I first met Pema Khando nine years ago when she was freshly arrived at the Jomsom Hostel to attend high school. The hostel was established to help children from Upper Mustang whose families had no means to pay for their education, and is supported by AHF.
Pema is one of three children from a family in Charang. Her father, who passed away in 2008, suffered from kyphosis (a rounding of the spine) and found it difficult to get work as a farm hand so they lived hand to mouth. Pema’s elder sister did not go to school and her brother Jam Yan started his education at the age of nine when he joined the Charang Monastic School.
Pema excelled at school in Jomsom and after achieving a first division pass in her grade ten exams went on to study commerce at a college in Pokhara under AHF’s Nepal Scholarship Program. At the time she told me her dream, once she graduated, was to come and work for AHF in our Kathmandu office. But, in 2010, she got a better offer: to return to Charang and teach English to the Buddhist nuns at the Ani (nun in Tibetan) school - another of AHF’s projects in Upper Mustang.
She is very happy to be back in her hometown, living with her mother and contributing to the education of the nuns. The nuns tell us Pema is an excellent teacher, but more than that she has become “like a sister” to them and, although not a member of the sangha herself, is very much part of the convent community – and with her brother a monk, she always participates in those religious activities where lay people are invited. I met her late one afternoon carrying a large Buddhist manuscript on her back as part of the Kagyur Ceremony where the books are carried by villagers through the field to ensure a good harvest.
In addition to teaching the nuns, she also leads adult literacy classes for 15 villagers – teaching them how to speak, read and write Nepalese (Loba is the local language and is related more to Tibetan than to Nepalese).
I had tea with Pema and her mother (and shortly after ran into Jam Yan who was painting a newly constructed shop in the village – a most unmonk like task!) and mentioned that her mother must be proud of her achievements. She asked her mother to answer the question and even without Pema translating her response, it was clear that she was. Very much so.
Pema had turned around the fortunes of the family. Her mother has gone from being the wife of a disabled some-time laborer, never knowing where the money for their next meal would come from, to a mother of two well respected young adults – one a monk and the other a teacher of nuns! Pema’s salaries (from the Ani school and the local government for her adult literacy classes) are more than enough to enable them to feel financially secure.
AHF supports many and varied projects in Upper Mustang, but whether it is a day care center or health post, all the projects are about improving the lives of individuals – and Pema’s progress and the well- being of her mother, are testament to this.