ANBA, China — In Anba, a small village on the Pengqu River in Tibet, farmers have long used sods from nearby wetlands to build sheep pens. The pens, however, are not strong enough and are easily ruined during the rainy season. Additionally, overuse of the wetlands is devastating the beautiful environment and ecosystem of Tibet.
To save the environment and improve the livelihoods of Tibetan villagers, Tsering Norbu, head of the Pandeba Organization, has been helping them make old sheep pens more sustainable by using mud blocks instead of sods from the grassland. The organisation, a grassroots NGO, has also been organizing vocational training programmes in an effort to reduce the region's heavy dependence on agriculture.
People like Norbu are called "Pandebas", which means “people who serve the village" in Tibetan language. During the past five years, Norbu and many other Pandebas have helped thousands of Tibetan villagers in local communities through a series of practical training and educational programmes. More importantly, the programme, the only one of its kind in the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve, has trained more than 320 Pandebas in the basics of healthcare, hygiene and environment protection, who in turn helped a great number of local villagers to live a better life.
The contribution of the Pandeba programme to the local ecosystem and the livelihood of Tibetans were recognised this year by Ford's Conservation and Environmental Grants, China (CEGC) programme. The project was granted first prize in the Leadership in Environmental Conservation category.
"Large areas of wetland are destroyed every year as sods are removed for sheep pens. Most residents are unaware of the damage they have done to the wetland," said Norbu, who has been with the organisation to conduct training in Tibet since 2006.
The case in Anba village is just one of the projects conducted by the Pandeba organisation in the Qomolangma nature preserve, which is home to some of the world's most spectacular mountains like Mt. Everest, as well as the poorest counties in China. In August, another programme led by the organisation kicked off in nearby Cuxi village, which will protect the valuable environment by setting enclosures around the wetland, letting animals feed freely and promoting rotational grazing on the land. According to Norbu, this simple practice will help to save 10 hectares of wetland and benefit over 400 villagers and more than 2,000 livestock in Chuxi village. Other projects conducted by the organisation include improving hygienic awareness among Tibetan women, promoting family planning practices and raising the awareness of wetland conservation.
“This incredible project is firmly grounded in protecting natural and human resources in the far reaches of western China. The organisation conducts training in villages at the Mount Everest Natural Nature Reserve -- and in 2011, they conducted training benefitting 2,450 people, 26,700 cattle, and protected 300 hectares of grassland,” said Joe Hinrichs, president, Asia Pacific and Africa, Ford Motor Company, when presenting the top prize of the 2011 CEGC programme to Norbu in Beijing.
With funds from companies like Ford, environmental NGOs in China can expand their projects. However, the issue of their own sustainability needs to be addressed to ensure better development over the longer term. For Norbu and the Pandebas organisation, training more village leaders to become Pandebas is a practical way to support itself and help make a bigger difference.
"The organisation has trained over 300 villagers as Pandebas. They are all from nearby villages and know how to help others," said Norbu, adding that they are building a database of all Pandebas and engaging them in future projects.
A project in progress to protect the precious wetland in Cuxi village.
Tibetan villagers in Anba village build new sheep pens with mud bricks.
An English training programme was organised to help villagers learn new skills.