A special message from Dr. Elizabeth Napper, Co-Director, Tibetan Nuns Project
I recently returned from India and I’m pleased to write to you today and share the latest news.
As the volunteer Co-Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project I have spent part of each year in India since 1991. In the early spring, in Dharamsala 25 years ago, there were dozens of refugee nuns camping by the road. Many of the women had fled torture and imprisonment in Tibet for their peaceful demonstrations on behalf of Tibetan independence.
They had arrived in India seeking religious freedom and education, with no money or resources. Most were completely illiterate.
Now some of those same nuns are on the threshold of getting the Geshema degree, equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism — a degree that previously was not open to women. It is a stunning transformation. And it’s the result of 25 years of hard work and the support of people like you.
We are approaching a huge milestone for Tibetan Buddhist nuns. This month twenty nuns from five different nunneries have gathered in Dharamsala to sit their fourth and final round of the Geshema exams. In December, those who pass will receive their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod in southern India. And in 2017, the Tibetan Nuns Project will celebrate its 30th anniversary.
It was touching for me to see the Geshema candidates from Dolma Ling studying hard throughout the winter. They were nervous, for there is a lot riding on them and they are very aware of that. But what struck me even more was their maturity and solidity after all these years of study and effort, and also a kind of a quiet joyfulness. It was wonderful to witness how far they have come.
When I first got involved 26 years ago, Tibetan women didn’t have access to this kind of education.
To reach this historic milestone we started with the very basics of educational organization – things like setting up classes, building a curriculum, regular attendance, taking tests. Those of us who are blessed to have had lifelong access to education may take these systems for granted. But in the case of the nuns, all the components of an education system had to be put in place.
Tibetan Nuns Project supporters like you have played a major roll in helping to make this big vision a reality and we thank you for it.
But we still have much to do. One initial batch of 20 nuns getting a higher degree does not change a culture.
We need your help to ensure that the kind of educational programs that have enabled these nuns to reach this level are available to more women. Your help will make sure that, not only are nuns fed, housed, and given medical care, but that more nuns can become leaders and teachers at a time when their wisdom is so needed.
This is urgent because the Tibetan culture and religion are under huge pressure from all sides. Not only is the situation inside Tibet grim, but Tibetans everywhere are facing the immense challenge of the shift from an isolated, pre-modern culture to a modern one in a rapidly changing world, with all the difficulties that that entails.
The nuns are playing an important role in the preservation of Tibetan culture and religion, but they can and should play a bigger part as leaders of their community. Sadly, they still need outside support. The nuns are not in their own country. They are refugees, and do not have access to major sources of revenue within India.
The Tibetan nuns represent a valuable and important tradition that has much to offer the world. By helping the nuns, we’re helping ourselves and we’re helping humanity.
Here’s what we’re focusing our fundraising efforts on. We’d love your help.
- finding more sponsors for nuns
- building our endowment in support of the annual inter-nunnery debate, the Jang Gonchoe, an essential part of the nuns’ education
- supporting our endowment fund for the annual Geshema exams
Thank you so much for your generosity and dedication to our work!
Dr. Elizabeth Napper
P.S. One of the most powerful ways that you can help the nuns is by including a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project. You will be leaving a legacy of compassion.
P.P.S. Share your message of congratulations to the Geshema graduates by emailing us at email@example.com or by using the “Additional Comments” section in our donation page.