Photos of the seven-day training can be viewed at:
Selakui, April 24, 2013: This year’s Nuns Empowerment Program, the 5th in series organized by Tibetan Women’s Association, concluded successfully, held at the Tibetan SOS Vocational Training Centre, Selakui, Dehradun.
The week-long ‘5th Annual Nun’s Empowerment Program,’ held from April 17th – 23rd 2013, was attended by 26 nuns from 10 nunneries based in India; Ladakh (Ladakh Nun’s Association),Drikung Samtenling and Sakya Rinchen Choekhorling (Dehra Dun), Tilokpur (Karma Drupgyu Dhargyeling ), Orissa (Namkha Khungzong) Garoh (Jamyang Choeling and Shugseb Ugen Dzong), Solan (Redna Menriling), Sidhpur (Dolmaling) and Dharamsala based Gaden Choeling.
The training saw various Tibetan resource persons leading sessions on vital concepts to empower and educate the nuns.
Ms. Tenzin Dhardon Sharling, member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile led two day training on ‘Building Effective Communication Skills on the learning curve’ and ‘Innovation and Self-reliance’, Ms. Tenzin Tseyang, Trainer/ Coordinator, Women’s Empowerment Desk, CTA led a day long training on ‘Women Empowerment’, Mr. Lhakpa Dhondup, Director/ Principal of the Tibetan SOS Vocational Training centre led an evening session on ‘Nutrition and Diet’, Mr. Duke Tsering, Principal, TCV Model school Selakui led a session on ‘Mind and Life’ and showed how the two concepts complement and relate to one another. The sessions were all interactive filled with mind games, group discussions and presentations, role plays and breathers.
As part of the practical training, the nuns worked on a social educational project proposal through the week and had the project implemented in teams at various Tibetan institutes based around Dehradun.
A day was specifically reserved for an education tour, the nuns visited the prestigious ‘Doon School’ where the school administration very graciously arranged a half day long school visit for the nuns to explore and discover the various educational conveniences enjoyed by the students in the school. After lunch, the group visited the ‘Forest Research Institute’, Dehradun; one of the ancient architects built by the British Empire; now serves as a museum and research centre.
20th April, 2013, Saturday the 10th day of the third month in Tibetan calendar (Pan-Chu), was an auspicious day. On that day, a mass prayer was led by the 26 nuns of different sects and nunneries, attended by the school students and staffs.
Nun Phuntsok Lamdon, Dolmaling nunnery said, “I am attending such program for the first time in my life, I am amazed to see the transformation from the level of shyness to a sense of self-belief and standing in authority as the week progressed.”
The nuns expressed that this program assisted them in realizing their skills and reinforced their beliefs and self-confidence and their ability. TWA hopes to see the nuns pursue leadership roles in greater numbers and at higher levels. We look forward to another enriching and empowering program to be held in 2014.
TWA’s General Secretary, Nyima Lhamo states that “with the help of these programs, we hope to maximize their influence and to discover what they are truly capable of in their lives. The nuns who attended the course began to find out that they have talent and the ability which can be harnessed not only for the furthering of their own potential, but for the benefit of wider society.”
Coordinated by TWA’s Empowerment through Action Desk, ETADesk, the project has been graciously funded by the Science Meets Dharma, an institute which aims to provide monks and nuns in Tibetan monasteries in India with access to scientific education since its inception in 2009.
TWA’s ‘Empowerment Through Action Desk’ provides a central point of contact for resources for Tibetan women in exile, while effectively coordinating empowerment programs in culturally-appropriate and gender-sensitive ways. TWA imparts leadership and empowerment actions, which include the Advanced Tibetan Women’s Leadership Training, the Annual Young Tibetan Women’s Leadership Program, the All-India Gender Sensitization Training, Combating Domestic Violence, Legal rights and Empowerment Trainings for Women and the Annual Tibetan Nun’s Leadership Training.
Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) is the second largest Tibetan Non- Governmental Organization (NGO) based in exile in India, and the only Women’s NGO in Tibetan history. We are a 16,000-member organization with 56 chapters on four continents: Asia, North America, Europe, and Australia. TWA’s slogan is ‘Advocacy for Home, Action in Exile.’
It is only half way through the month of November and there have been 10 self-immolation already. The intense situation inside Tibet is evident through the continuous increase in the number of self-immolation. The number now tolls to 72 and we are more afraid of how many more will follow in this martyrdom.
According to the confirmed reports from reliable resources, since 2009, 72 Tibetans have self-immolated inside Tibet and among them 9 are female: three nuns, five mothers and a student. Tenzin Wangmo and Tenzin Choedon were nuns from Mamae Nunnery in Ngapa and Palden Choetso was a nun from Dakar Choeling Nunnery in Tawu. Rinchen, Rikyo, Dickyi Choezom, Dolkar Tso and TamdingTso were all mothers. Rinchen was a mother of four children and her youngest child is only a few months old. Rikyo was a mother of three children. Dickyi Choezon was a mother of two. Dolkar Tso had two sons and TamdingTso was a mother of one child. Tsering Kyi was known as a young brilliant student. We are further saddened by death of these female martyrs.
No judgment should be made regarding the actions of the people who have chosen to self immolate. Instead, we not only express our deepest concern on the growing tragic cases of self-immolations by Tibetans inside Tibet, but also respect and recognize this martyrdom as the highest form of non-violent protest against the inhumane policies of the Chinese Government.
We firmly believe that the unbearable situation in Tibet is the core cause for these unfortunate and tragic cases. It is clear that these are symptoms of a constant fear of living under suppressive policies implemented by China in Tibet.We are here to remind China that as long as it continues to enforce its cruel crackdown, the number of self-immolations and protests will never cease. It is high time for China to accept their failed policies and think more realistically.
We urge the Chinese government, especially the upcoming Xi-jingping and 5th generation of China’s leaders to resolve their oppressive policies over Tibet and respond to the negotiations extended by the Exile-Tibetan leadership. The ruthless crisis that Tibetans have been experiencing for more than half a century within Tibet cannot be resolved through these callous crackdowns and unbearable policies.
In fact, they have unfortunately acted as an unwavering catalyst to the increasing amount of self-immolations and protests. Thus, it is important to continue to recognize the martyrs who seek to stop the oppression in order to put pressure on the Chinese leaders to deal with this serious issue.
House of Peace and Dialogue, Upper TCV School, Dharamsala
The week-long ‘4th Annual Nun’s Leadership Training,’ held from March 7th – 13th,2012, was attended by 17 nuns from 8 nunneries based in Nepal (Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery), Ladakh (Gephel Shadrupling), Tashi Jong (Dongyu Gatseling), Drikung Samtenling (Dehra Dun), Garoh (Jamyang Choeling and Shugseb Ugen Dzong), Solan (Redna Menriling), and Gaden Choeling in Dharamsala. The training highlighted basic leadership topics including communication skills, team building and management, goal setting, gender sensitization, and project proposal writing. The participants were also given an opportunity to observe and participate in a rare panel discussion.
The morning yoga session was an anticipated activity, as it was the first time many of the nuns had ever experienced yoga. Afterward, TWA’s General Secretary, Tsering Yangzom, welcomed the participants and shared with them the objectives and account of this training, which has gradually expanded since inception in January 2009. The ice breaking session challenged the nuns with fun puzzles and mind exercises; the goal of the mind games was to assess one’s self-confidence and ability to think creatively. As much as the participants enjoyed the mind games, they also benefitted from a reflection on life skills. The puzzles required them to think unconventionally, leading them to new perspectives that can extend to obstacles beyond those provided at the workshop.
Later, the participants discussed ground rules they preferred to apply for the duration of the workshop. The nuns also picked a ‘secret friend’ that they would present a gift to at the end of the week, a practice that incorporated the importance of secrecy into the program.
After lunch, TWA began a formal introduction session and screened a few short videos highlighting TWA involvement in the Tibetan community before the orientation round. The evening session was led by the TWA Grants manager, Tsering Wangmo, who gave a presentation on ‘Tips for Proposal Writing’ to assist the nuns in composing their eventual group project proposal. Before they concluded the evening, the nuns gathered for their group strategy meetings.
Dhardon Sharling, TWA Research and Media officer, began the morning with a session on Communication skills. The nuns played the game ‘Finding the Animal Partner,’ which underlined lessons about communication and the significant difference between animals and human beings: our enhanced ability to communicate. The nuns were introduced to concepts of communication through exercises, demonstrations, and group role-plays. One of the nuns mentioned that she had never considered these concepts to be as important as discussed and said she will keep in mind the skills she was introduced to.
Tenzin Tseyang, Coordinator for the Women’s Empowerment Desk, CTA, conducted the afternoon session on ‘Women’s Empowerment and Gender Sensitization’. Her session included group discussions and presentations that highlighted many ideas and stereotypes present in our society. The participants were amazed at how their own notions and ideas had societal influence, and the term “gender” gained an enhanced meaning for them. The participants often shared their thoughts with Tseyang la through questions, though Tseyang la encouraged them to discover the answers for themselves as a way to develop personal views on the subject. A group picture of the participants with the Tenzin Tseyang concluded the afternoon session.
The first exercise of the day encouraged the participants to visualize their future ten years from now and present what they saw in as accurate a drawing as possible. The participants shared their dreams and goals to the larger group, and the trainers discussed with the nuns how setting goals is important. The group spent hours contemplating their present and future lives and ways that they could improve their predicaments through setting goals. The first and most crucial step of creating change is to set smart goals that provide a clear direction and focus. Having an objective in mind guides one’s decisions, lends purpose and efficiency to work, and builds one’s self-confidence as they climb closer to reaching their aim.
The participants shared many laughs during the exercise ‘making the perfect square,’ which required them to tie their eyes without verbal communication. It was a delight to watch them perform the task with creativity and a sense of humor. These exercises tested the group’s team effectiveness and management. We reviewed the importance of teamwork and team effectiveness before the group joined together for another exercise. Using team work, the nuns competed to ‘create the biggest structure’ within the time allotted. As was discussed, we saw the teams utilize their teamwork skills to perform the task.
The afternoon session reviewed a few important concepts such as leadership challenges, characteristics of a good leader, values cherished in life, and the importance of feedbacks and feed forwards. The exercise that concluded the afternoon’s session was titled, ‘The Changes I Need to Make.’ The participants were instructed to write down one habit or hobby that they would like to stop doing, continue doing, and start doing from that moment forward.
TWA Women, Environment and Development Desk officer, Tenzin Woebum, conducted a session on how her desk was created at TWA, WEDD objectives, and WEDD accomplishments. Afterwards, Woebum la gave a presentation on Tibet’s environment, which brought back childhood memories in Tibet and stirred the emotions of many nuns.
As March 10th marked the 53rd Tibetan National Uprising Day of the Tibetan struggle, the participants attended the official function graced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Kalon Tripa, and the Speaker, held at the main temple. The participants also joined the peaceful protest march led by 5 major NGOs, including TWA, after the event.
Later in the evening, a debate was organized among the 3 groups of nuns, moderated by TWA General Secretary. The topic was ‘A Nun Abode in your Nunnery’. The debate was filmed and later screened to provide an opportunity for the nuns to view how they utilized their communication skills, with particular attention to their body language. The exercise proved effective for the nuns, who were able to see themselves in action and consider how they can improve their debate skills for the future. The nuns met for a group strategy meeting before they went to sleep.
The auditorium was filed with curiosity and some reservations over group projects, as today was the day each group would present their proposal to TWA staff. The presentations would determine whether the nuns could implement their project as planned and proposed. Finally, the hours of project proposal group strategy meeting came to an end, with the teams ready to present their projects. The presentations were all exceptional and demonstrated ample creative talent, though the group Do-Phen Khangtsen took away the bonus prize.
The team’s project title was ‘Munsel Donmey,’ and they targeted children at Nyingtopling, a center for the handicapped. Shyway Detsen’s idea was to spend quality time with the children there and prove to them that they are never alone. The nuns wanted to help them bathe, cut their nails, and perform other necessary tasks that can sometimes prove difficult for the children.
The team took a number of drawing books, colors, sweets, hankies, and soaps with them to give to the children. The nuns came back with some exceptional drawings by the children, and the pictures demonstrated that the children had wonderful time playing around, talking to, and getting to know the nuns.
Ven. Thupten Kunzes said in her project report that “The smiles her group could bring to the children at Nyingtopling through this project were so rewarding. I am happy we could implement our project as planned and proposed.”
The Choe-dhe Khangtsen
This project’s theme was Environment, which the nuns deemed a great concern for humanity and a matter each of us has the responsibility to protect. Their title was ‘Ecological Balance,’ and the project served our Indian friends at Kotwali bazaar. The plan emphasized clean surroundings and how harmful pollution is for one’s health. The nuns also wanted to inform our local friends that the Tibetans care and worry about their health and environment. The team of 5 nuns travelled to Kotwali market and picked up as much garbage as they could. They spoke to many people as they cleaned, explaining why they were clearing the area and how important it was that the community keep it clean. The nuns also donated a large dust bin to the kitchen at Upper TCV School for everyday use.
One of the group members said in the project report, ”It was impossible for five of us to clean the heaps of garbage around Kotwali in just 5 hours, but we are content that we did our bit.”
This group’s project was like a mini-training in itself. Do-Phen Khangtsen went to Jamyang Choeling Nunnery, Garoh and gathered 20 younger nuns into a hall. Each nun chose a topic and mind game similar to those practiced in the Nun’s Empowerment training to introduce to the younger nuns. Their idea was to create awareness about the trainings available in our community and demonstrate how fun and helpful they can be. They wanted to try to remove the fear and hesitation that surfaces in many minds when one hears the word “training” or “workshop”. In their project report, the nuns said that they had the best of times while implementing the project, laughing through incidents they endured before coming to this training.
Do-Phen Khangtsen also planted 17 eco-friendly plants around Jamyang Choeling nunnery. One of the group members is from this nunnery and procured a trustworthy friend to take good care of the plants in future. They also gifted a flower plant to the nunnery’s office desk as a token of appreciation for allowing the group to implement their project.
Ven. Migmar Choedon said, “It is great feeling having implemented the project; I was really worried if we could complete the project as proposed.”
The nuns had 5 hours to implement their project and report back to the training venue. All of the teams had well-drafted their project, very clearly distributed the work, and suited their project to the time allocated and the budget. It was difficult to choose the best out of bests.
At the end of the day, the nuns again sat in groups, prepared their project report, and the shared their feelings with the larger group.
An evening with Mrs. Namgyal Taklha
The nuns had a long day, but it did not end there. Mrs. Namgyal Lhamo Taklha arrived to address the participants for half an hour on being sincere to one self, to one’s religion and culture, the importance of maintaining codes of conduct, and most importantly, believing in oneself. Madam Taklha recounted facts from the past about the nuns, nunneries, and the amenities they received when she was younger- things are much better these days. Mrs. Taklha recounted some humorous stories with the participants, filling the auditorium with amusement and laughter. Mrs. Taklha reemphasized that the nuns must believe in themselves, complete their education, serve the community. She stressed to the nuns the importance of intensely analyzing the concepts they are introduced in life and incorporating the good ones into everyday interactions. Mrs. Taklha applauded the organizers for having thought of the nuns and requested to continue with such initiatives.
The nuns commemorated the 53rd Anniversary of National Women’s Uprising Day and joined the function and peaceful protest march organized by Tibetan Women’s Association at the main temple. The nuns were given a “See and Believe” experience on event organizing. The participants were separated into their groups and given major tasks to prepare the 12th March function, guided by three TWA Executives. One group arranged the function arena by setting up the decorations, sound systems, and sitting arrangements, while the second group worked on the invitations to be sent to the guests, the former TWA Executives and contacting the media over phone. The final group was in charge of receiving the guests and media to the function, accompanying them to their seats. They also managed to make sure everyone marched in single line during the protest march. Though the tasks were simple, the nuns seemed to enjoy the event and their duties thoroughly and relished in an opportunity to contribute alongside other women in the community.
The screening of ‘Journey from Zanskar: A Monk’s Vow to Children’ touched everyone so deeply that I am sure everyone cried trying to relate their own stories with the children in the movie. Many nuns gave an account of their childhood and the struggles they endured in the hope of receiving a better education.
After the screening, the nuns were separated into their groups and given tasks to prepare for the next day’s Panel Discussion. Shyway Dhetsen was given the responsibility of welcoming and receiving the panelists and the special guests, taking them to the special tea room, inviting them to auditorium for the panel discussion, and thanking them and seeing them off after the networking lunch. Choe-dhe Khangtsen was to decorate and arrange the auditorium, while Do-phen Khangtsen had to arrange the networking lunch, set up and arrange the meals, and take care of the panelists and special guests.
The participants were very excited about the panel discussion and their roles in bringing the event together. All of them were eager to begin their duties early in the morning, even trying to help each other as teams. As the clock ticked, duties were completed and finally it was time to begin the panel discussion.
Three prominent and distinguished personalities participated: Geshe Monlam Tharchin, Member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, Rev. Lobsang Dechen, the Executive Director of the Tibetan Nun’s Project, and Mr. Ngawang Choedak, Secretary of the Department of Religion. Each panellist offered powerful insight and constructive suggestions pertaining to ‘Political Participation by Tibetan Nuns in the Exile Diaspora’ and presented additional feedback in a question and answer session.
The two-hour panel discussion was moderated by Kirti Dolker Lhamo, a member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile and President of TWA.
Speaker Geshe Monlam Tharchin, while applauding TWA for organizing the training, remarked, “I do not see any literary contributions from the nuns, and it would be wonderful to see them contributing literally. I also do not limit my definition of a nun’s political participation to attending protest marches and vigils. As an individual, it is important to work and act according to the need of the hour. Thus, keeping the present situation inside Tibet in mind, the first thing I do in the morning is log onto the internet and read what’s happening inside Tibet.” Geshe Monlam Tharchin also mentioned that education is a key tool for creating change and nuns must study hard.
Speaker Rev. Lobsang Dechen reminded the group about the divisions in Tibetan society among lay people, monks, and nuns, stating that ‘in the past years Tibetan nuns have lacked educational and political participation opportunities’. However, she pointed out that ‘support and guidance from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community are diminishing these obstacles, declaring that nunneries are improving their facilities and offering a stronger role for nuns in Tibetan society’. Dechen referred to His Holiness’s recent speech on 8th March 2012 and asserted that ‘Tibetans must seize every opportunity to work together and better the entire community’. She recalled the ‘political achievements of Ven. Thinley Chodon and Ven. Pachen Dolma as exceptional examples in Tibetan history’.
Rev. Dechen also discussed the topic of Geshemas, emphasizing the need for a permanent Geshema program. “It will not be enough if we produce two or three Geshemas, we must think about continuity and permanence,” she said. Dechen insisted that ‘there is nothing to fear of discussions about Gelongma and that a debate about the importance of such opportunities in the nun community is necessary’.
Rev. Lobsang Dechen also emphasized the ‘need for nuns with certain qualifications and degrees who will eventually be able to administer their own nunneries and contribute back to their community’. She referred to a few graduate nuns from Dolmaling, now teaching Buddhism at schools in Bylakuppe and north-eastern parts of India, who ‘demonstrate the valuable potential of nuns with a complete education’.
“It’s time we stop thinking ‘we cannot do this’; believe in yourself and build up confidence with ample supports like this program. If you work hard, then it is possible that someday you can become a Chithue or a Kalon” concluded Dechen.
Mr. Ngawang Choedak, Secretary of the Department of Religion, CTA, offered some reflections on creative ways that nuns can serve the Tibetan community. He proposed that ‘nuns could work with Tibetan parents to assist in the moral upbringing of their children, or organize programs in conjunction with non-Tibetan NGOs to introduce Tibetan religion and culture to other interested communities’. Mr. Ngawang stated that ‘we all have unexplored capacities that can be developed, and events like the Nun’s Empowerment Program provide opportunities for nuns that should not be overlooked’.
Ngawang Choedak said also said, “It would be great if our nuns can form ‘Nun-Associations’ and build networks with the Christian nunneries or other international Women’s Associations.”
The panel discussion was followed by a networking cum farewell lunch for the nuns; we remain thankful to our panellists and special guests of Tibetan Children’s Village for kindly consenting to stay for the lunch and give the participants an opportunity to network. We remember how the participants reacted to the idea of a networking lunch when they were first told about it, but experiencing it was completely a new experience for the participants.
The nuns expressed that this program assisted them in realising their skills and reinforced their beliefs and self-confidence. TWA hopes to see the nuns pursue leadership roles in greater numbers and at higher levels. We look forward to another enriching and empowering program to be held in 2013.
TWA remains thankful to our sponsor Science Meets Dharma, based in Zurich, for supporting our annual project with much-needed financial support since its inception in 2009. We thank the participants without whom implementation of this project would never be possible. Finally, we would like to thank Tibetan Children’s Village for providing the space for this workshop to come to life.
Note: Pictures available on TWA’s Flickr account
Quotes from the participants:
“It has been a wonderful week; I enjoyed each day, which gave me a complete exposure and I thank you for inviting us. I would love to attend the next program to learn more.”
– Kunchok Lhamo, Drikung Samtenling, Dehra Dun.
“I enjoyed a lot throughout the program and I will do my best to lead a similar session at my nunnery for the younger nuns. I will continue with the yoga daily”
-Ven. Lobsang Dolma, Redna Menriling, Solan.
“This program has been very helpful and I would recommend it to my friends and other nuns”
-Ven. Tenzin Chokyi, Dongyu Gatseling, Tashi Jong.
The contemporary Tibetan history since 1959 stands testimony to the sheer courage and leadership roles that the Tibetan nuns in Tibet displayed by initiating and participating in the peaceful demonstrations on the streets of Lhasa and elsewhere in Tibet. Although, Tibetan nuns in exile display such acts of patriotism as well, Tibetan Women’s Association felt the tremendous need to address the issue of nuns’ leadership and empowerment so that they are better able to further their individual goals and also meet the needs of national interest.
TWA in conjunction with Science Meets Dharma, (a foundation aspiring to introduce science to Buddhist monks and nuns), organized the first-ever leadership workshop for Tibetan nuns at Jayang Choeling nunnery. The workshop that lasted for three days was attended by 21 earnest and interested nuns. Three trainers from TWA; Dr. B. Tsering Yeshi (President of TWA), Tsering Yangzom Oshoe (General Secretary), and Tenzin Palkyi (Research and Media officer) worked on the concept, content and manner for the training and handled all the training sessions.
Ven. Jamphel Dakpa, Principal of Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies, honoured the workshop with his eminent presence as the Chief Guest for the workshop’s opening ceremony. Ven. Dakpa delivered an awe-inspiring speech where he encouraged the nuns to take individual initiatives and not to contrive themselves by heeding the conventional norms. He stressed since the nuns make for a significant portion of our community, it is imperative for the nuns to step into leadership roles.
The three-day workshop zeroed in on certain leadership qualities such as; communication skills, goal setting, visualization, leaving a legacy, thinking out-of-the-box, time management and team management skills and albeit the training was limited to three-days, but the trainers saw to it that not a single minute went in vain and that the training procured positive impact on the participants. Documentary screenings in the evenings were well received by the trainees and the three films; ‘The Unwinking Gaze,’ ‘March to Tibet ’and‘ Leaving Fear Behind’ did stir the emotions in the participants and rekindled patriotism.
TWA firmly believes that active participatory and interactive sessions are the most effective methods of leading any workshop. Thus, sticking true to our belief, we designed the entire program to create a space for self-expression and stimulate the participants to actively express their thoughts. We also deemed it of utmost importance to introduce the nuns to think creatively and find out-of-the-box solutions to any issues concerning them and their lives.
The training saw a heightened avatar when the two other distinguished guest speakers; Jampa Monlam and Ven. Lobsang Dechen, who spoke on the contribution of Tibetan nuns in the Tibetan freedom struggle and the role of modern Tibetan nuns respectively. Jampa Monlam enlightened us on the tremendous contribution Tibetan nuns have made in Tibet’s freedom struggle and quenched the participants’ thirst for information regarding the issue. Ven. Lobsang Dechen, being an accomplished nun herself, stuck a chord with the nuns and truly inspired the nuns into believing that they can become anything they want if they give it their best shot.
The final day involved the participants in a daylong practical evaluation where the groups were engaged in a replicated Sino-Tibetan dialogue. The entire dialogue session was video-taped and later screened for the participants in a bid to garner authentic and discerning feedback. The training did make a credible difference in the outlook and lives of the participants and this we believe will go a long way in making them effective leaders of tomorrow.
In their feedback for the workshop, majority of the nuns expressed their extreme liking for the morning yoga sessions and the last day’s dialogue session. They said the dialogue session was particularly helpful since it gave them an opportunity to put in practice what they learned for the past two days. Many participants found the goal setting session to be very effective and all other sessions were equally appreciated. All of them unanimously agreed on the need for creative thinking and heartily enjoyed all the training sessions and games that pushed them to think beyond their common boundaries.
Following a close and a keen observation, one of the nuns raised a questioned on why the Tibetan nun in exile weren’t provided with this kind of workshops earlier?
Many participants requested for more workshops of this kind and asked for longer training sessions. Yeshi Sangmo, a participant from Janchup Choeling, Mundgod, particularly requested the trainers to organise similar programs in her nunnery.
TWA would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to all the participants for attending the workshop and we hope that this workshop will be a catalyst of positive and credible change for the nuns. This workshop would not have been possible without the generous financial assistance of Science Meets Dharma. We genuinely hope that in being able to break the mould of leadership for the nuns, these schemes will be further explored by like-minded groups. With all of us earnestly and genuinely working together for nuns’ empowerment, a better future for the nuns and an empowered society in exile is not only a possibility, but a certainty.
Marking fifty years of occupation, fifty years of repression, and fifty years of resistance, the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) honored the sacrifices and achievements of Tibetan women all over the world on March 12, 2009. Committed always to increasing international awareness of the plight of Tibetan women within Tibet, and to preserving the historical legacy of the women’s movement, TWA launched seven new publications in conjunction with their Fiftieth Anniversary commemoration.
Covering a wide range of topics, these seven new works seek to bridge the gap between past and future. The works include everything from the personal narratives of female activists, historical presentations of women’s struggles and the women’s movement, and a slew of new research regarding prevailing conditions for Tibetan women in Tibet and in exile. As there can be no forward progress without an accurate understanding of the past, of the battles fought and sacrifices made, and of the commitment and dedication that still drives Tibetan patriots today, TWA has fought consistently to provide the necessary historical lens through which to view the continued Tibetan struggle.
The new flagship work, Breaking the Shackles: 50 Years of Tibetan Women’s Struggle, sought directly to address this need, presenting the first comprehensively researched historical account of the women’s movement, from birth to the present day. Beginning with TWA’s inception during the Tibetan Women’s Uprising of March 12, 1959, Breaking the Shackles provides unprecedented research into the conditions and circumstances surrounding this monumental act of defiance. The first truly political action undertaken by Tibetan women, it simultaneously marked the emergence of Tibetan women as a potent political force. Through an extensive series of interviews, TWA was able to obtain firsthand witness accounts of the heroic resistance, tragic crackdown, and the subsequent mass exodus into exile. Breaking the Shackles also provides the only complete account of the women’s movement following the escape into exile. Drawing from a wealth of firsthand knowledge, along with academic research, the work illustrates the struggles of the first years and the tireless efforts of Tibetan women to hold the community together, socially and materially. Charting the growth of the original co-operative societies into the eventual re-establishment of TWA in 1984, Breaking the Shackles allows a glimpse into the immense challenges overcome by the first generation of Tibetan women in exile.
As the organization expanded rapidly both domestically and internationally, its mission and focus broadened as well. TWA’s concentration eventually came to cover a wide agenda centered on political activism along with a desire to address social issues ranging from poverty, to health, environment, and education. Breaking the Shackles follows this evolution, providing a comprehensive account of TWA actions and initiatives along all these fronts. Centered heavily upon the primary political directive, the publication highlights all the major political campaigns undertaken by both Central and Regional offices, for example, from official representation and participation at United Nations conventions and international forums, to direct action campaigning against the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, to the ceaseless efforts to publicize the human rights atrocities taking place within Tibet.
Social initiatives are not neglected however, Breaking the Shackles, also presents a thorough account of the social welfare initiatives undertaken, from sponsorship programs, to women’s leadership and health workshops, to TWA’s integral role in the formation of the Tibetan Nun’s Project. An unparalleled overview of Tibetan women’s struggles and the activities of TWA, Breaking the Shackles preserves for posterity an account of the struggles, sacrifices, courage, and dedication of Tibetan women and serves as a milestone in the academic understanding of the women’s movement.
Tibetan Nuns: The Status of Exiled Tibetan Nuns in India
Released as a follow up to TWA’s seminal 2005 research Tibetan Women: The Status of Exiled Tibetan Women in India, Tibetan Nuns: The Status of Exiled Tibetan Nuns in India provides pioneering research into the lives and conditions of Tibetan nuns living in exile. Based upon results obtained from a randomly sampled survey of over 350 Tibetan nuns living in exile, this volume represents the first detailed look into the realities of the modern monastic system.
Covering a range of issues, from the state of education within nunneries, to the female monastic experience in both Tibetan and in exile, to the monastic-oriented understanding of gender issues and discrimination, Tibetan Nuns provides a lucid addition to the oft-neglected study of women within the monastic community. Research results are augmented within by TWA’s own interpretations, presented in conjunction with both policy prescriptions and recommendations for further inquiry. Tibetan Nuns provides a rare view into the radically changing female monastic community, and illuminates a modern nun that is often liberated from traditional religious constraints. A new generation has emerged through the expansion of education and new initiatives undertaken directly in support of nuns in exile that are poised to not only seize the administrative and theological reigns of their own institutions, but also to break into the rarified air of high level Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. Young, well-educated, dedicated, and politically conscious, these nuns represent a new breed defying the traditional stereotypes of the past.
Tears of Silence: A Report on China’s Birth Control Policy in Tibet
Commitment to the preservation of history and culture never supersedes TWA’s mission to effect substantive political change in Tibet and to protect Tibetan women living under Chinese rule. The completely revised fifth edition of Tears of Silence, investigates Chinese birth control policies in Tibet and the violations of Tibetan women’s fundamental rights of reproduction. Beginning with an overview of the most recent academic research into the state of reproductive rights within Tibet, Tears of Silence proceeds to provide a comprehensive account of official birth control policies, the coercion implicit in their often brutal implementation, and the profound impact that this is having upon Tibetan women and Tibetan society. Included within are seven case studies, the firsthand accounts illustrating the toll that such policies have upon individual lives and families.
A comprehensive and dispassionate academic account, Tears of Silence provides a synthesis of currently available research. TWA follows this with its own recommendations and presentation of measures that can be undertaken to protect the reproductive rights of Tibetan women.
Light in the Abyss: The Drapchi Fourteen
In 1993, a cassette tape was smuggled out of Tibet’s most feared penal institution, the infamous Drapchi Prison. Filled with secret songs of resistance and religious dedication, it was broadcast to the world by the underground freedom movement in Lhasa. Hauntingly beautiful, the songs described, sometimes graphically, the brutal regime of beatings, deprivation, and torture endured on a daily basis behind the walls of Drapchi. Simultaneously, the songs expressed the deep conviction of faith, hope, and love that transcended this horror. Unbroken and defiant, the lyrics illustrated an enduring strength that has come to be synonymous with all Tibetan political prisoners.
Light in the Abyss presents the story of the fourteen nuns responsible for this stunning act of defiance and protest. All imprisoned for non-violent resistance activities, “Tibet’s Singing Nuns”, as they came to be known, personify the love and commitment that form the core of the Tibetan freedom struggle. Beginning with a historical analysis of the explosive 1987-1993 era, when an estimated 200 protests of various sizes took place, this volume includes a thorough account of the prison conditions within Drapchi, the conditions of the Chinese penal system as a whole, and an analysis of the Chinese judicial framework. Specific attention is given to the ideological basis behind China’s system of reform through labor, and the resulting torture, abuse, and exploitation.
A full account of the ‘Drapchi Fourteen’ follows, charting the initial arrests of each nun, their lives in prison, the circumstances of the recording, and their eventual release. Updated with new information gathered from interviews with the nuns themselves, Light in the Abyss provides biographical profiles for all fourteen, including their most recent whereabouts and situations.
In Memory of the Martyrs
The memoir of Noryon Dewang, Tibetan patriot, activist and community leader, illustrates the amazing courage and strength of the first generation of Tibetan women to reach exile. Born in 1921, Noryon Dewang was detained by the Chinese during the 1959 invasion, and subsequently escaped into exile. Like many others at the time, she assumed not only responsibility over her family and household, but emerged as a community organizer and political figure. Integral to the re-establishment of TWA in exile, Noryon Dewang initiated the Kar-dor Women’s Friendship Association, which was to eventually emerge in 1984 as the fully functioning TWA. She was a pivotal force in the establishment of several vocational co-operatives, and served for many years as the director of the pioneering Rajpur Handicraft Center.
In Memory of the Martyrs provides a glimpse into the struggles of the early days of exile and chronicles the triumphant achievements of one woman over incredible odds. Noryon Dewang’s life is just one example of the integral role played by Tibetan women in laying the foundations of society in exile, ensuring the continuation of culture and family, and serving as leaders of both the community and in politics. As such, Noryon Dewang is an inspiration to all Tibetan people, an enduring example of personal sacrifice, selflessness and dedication to the Tibetan cause.
A Voice That Remembers: The Life Story of Ama Adhe
The first Tibetan language translation of the biography of Tibet’s longest serving female political prisoner, this volume chronicles Ama Adhe’s youth, arrest, 27 year incarceration and eventual escape into exile. An essential piece of Tibetan history, her story speaks for a generation who fought against the Chinese invasion and honors the sacrifices of all Tibetan martyrs.
Born in 1932 in Eastern Tibet, she and her family suffered terribly under Chinese rule. While fighting in the resistance movement, Ama Adhe lost her father, husband, son, mother-in-law, brother-in-law and other relatives. Eventually arrested, she was imprisoned for 27 years, during which she was subject to terrifying inhumanity. The systematic deprivation, forced labor, and continuous torture nearly killed her several times. At her release, Ama Adhe was one of only a handful of prisoners that survived the ordeal.
In honor of all Tibetan heroes that made the ultimate sacrifice, Ama Adhe’s book serves as a living testament to the enduring faith of the Tibetan people. Despite the atrocities that she and her family were made to bear, what shines through is her personal integrity, abundant kindness and continued tolerance. Unbroken by the sufferings she endured, she never relinquished her human dignity, nor did she lose compassion for the world. A compelling account of one woman’s struggle, Ama Adhe’s story also is an inspiration, not only for the Tibetan cause, but for all people that believe in the righteousness of peace, freedom, and justice.
A Response to China’s ‘White Paper on the Protection of Tibetan Culture
In September of 2008, the Chinese government released an official white paper detailing the “Protection and Development of Tibetan Culture”. Portraying pre-occupation Tibet as a feudal wasteland, the publication painted a rosy picture of Communist development and progress and promoted the Chinese invasion as a ‘liberation’. Disgusted by this intentionally deceitful propaganda, Chinese author and journalist Zhu Rui penned a response that was printed and distributed by TWA.
Drawing upon personal experiences gained while working in Lhasa and travelling extensively in Tibet, along with academic research and interviews with senior Tibetan Government-in-Exile leaders, Zhu Rui sought to shed light upon the gross distortions of truth that constitute often the core of Chinese government rhetoric. This scathing indictment labeled the last fifty years a clear-cut case of “cultural genocide” and highlighted international concerns not only regarding human rights abuses within Tibet, but also the continued environmental exploitation and degradation on the plateau. Zhu Rui’s work focused heavily upon the achievements of Tibetan culture and society, from medicine, to philosophy, dialectics, art, and music. Seeking to counter the vitriolic attacks against His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Zhu Rui also directly highlighted His numerous international achievements and his consistent dedication to peace, democracy, human rights and freedom.
For Zhu Rui, much of China’s propaganda and rhetoric purposefully aims to increase tensions between Chinese and Tibetans. This campaign of misinformation increase fear, xenophobia, and intolerance and serves to justify political and social crackdowns undertaken by the state. Her Response was thus presented in Chinese and is meant to increase awareness among Chinese people of Tibetan culture, both on the mainland and the international Diaspora. As there can be no peace and co-existence without truth and knowledge, this work represents an important step towards correcting the ingrained views of the Communist Party and achieving a new cultural understanding between Tibetans and Chinese.