Before Tenzin Pelkyi was born, her parents, both former Tibetan government workers, decided to move from Tibet, China to New Delhi, India escaping the Chinese invasion in 1949.
Her father soon received a visa lottery as a refugee to work in the U.S. By the time Pelkyi was 5, she, her older sister and her mother reunited with her father in Minneapolis.
Her passion for the Tibetan community — driven by her family’s history — was recognized last Friday when she won the University’s Sullivan Ballou Award.
This award recognizes a student who has shown great activism for human rights issues. This is the first year the University has offered the award to an undergraduate student. It includes a $1,000 scholarship.
During her time at the University, Pelkyi, a political science and global studies senior, has worked on behalf of human rights in Tibet.
She said her parents have been “a really big source of inspiration just because they’ve really dedicated their entire lives to their people.”
Tibetans have been protesting against Chinese rule for many years. China says Tibet has always been part of its territory. Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries.
Recently, protests have been in the form of self-immolations. Numerous people have set themselves on fire in objection to the Chinese government.
As current adviser of the University’s Students for a Free Tibet, a student group on campus, Pelkyi has worked closely with the Tibetan community in Minnesota. The organization has participated in protests, marches and demonstrations as a supplement to protests in Tibet.
Pelkyi, along with other SFT members, lobbied members of Congress to put an end to the Chinese crackdown in Tibet.
Along with her political activism, Pelkyi works closely with young Tibetans in the Minneapolis community. She has been a tutor for adolescent Tibetans in a program called Lamton, or “guide” in Tibetan.
Those who have worked with Pelkyi at the University give praises to her character.
“She’s the sort of student who … doesn’t need her professors to give her lots of encouragement. That’s what was so amazing about her,” said Paul Soper, internship director in the political science department.
Pelkyi has taken Soper’s internship class for three semesters. She has spent a lot of time with Soper talking about her career goals and passion for Tibetan issues.
A friend of Pelkyi’s, Michelle Sham, an individualized studies senior, said she heard about her in-depth work with Tibet when first meeting her. The two had a Chinese politics and human rights class one semester.
“She wants something, she puts her mind to it, and she will achieve it,” Sham said.
When she won the award, Pelkyi said she was honored.
“I was really honored not so much for myself but just for the fact that they had recognized the Tibetan people’s struggle.”
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