Reporting from ‘Empowerment through Action Desk’ of TWA
Contemporary Tibetan history stands testimony to the courage and leadership of Tibetan nuns in Tibet. Since 1959, nuns have displayed these virtues by initiating and participating in the peaceful demonstrations on the streets of Lhasa and across Tibet. Tibetan Women’s Association felt the tremendous need to address the issue of nuns’ leadership and empowerment, to better enable nuns to further their individual goals and pursue the national interest.
The “Empowerment through Action Desk” of the Tibetan Women’s Association organized the ‘Third Annual Tibetan Nuns Leadership Training’ from April 25 to 29 at the Shugseb Nunnery, Garoh. Funded by “Science meets Dharma” (a foundation aspiring to introduce science to Buddhist monks and nuns), the training was attended by twenty five nuns from eleven different nunneries based in Dharamsala, Garoh, Ladakh, Dehradun, Tashijong, Tilokpur, Solan and Kathmandu (Nepal).
Four trainers from TWA- Dhardon Sharling, Nyima Lhamo, Tenzin Dolma and Tenzin Woebum-, and three resource speakers- Dr. B Tsering Yeshi (former president of TWA and current coordinator for Science Meets Dharma), Tenzin Tseyang (Women’s Empowerment Desk of CTA) and Dr. Sonam Wangmo from Mentsekhang-, led the five-day training.
The morning yoga session was led by veteran yoga master Choedhar.
The Minister for Culture and Religion (Kalon), Rev. Tsering Phuntsok, graced the opening ceremony as the chief guest and Kasur Rinchen Khando, the executive director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, as the special guest.
Kalon Tsering Phuntsok said, “culturally both sexes were designated with different forms of work such as men doing farming and business and while women took care of household chores and this shows the existence of gender inequality based on traditional beliefs, but these days we see a more sensitized society where women and men do almost everything up to their level best.”
“But the most important part of such empowerment programs is that the trainees should be able to grasp, understand and implement what is being taught during the training” said the minister for Religion and Culture.
Kasur Rinchen Khando congratulated the nuns for taking hold of the momentous opportunity being provided to them. “Empowering oneself is the greatest empowerment and this can be achieved by asking, analysing, enquiring and seeking knowledge and finally implementing and making the best use of what you have learnt” she said.
After the special tea break was the introductory session, where participants and trainers introduced themselves. Dr. Sonam Wangmo from Mentsekhang (Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute) led the afternoon session on ‘Women’s Health and its Implications’. Dr. Sonam spoke on health issues of particular import to women, and led a 45- minute question and answer session, which saw a good flow of questions from participants.
This was followed by a session on creative communication led by TWA trainer Dhardon Sharling. The participants worked in groups according to the nunneries to which they belonged, each group preparing a visual presentation on ‘Life in my nunnery’, which could be either chart presentation or a skit. The most important thing was about being able to communicate with creativity.
After dinner was a documentary film-screening; featuring His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 19th March 2011 speech on His devolution of political authority. Though the screening ran for two and a half hours and though the nuns had a long day, the participants had constructive views and opinions to share after the screening.
The second day of the training witnessed Tibetan resource persons lead very informative sessions for our participants. Dr. B Tsering Yeshi (former president of TWA and current coordinator for Science Meets Dharma), led the morning session on, ‘Science and Buddhism – imbibing the best of both’. To begin with, Dr. B Tsering la explained more about Science Meets Dharma and its work since its initiation, and explicated important concepts. Participants were then organised into groups, with each discussing a different statement concerning a concept in science or Buddhism. Each group presented their discussion to the other participants (giving points both for and against their statements); some had lots to share and greatly impressed our resource person. The crux of the session was a message of taking the best of both Buddhism and Science, letting the two work together and never judging which is better. Dr. B Tsering la concluded her session with some encouraging words, asking the nuns to seize opportunities, for example attending the ample workshops and trainings on ‘Science and Buddhism’ made available.
Tenzin Tseyang, (Women’s Empowerment Desk of CTA) led the afternoon session on Women’s Empowerment; where she explained what women’s empowerment is; the dimensions of power; why there is a need to empower women; and the aspects of empowerment. The participants agreed that women’s empowerment is important, because women constitute half of the population. They agreed that there is dire need for equal involvement of women in decision making and policy development or planning at both community and national levels. Tseyang also gave a power point presentation, which was explicit enough for the nuns to understand the concepts and the significance of women’s empowerment. Our participants had a close look at the demographic survey conducted by CTA in 2009 which showed how many men and women work at CTA and how many women there are at different decision making levels. Most of the participants confessed that they never understood what women’s empowerment was about until that date. They took pleasure in learning new concepts and look forward to building on their understanding.
The evening saw a screening of a VOT organized panel discussion on the topic, ‘Women’s Empowerment’. The panellists included Mrs. Gyari Dolma, the deputy speaker of TPIE, Mrs. Tsering Yangkey, founding director of TEAM, and Lugar Jam, independent researcher. The participants learned that every woman has the potential and the capacity to accomplish bigger things, that opportunities for women persist and that therefore it is imperative for woman themselves to develop. The panellists inspired the participants to a great extend.
“One is Not BORN, but rather becomes a Woman” – Simone de Beauvoir
Four trainers from TWA- Dhardon Sharling, Nyima Lhamo, Tenzin Dolma and Tenzin Woebum- led the remaining days of training.
The morning session began with a presentation on ‘Women and Leadership’ by Nyima Lhamo. The presentation showcased six prolific and accomplished women: Mother Teresa, Aishwarya Rai, J.K Rowling, Navenetham Pillay, Sonia Gandhi and Jetsun Pema la. After the presentation, the participants were divided into six teams and each group had to defend one iconic woman of their choice. The TWA trainers sat as judges with the power to save only one of the women; thus, the groups had to convince the judges to save their chosen woman. In the process of convincing the judges, our participants were helped to realise that they had potential equal to those iconic women, that sheer hard work, determination and unyielding struggle made those women icons, and that we should all take a leaf from their chapters.
Thereafter, our participants played some mind-stimulating games, the practical play of which taught them a few important things. The participants had lots of fun trying to solve the puzzles and effectively implement the tasks. After lunch, the theme was working as a team and team effectiveness; in groups they had to solve “the square puzzle”, played a ball game and “crossing the border”. Each game showed the importance of discussion, team planning, allocating roles according to various skills, strategic thinking, etc. The participants laughed a lot during “crossing the border” as the ropes got higher: this was the point where their planning and strategic thinking played major roles.
After the tea break, Dhardon Sharling led a session on Goal Setting and Visualisation, with a focus on the importance of keeping ones goal SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound). The participants enjoyed the session thoroughly, becoming engrossed in their role play exercise on Visualisation; in this exercise, participants had to visualize and accordingly act on the scenarios: visit Amdo Ngaba for one day; meeting Hu Jinato for one hour; meeting Obama for one hour; forming the cabinet of the Tibetan Government in Exile for one day. The participants performed very well and their visualization process was very impressive.
The training also saw ‘Climate Night’, where TWA WEDD staff Tenzin Woebum introduced Tibet as the third pole and spoke extensively on, ‘Our responsibility in the age of Climate change’. In the evening, the 25 nun participants each took a pledge to contribute to combating the climate crisis and promoting climate justice. The climate pledge session was filmed and is being edited by our WEDD officer Woebum. Upon its completion, we will send you its youtube link.
Day four was practical. Our participants began implementing the leadership theories they had learnt over the past three days.
The nuns were divided into four groups and given two hours time to draft a project proposal under the broad theme of social service. They had a limited budget of Rs. 1000, and would have only the time from 2 pm to 6.30 pm to complete the project. Rev. Lobsang Dechen la, the assistant director of Tibetan Nuns Project kindly accepted our invitation to judge the project presentations. The nuns looked uncertain and hesitant while drafting their proposals: they had to draft proposals in two hours, with a limited budget, for a project that could be implemented in four hours. However, when they returned to the venue at 6:30pm, they all expressed contentment and gratification over the successful completion of their projects.
Group A had seven members who divided themselves into three parts. Two of them visited and gave handkerchiefs to thirty residents of Jampaling, the old people’s home at Lhagyalri (Mcleod Ganj), while two remained at Shugseb and gave a health talk to the nuns at Shugseb nunnery, proceeding to do the same at the Jamyang Choeling nunnery. The remainder of the team went to Nyingtogpling (a centre for physically challenged children) and gave a talk on how to be happy and how to balance and control ones mind.
Group B were very creative and innovative. They organised a health talk and yoga class for twenty nuns at Gaden Choeling nunnery in Mcleod Ganj. It was impressive to see how they divided their time line and budget, and determined who would do what, when, how and why. The clarity of their project, and the precision with which they were committed to the project, impressed the panellists and they grabbed the complimentary prize of Rs. 500 over the Rs. 1000 provision for project implementation.
Group C also went to Nyingtogpling but with a motive to spread happiness. To this end, they brought game kits- which included badminton rackets, balls, balloons and skipping ropes-, and also some goodies and fruits and spent few hours with the children of Nyingtogpling.
Group D’s project looked simple but in reality was effective in the longer run. and catered to a broader global theme – the environment. They proposed to buy and plant eight eco friendly and health friendly trees at Shugseb nunnery; one of the members belonging to Shugseb took on the responsibility of watering the plants.
From 7pm, the evening session saw participants expressing their views on how their project implementation went, with a focus on what went right and what went wrong. Some of them expressed having learned about the various ways of contributing to the community and that they were happy that they could do something that day. Many confessed it was the first time they had planned and implemented a project that included public speaking, lecturing, meeting people, counselling them and purchasing necessary items.
The day’s training taught the participants on the importance of: planning, team management, creative communication, effective thinking, realistic approaches and practical implementation.
The morning session of the final day of the training saw the nuns sitting in groups according to the nunnery they belonged to (thus we had eleven different groups). They were given two hours to discuss and draft an action plan on, ‘what they will do to empower nuns in their nunnery for the next one year until the fourth Annual Nuns Leadership Training’. TWA trainers acted as mentors, helping the nuns to give a practical outline to their plans. Before lunch each group presented their action plan and received ‘feed-forward’ from participant and TWA trainers. Taking this advice on board, the groups reworked their plans and TWA adopted the final action-plans by printing each under TWA’s letter head, endorsed with a seal. Each group procured two copies of the action plan, keeping one for themselves and giving one to TWA.
TWA’s ETA Desk looks forward to following up with the groups, and have requested each to report to TWA’s ETAD coordinator with written reports and pictures as they implement their plans. We also plan to visit the nunneries which are in close proximity to Dharamsala, to see and observe as the nuns implement their action plans. Most action plans focused on teaching and sharing the skills they learned from this training with the other nuns at their nunneries, for example: teaching yoga, planting plants, organizing resource talks and trainings, managing garbage and fruit enzymes, and generally sharing the skills learned. We shall keep our partner and sponsor updated as we follow-up with the participants throughout the year.
Rev. Lobsang Dechen la appreciated “Science meets Dharma” and Tibetan Women’s Association and graced the concluding function with a motivational speech encouraging the participants to make the most of their futures. The participants were each accorded certificates, traditional Tibetan white scarves, and a TWA WEDD bag carrying environmental messages and a pack of TWA’s publications.
The participants and the trainers had an afternoon recreation together, visiting the religious site (Kangra Lhamo) and enjoying a special dinner at the Kangra Fort.
The TWA trainers are now convinced that the successful completion of the training gives nuns a unique opportunity to stand on the threshold of the creative process of building leadership skills, and the courage to reach for higher levels of achievement; it thus treads the path of effective change. The training opened new avenues for nuns’ leadership in the Tibetan community and sought to broaden the horizons and prospects of leadership and shed the conventional connotation of leadership.
The 25 nuns who attended the training expressed in their feedback that, through this training, they had begun to explore the talents they possessed that could be harnessed not only for furthering their own potential, but also for the benefit of wider society. TWA is confident that this training will be a new milestone of inspiration for the nuns to contribute constructively to the Tibetan freedom struggle and to the promotion of Dharma.
In their feedback, the nuns requested TWA to organize more such trainings (if possible, twice a year), and also requested TWA to visit their nunneries and train more nuns there. Thus their feedback was fully positive and TWA’s ETA Desk and the trainers consider the training to have been a great success, which we look forward to taking even higher. We also look forward to enthusiastic and lively participation from our future participants.
This training is the third in the series and we remain indebted to Mr. Kalsang Chokteng la, Managing Director of “Science meets Dharma”, a project of Tibet Institute Rikon, for funding all the nuns’ leadership trainings held so far (since 2009). We also look forward to your continued support in the coming years, just as many of our participants wish to see continuity of similar trainings.
TWA’s ETA Desk remains thankful to all the participants for attending the workshop and we hope that this training will be a channel of positive change and inspiration for the nuns. TWA feels the need to do a lot of projects to empower and serve the Tibetan community, but one of the greatest barriers has always been the scarcity of funds. Therefore, we wholeheartedly thank “Science Meets Dharma” for their generous financial support.
TWA’s primary goal is to advocate the rights of the Tibetan women inside Tibet and to empower the Tibetan women in exile. TWA’s Empowerment through Action Desk (ETAD) was founded in May 2009 and the desk exists to strengthen and support the aims of TWA by ensuring that programs are accessible and presented with excellence. The ETAD provides a central point of contact of resources for Tibetan women in exile, while effectively coordinating empowerment programs in culturally appropriate and gender sensitive ways.
TWA’s ETAD 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 and the Annual Tibetan Nuns Leadership Training.
Feedback from the participants:
“ It is a good platform to introduce new concepts to the nuns and I appreciate TWA for having thought of this program. You should continue with it- thank you very much, I had a great time here with all the participants and the trainers.”
– Ngawang Tendol, Kyidong Thukje Choeling, Nepal.
“Thank you so much for everything and for including the nuns from Ladakh into your programs”
– Ani Tenzin Palmo, Ladakh Nuns Association, Ladakh.
“I hope to see this program being conducted every year because it is really helpful”
– Lobsang Wangmo, Yung Drung Bon monastic Centre, Solan.
“Such workshops not only impart knowledge, but build confidence and self esteem to our nuns. I hope our nuns can thus contribute and participate to better our community. Thank you for inviting the nuns from here.”
– Namgyal L. Taklha, Advisor to the Drikung Kagyu Samtenling nuns
Also view the photographs on Flickr.
[slickr-flickr search=”sets” set=”72157627608747796″ items=”50″ type=”slideshow” align=”center”]