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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

77 Y.O. Jestun Pema, The ‘Mother Of Tibet’, Is Giving Tibetan Refugee Children Education And Home

  • IWB Post
  •  March 13, 2018

This year when the Government of India was presenting the Naari Shakti Puraskar, its highest civilian honour for women, among its recipients was a 77-year-old Tibetan refugee, Jetsun Pema. It was for her efforts in establishing the Tibetan Children’s Village institution so that thousands of orphans, destitute and refugee children could find education and a home.  

“Jestun Pema has dedicated her life for Tibetan refugee children since 1964. With the assistance of the Government of India and other philanthropic organisations, Pema established a total of 10 residential schools, 17-day schools, three vocational training institutes, three hostels for college students and one college, spread across India,” said the Government of India when conferring her with the award.

“So far, 52,000 students have graduated from her institutions, of which 50% are Tibetan refugees. Apart from Tibetan children, her institutions also impart education to children from the Himalayan regions.” The children whose ‘Ama’ (mother in Tibetan) she came to be known as were primarily from Tibet and other Himalayan Regions and apart from providing them with education and a place to live, she also made sure that they maintained their proximity to the Tibetan Buddhist roots. For her extraordinary work, she is often referred to as the ‘Mother of Tibet’.


Sister of the widely celebrated Dalai Lama, Jetsun Pema’s noble initiatives mostly remained hidden. So, let’s know this secret hero and the selfless path she has walked till date.

She was born on July 7, 1940, in Lhasa and she finished her education in convent schools away from the turmoil in Tibet, learning a lot along the way.

“We were all different religions, like Buddhists, Hindus and Protestants and Catholics, whereas the non-Catholics took a class on ‘the moral sciences’ which was very interesting,” she said.


Jetsun Pema with Dalai Lama

Meanwhile, Dalai Lama’s attempts at a  peaceful political settlement with the ruling communist dispensation in Beijing were in vain, and he had to flee to India in 1959 with his family. Soon, Jetsun Pema would return to India in 1964 owing to her elder sister’s ailing health. She started taking care of the young orphans and poor children separated from their families who had also escaped from Tibet.

“Originally, the Nursery for Tibetan Refugee Children provided only basic care for children. When they reached the age of eight, they were sent to other residential schools established by the Government of India,” says the TCV website.

But Jetsun Pema changed all that when she took the charge of the nursery in her hands as it became a full-fledged institution, offering quality education and residential facilities. She acquired the requisite funds and permits for constructing more classrooms and houses from international aid agencies, private donors, and the Government of India.

“The Nursery slowly took the shape of a small village with its own school and homes. In 1971, TCV took over the small nursery in Patlikuhl (In Kullu Valley) and expanded it into a residential school. In 1972, it was formally registered under the Societies Act as Tibetan Children’s Village, and it also became a full-fledged member of SOS Kinderdorf International (or SOS Children’s Villages, a Vienna-based NGO working for the betterment of children),” says the TCV website.

Now TCV has eight major school branches across India and every branch has one sole mission that every refugee escaping Tibet gets a home.


“The experience of studying there was wonderful in more ways than one. I learnt many things there beyond formal subjects. The emphasis at school was not necessarily about scoring good marks but becoming a better human being. Lessons, like putting others before the self and using whatever education you have to serve others, were drilled into us from a very early age. Pretty much everything His Holiness the Dalai Lama imparts to humanity is taught to us at TCV School,” said Rinchen Wangchuk, a Ladakhi student of TCV, who today runs a successful Japanese restaurant in Mumbai.

“I had the good fortune of interacting with her on two occasions while studying at TCV Bylakuppe. What struck me most was her grace, and natural ability to transmit a mother’s selfless love to any child. That sense of compassion and love she radiated left an indelible impression on me. I’m so glad she’s being recognised for her work today,” said Rinchen Dolma, a Tibetan refugee, now a primary school teacher.

Live such a life that others lead their life keeping you as the inspiration and Jetsun Pema is truly one such example.

H/T: The Better India

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