink right from the spout; but for taking baths and washing clothes it is so cold .... You cannot do anything in the afternoon at the spring, because it is the rural Laundromat, shower hole, and water supply.”

In another e-mail, after filling in as the director of E.S. Trust, he wrote: “It is funny to think that I am running a school. Mr. Feldhausen, Mr. Berryhill—all of my favorite principals that I looked up to—I am now in their shoes, and it feels like I know what they went through to help us. I am truly humbled by their compassion for students.”

The next time TACTIC sponsors a benefit in Sandpoint, please try to attend. Travis doesn’t himself benefit monetarily. He’s a volunteer, paying his own travel expenses and drawing no salary for what he does. To learn more, check the web site: culturaltactics.org.

Photo, facing page: A boy at a tsunami rehabilitation camp at Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, India. Photo by Laxman.. Photo, above: Travis Thompson, courtesy TACTIC.

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Marylyn Cork

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Travis Thompson, TACTIC, charity

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