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Ama Jetsun Pema awarded Pearl S. Buck Award for contribution to Tibetan children’s education

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Ama Jetsun Pema receiving the award at Randolph College (Photo/Randolph College)

By Tsering Dhundup

DHARAMSHALA, April 19: Jetsun Pema, popularly known as Ama Jetsun Pema who has dedicated her life to educating Tibetan children in exile, was officially recognized as the 7th recipient of Randolph College’s prestigious Pearl S. Buck Award during a ceremony at Smith Hall Theatre, Randolph College on Thursday evening in Virginia, US.

“It is a great privilege and honour to receive the Pearl S. Buck Award, and I gladly accept it on behalf of all TCV staff who have worked with me and are still taking care of the children,” Pema said while accepting the award. “Today, over 53,000 Tibetan children have gone through their education. They’re scattered all over the world, and they’re able to give back.”

Several hundred people attended the event, including Pema’s family and friends, former TCV students, and members of Tibetan communities in the states.

During an introduction, Professor Suzanne Bessenger shared quotes from former TCV students. “It is not an exaggeration to say the schools and the refuge they provided to children would not exist without Jetsun Pema,” said Bessenger, Randolph’s Barbara Boyle Lemon ’57 and William J. Lemon Associate Professor of Religious Studies and an associate professor of comparative philosophy. “She truly epitomizes the tradition of service and compassion the Pearl S. Buck Award recognizes.”

Jetsun Pema, the sister of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was born in 1940 in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. She began her formal education at the age of 9 at St. Joseph’s Convent in Kalimpong. She was a young girl attending school in India in 1959 when the Dalai Lama was forced into exile to take refuge there after China invaded Tibet.

Pema continued her studies in Switzerland and England and, in 1964, she returned to India after the sudden death of her eldest sister to take responsibility for running the Tibetan Children’s Village School in Dharamshala.

Affectionately called “Amala,” or Respected Mother, by the children, Pema has led TCV to become one of the most successful Tibetan institutions in exile. The TCV institution grown into several residential schools, seven-day schools, 10 day-care centres, four vocational training centres, four youth hostels, four homes for the elderly, and an outreach program for over 2,000 children in exile.

She is also the first woman elected to the post of minister in the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, serving as minister for education.

During her speech, She recalled TCV’s humble beginnings and the mandate from her brother to provide Tibetan children with a strong education. “The education we have given to our young people has benefitted them greatly and has empowered them,” she said. “Everywhere you go, you find ex-TCV students, and that is encouraging.”

Jetsun Pema is the seventh recipient of Randolph’s Pearl S. Buck Award, which includes a medallion and a $25,000 prize. Pema told the audience she would donate the award money back to TCV, where it would make a significant difference in the education of the children there.

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