Tibetan-born Jetsun Pema received the World Children’s Honorary Award in Stockholm in April 2006, in recognition for 40 years spent providing homes and education for an estimated 15,000 Tibetan refugee children in India. The Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV), an integrated charitable organization that she leads, aims to give all Tibetan children under its care a firm cultural identity, parental care and love to those without it, and the best of both traditional Tibetan and modern education. Following are excerpts from her interview with RFA Tibetan service broadcaster Rigdhen Dolma:
“The institution that gave me the award works for children’s rights. They publish a newspaper that is distributed in 80 different countries. Ten million children from these 80 countries select the awardees by casting votes. This time more than four million children among 10 million child voters cast their votes. There were three winners. The number of votes each winner gained was well-balanced. Each of us won a little more than one million votes.”
“They announced the names of the winners three days earlier at a news conference...That’s when we learned we had won. I felt first that it was a recognition of our work at Tibetan Children’s Village and second, by the grace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has always stressed the need for and importance of Tibetan children’s education and upbringing, ever since we arrived in exile. I consider it a good result to come out of our efforts towards the upbringing of our children, which has now been recognized by the world.”
I consider myself fortunate and I am happy that I was able offer this practical help.
“I brought three senior staff members, including myself, and nine children from TCV. There are singers, dancers, and lute players. Our children also performed during the award ceremony and it was a huge success.”
“We still need to stay in Sweden for 10 more days during which time we will be dividing ourselves into groups and visiting different schools. During the school tours we also need to explain our situation to the Swedish children. So we can carry out good publicity work on behalf of Tibet in Sweden.”
“One of the award winners is an organization from Rwanda. The majority of children, those who work in this organization, are orphans themselves, and they are adults of about 25 to 26 years of age who put tremendous efforts into their work. If we take into account their situation and compare ours with their situation then you’ll find our Tibetan situation much better.”
“I therefore believe that the assistance should go where there is dire need. For example, the larger amount of the prize money went to them and I fully support this. Because they experience many more hardships than we do—for example, 6,000 orphan children work together for their survival, and every day these children have to go and look for food. They have no parents to look after them. All their parents have died either because of AIDS or the violence, and only the children have remained. So children of six, seven, eight, 10, and 16 years of age got together, worked hard, and have established this organization for their own survival.”
“Receiving the money and assistance is not the only issue... 10 million children of the world have learned about the situation of Tibet now, and I think that is very good...”
“Now we have come full circle. We took care of the small children and as they grew up we established a pre-primary school. Gradually it was upgraded to a senior secondary school. Now we have plans to establish a college...If you look at our society, you will find ex-Tibetan Children’s Villagers everywhere. So the fact of the matter is that my late sister started this work in accordance with the wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama—and I put all my efforts into this work after she passed away. And I believe that this work has greatly benefited our society.”
“By virtue of being a Tibetan and having had the opportunity to serve our society, especially during a critical juncture in the history of our nation, I consider myself fortunate and I am happy that I was able offer this practical help. Similarly all the staff members of Tibetan Children’s Village always do their best and work tirelessly for the welfare of Tibetan society.”
“When His Holiness works so hard, how can we remain inactive? Each of us should do something. And we should do it willingly. When we get a good result, we must still work harder.”
“I am willing to work whenever possible, and to do this I don’t require the title of ‘Tibetan Children’s Village president’...Even if one is not a leader there are so many tasks that one can do. I like working wherever there is a need to do something. My personal desire is only to serve and not to strive for a high position. I feel that we need to give opportunities to the younger generation. So I think it is better to give them the opportunity while I am still alive.”
Original reporting by RFA’s Tibetan service. Director: Jigme Ngapo. Produced in English for the Web by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han. Please continue to send contributions intended for RFA’s Women in Their Own Words project to firstname.lastname@example.org .