Tibet Foundation

Inspiring Hope from Exile: Pema from Dharamsala

May 20, 2013

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Pema, a remarkable mother of three living in the exile community of Dharamsala, India discusses her role in the Tibetan community, and the daily inspiration she draws from the examples and teachings of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

Samuel Leigh
Tibet Foundation

  • Pema and her son Tenzin

    Pema in the courtyard of the handicapped school with her son Tenzin (Dharamsala 2013)

Among a community that draws strength and morality from one of the greatest spiritual leaders of our time, it is not hard to find individuals and groups who inspire hope and commitment on a regular basis. Tibetans living in the community of Dharamsala; exile home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, are perhaps better versed in the art of compassion and Buddhist ethics than most. Amid the bustling community nestled in the Indian Himalayas are a wealth of stories and remarkable individuals. Pema, a Tibetan mother of three is but one of those inspiring individuals…

Sitting in the warm afternoon sun in the courtyard of the Tibetan Handicapped Children’s school among the rice fields of lower Dharamsala, I discuss with Pema her unique role in the community. She is modest about her life, and the interview begins humbly - often interspersed with members of the Special Needs School joining us, until we are accompanied by almost 15 students. Pema however, takes it in her stride. Sitting with her 5 year old son on her lap, and among a crowd of noisy pupils to whom she is a familiar face, Pema explains her role and inspiration.

It was while working in a local shop in Dharamsala four years ago that Pema was visited by a blind monk from eastern Tibet.

“The monk was only young, maybe 23, and he wanted to buy a mala [Tibetan prayer beads]. We began talking, and I asked him how he came to be blind at such a young age. He explained to me that as he crossed Tibet he lost his sight due to snow blindness. The brightness had burned his eyes. The monk said he lived in the old people’s home nearby, but had no brothers or sisters in India, so I said that from then on ‘I will be your sister’. I gave him my mala and promised to help him”.

The home the monk resides in is the Jampaling Elders home; one of the recipients of much needed sponsorship by the Tibet Foundation. Over time, Pema became a regular visitor to the home; often helping the monk, and coming to know the elderly residents as friends and equals. 

  • Pema at Jampaling elders’ home with her companion Tsering

    Pema at Jampaling elders’ home with her companion Tsering, one of the younger residents of the home, who developed snow blindness while crossing the Tibetan plateau

“I began to collect clothes for the people at Jampaling. If my friends had old clothes they didn’t use any more, I would wash them and take them with me on every visit. I would also do this with some children’s clothes too. When I help to others, they – my children – become very happy, they want happiness and sharing in their lives. I have three children. My husband passed away quite recently though, so it has been quite difficult”.

I am always learning from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I try to do all the things he says, like helping others; but sometimes it not always easy! We are always learning.”

Often at teachings in the main temple, Pema is to be found patiently with her son, listening intently to the words of the revered spiritual leader.

“When I meet people in Jampaling it’s nice, they are like my grandparents; and I’m very happy to help and talk with them. I meet people who need help suddenly. Sometimes when you meet those who are in need of help, it’s the right thing to do. We are always learning from His Holiness though”.

A little later, Pema brings me on a visit to Jampaling. We pack clothes in an enormous duffel bag to donate them to her friends at the home, and I come face to face with the residents she speaks so dearly about. Pema carefully performs her routine; checking upon an elderly nun, laughing and chatting with an ex-soldier, and finally visiting her dear friend Tsering, the blind monk. We arrive to find he is absent, and Pema carefully places some new clothes and freshly washed robes for her friend.

Upon returning a little later, we discover Tsering is back in his room, carefully being taken care of by two elderly Tibetan men. We joke and share stories, and Tsering is delighted to discover his fresh new robes and a cool polo shirt for the summer. As we share a chai together and laugh, I notice – wrapped around his left wrist – the weathered mala prayer beads, rattling softly as he claps his hands together in joy; a gift from a remarkable woman following in the path and teachings of Kundun. 


It is thanks to donations and sponsorship that programmes such as Jampaling Elders Home is able to run sufficiently, and support people like as Tsering the monk. Although the Tibetan community is very supportive of each other in Dharamsala, support through donations is still desperately needed to keep some of Tibet's most revered and vulnerable residents safe, healthy and happy.

To find out about how you can help by sponsoring a resident or providing funding, please visit the Tibetans in Exile section of our website www.tibet-foundation.org, or contact us on +44 (0) 207 930 6001 for more details.