A Trip to a Village in Tibet Galvanized Her Passion for Girls’ Education
In the summer of 2009, Shamo Thar’s trip to Mukbo village, a remote herding community of 750 nomads, changed her life. She was told that the enrollment rate for school-aged children at that time was 2%. No girl in Mukbo had ever completed primary education due to limited financial resources for schooling and labor shortage for herding. Only five out of 750 young men were educated at university level. Shamo was shocked, despondent, and felt utterly helpless when the villagers brought her around 20 girls and asked for help with their schooling. Shamo was speechless. She looked into the eyes of those girls and was deeply moved by their innocence and encouraged by their thirst for education. Although Shamo could not do anything at that time but take pictures of the girls in silence, she secretly promised herself that she would come back to the village. She left the village with a conviction in her heart that she had to do something to help those girls.
The promise she kept within her grew into a strong sense of obligation to help the girls in Mukbo village. Shamo started searching for help from her friends everywhere and, finally, along with some friends in Beijing, China, she established a fellowship to allow girls in Mukbo to start their schooling. Since then, the program has expanded from only one village to 37 villages in rural Tibet, financially benefiting 150 girls for multiple years of schooling. “For the past few years, I have witnessed many girls growing from little girls to teenagers, and none of them have dropped from schools,” Shamo says.
After the Girls Fellowship Program, school enrollment rate increased from 2% to 85% that is an outstanding achievement.
Shamo’s advocacy for girl’s education comes from her heartfelt promise, made when she felt desperate eyes on her. That promise became a deep responsibility as a Tibetan woman, born and raised in the region, and as a “trained development practitioner,” as she calls herself. That sense of responsibility became a vigorous passion because Shamo believes that quality education for girls can bring multi-dimensional changes in communities.
Moreover, she believes that “The heart of the development lies at education and the goal of the education is to train younger generations with skills, knowledge, attitude they need to excel in their own future profession,” and to continuously bring positive changes to their communities. This will create a positive cycle of change in the society.
The Girls Fellowship Program was the starting point for the Pentok Insitution--Pentok means benefit or help in the Tibetan language--a grass-roots non-profit organization that works to deliver leadership and empower Tibetan women and girls through education, especially in low-income rural communities. Furthermore, Pentok Institution bases its action “on the conviction that education is the foundation for change and envisions a world where every girl and woman has equal education opportunities.” (Pentok.org)
Being a female managing director at Pentok Institution is challenging in the context of Tibet, where, historically, there have been almost no female leaders because society is constructed as patriarchal system. Running a non-profit organization in an area where everything is under the control of the monopolistic Chinese government is an exceptionally demanding process too. Non-profit organizations must repeatedly explain to the government what the organization is, its purpose, and how it gets money so forth. Not only is an organization’s motivation inspected, but every step of its work is under constant investigation. Moreover, it is a challenge to sustain the organization financially in order to provide high-quality services for girls and it takes time to keep its sustainability. Also, as young organization, she mentions that it is always very difficult to train and keep staff especially at the managerial level.
However, Shamo, as the inspirational founder of Pentok Institution, challenged all these barriers with her confidence, passion, persistence, and commitment. With her patience, she has earned trust and built partnership between governments, donors, and Tibetan villagers. That is what has enabled Pentok to go this far to impact the lives of hundreds of thousands Tibetan women and girls today.
Shamo says that she owes a great debt of gratitude to those who have offered support for so long to make Pentok run successfully and continuously. “The work of Pentok can never be achieved by me without the authentic supports from staff, Tibetan girls, Volunteers, consultant, teachers, government, donors and entrepreneurs” she confirms. In addition, she firmly believes that cooperation is the most important quality of one’s work and trust is the primary foundation that keeps the work successful and sustainable. “Now when I look at the partnerships, we have it is like a web in the map, across many countries,” she exclaims enthusiastically.
Finally, success means differently to different people in fact. Shamo thinks that passion she has with her work should be considered as a success. “You can only do great things when you love what you do,” Shamo states full of confidence.
She ends by emphasizing, “You can do anything if you are committed enough and work hard enough.”
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.