Ingrid Perlongo, left, and Kaki Dipinto both volunteer tutors at the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago. Photo by Vito Dipinto

Hearing that fewer than 7,000 snow leopards exist in the wild, a middle school group of children took it upon themselves to learn about and contribute to the Snow Leopard Trust and bring their concern to public awareness at this year’s Custer’s Last Stand Festival of the Arts.

The children are part of the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago. The Alliance is an organization that focuses on education and the development of topics concerning the cultural heritage of the Tibetan region of South Asia. It provides community events and classes in language, dance and music, and, while it does take part in some social activism and public outreach, this is not the organization’s main purpose.

“The Tibetan Alliance is oriented to serving the needs of the Tibetan and Nepali community in Chicago, Evanston and Skokie,” said Ingrid Perlongo, a volunteer tutor at the Alliance. “It is dedicated to serving the needs of the refugee community.”

This includes academic tutoring for the children of over 300 families, most refugees from the Tibetan area of South Asia, involved in the Tibetan Alliance. Many of the families have been in the United States for more than 10 years.

This means that the parents are more fluent in English and are familiar with American culture, said Ms. Perlongo. “Families are more established here. They know some English and how things are in the U.S. For the most part, the students are our students,” she said.

One group of middle school students taking advantage of the Saturday academic tutoring went beyond this to explore a new subject pertaining to the Himalayas and the Tibetan region. 

“Usually Saturday is for homework help, but many parents have their children finish homework on Friday night,” said Ms. Perlongo. Since their homework was completed, the children used their tutoring time for their new project.

Kaki Dipinto, another volunteer tutor at the Alliance, helped to create the idea for the Snow Leopard Project. “We wanted stimulating material,” added Ms. Perlongo.

Ms. Dipinto found out about the Snow Leopard
curriculum from the Snow Leopard Trust at www.snow
leopard.org.

The curriculum provides educational materials that can be used by students interested in the conservation
of snow leopards and their habitat in and around the
Himalayas. It includes multiple subjects such as language arts and science, focusing
on the 12 countries where snow leopards
are found.

“We … covered the big cat’s adaptation, evolution, the ecosystem in the Himalayas, then the different people in the Himalayas, such as herders versus park staff – how each group of people relate to the snow leopard, the conservation effort there and the ecology,” said Ms. Perlongo. The curriculum extended to discussing more sustainable conservation solutions and the geography of the Himalayas.

The students then went beyond the classroom to engage the Evanston community at Custer’s Last Stand Festival of the Arts. The students sold handmade items to raise money for the Snow Leopard Trust while educating those visiting the fair of the plight of these endangered animals.

The experience was a positive one, said Ms. Perlongo. “The educational outreach was definitely a success.” It was also a success for an unexpected reason.

“The highlight was a teacher from Oak Park who had heard of us on NPR worldview. She is going to be using the curriculum in her school in Oak Park,” Ms. Perlongo said.