Monday, August 21, 2006

After 42 Years, HHDL's Sister Retires as TCV Head; To Oversee Building of Tibetan College in Bangalore

As reported by the Indo Asian News Service

Dharamsala, Aug 20, 2006 -- Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama's younger sister Jetsun Pema has retired as the president of a chain of schools run by them for Tibetan children in India.

Tsewang Yeshi, who served as the executive director of the Tibetan Children's Village (TCV) Schools, has succeeded Pema.

Though she may have officially stepped down last week, Pema has vowed to contribute in whatever way she can to the education of Tibetan children. 'My retirement doesn't mean I will just sit back and say mantras (prayer chantings).'

She will, in particular, oversee the construction of a Tibetan college being built in Bangalore at the cost of $10 million.

She said a Tibetan college has long been needed to educate the youth in an environment where they can learn and retain their 'Tibetan-ness'.

Pema took charge of the administration of the TCV schools in June 1964 at the behest of the Dalai Lama. She has since then been a motherly figure for thousands of orphaned Tibetan children.

Pema's hardest times at the school were in the early days when it was difficult to accommodate the growing number of destitute Tibetan children and there was very little food to feed them.

'My greatest times are when our students fare well in the national level exams,' she remarked.

TCV looks after the well-being of more than 15,000 children and youths and has an over 1,200-member strong staff. Apart from schools, TCV also runs vocational training centres, youth hostels, old people's homes and day care centres.

Pema has served in various capacities in the exiled Tibetan society as a youth and women's leader. She also held the position of education minister in the Tibetan government-in-exile.

In 1995, the exiled Tibetan parliament awarded her the title "Mother of Tibet" in recognition of her dedication and service to Tibetan children. She wrote her autobiography "Tibet: My Story", which was published in 1996.

Pema also dabbled in acting and played the role of the great mother in Jean-Jacques Annaud's Brad Pitt-starrer "Seven Years in Tibet". The film was an account of Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer who set out to climb the Nanga Parbat in the Indian Himalayas in 1939.

Born in Tibetan capital Lhasa on July 7, 1940, Pema came to India in 1950 and studied first at St. Joseph's Convent in Kalimpong and later at the Loretto Convent in Darjeeling (both in West Bengal) from where she completed her Senior Cambridge in 1960.

She later studied in Switzerland and pursued higher studies in Britain.