Equal educational opportunities are a global ideal, but in many parts of the world women still lack basic literacy. To address these disparities, Jamyang Foundation supports innovative education projects for indigenous girls and women in some of the neediest and most remote parts of the world, including the Indian Himalayas and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. These projects foster women’s learning potential in ways that combine general education for the modern world with traditional Buddhist wisdom and practice.
In the Himalayas, there are currently twelve Jamyang Foundation study programs: nine in Zangskar (Jammu & Kashmir State), two in Spiti (Himachal Pradesh), and one in Kinnaur. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, Jamyang Foundation has founded three primary schools for girls from indigenous communities. Several pioneering projects in India (Jamyang Chöling in Dharamsala and Sherab Chöling in Himachal Pradesh) and one school in Bangladesh (Sanghamitta) are now self-sufficient, fulfilling Jamyang Foundation’s mission of empowering women and creating sustainable communities run by women themselves.
Courage Amidst Hardship
Students in these remote regions live in conditions of poverty and isolation. In the Himalayas, the winters are incredibly harsh, with months of heavy snowfalls. Temperatures often dip far below freezing, and food and water are often in short supply. In Bangladesh, the climate is the reverse, with unbearable heat much of the year. Medical facilities are often non-existent. Women's lives are filled with perpetual hardships.
To address these problems, students in the Jamyang Foundation programs study languages, math, health and hygiene, social studies, environmental awareness, Buddhist philosophy, and meditation. After completing their studies, these students will have the opportunity to go for higher studies and to serve as teachers, health care workers, community workers, and mentors to others. The goal is to create greater opportunities for Buddhist women and more study programs in these needy areas. Women are uniquely positioned to serve in community development, to link with other women around the world, and to help revitalize their own special cultural heritage.
Beginning in 1985, courageous young Buddhist women have taken the initiative to establish study programs that combine traditional and contemporary learning. Traditional values are still strong in these areas, which have been home to Buddhist cultures for over a thousand years. Loving kindness and compassion guide women’s lives, but women have rarely emerged as spiritual leaders, due to a lack of educational opportunities. Social and economic changes now seriously threaten traditional values. At this juncture, it becomes more urgent than ever to give women equal social and educational opportunities. Overcoming many obstacles, women are preparing themselves to make valuable contributions in the fields of health, education, culture, social and economic development in their communities.
Of the 387 students currently enrolled in Jamyang Foundation’s study programs, 255 are from remote Himalayan areas of India, ranging in age from 6 to 73. In addition, 132 young Marma girls live in remote areas of Bangladesh. Most have had little, if any, schooling. The reasons are significant: parents often send the boys to school and keep the girls at home to work. Furthermore, if there are any local schools, they teach an unfamiliar culture in an alien language. In the Himalayas, the students are from Tibetan Buddhist cultural backgrounds; the government schools teach Hindi and Urdu. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the students are Marma Buddhists; the government schools teach Bangla. Teachers in government schools often fail to show up for classes. Girls may face the danger of sexual assault on their way to school.
The Jamyang Foundation study programs are rapidly changing perceptions of women’s potential throughout the Himalayas and adjacent areas. The programs also help preserve and revive Buddhist cultures in areas where they are threatened by secularism, cultural encroachment, and economic hardship. Students from diverse nationalities and ethnic backgrounds—Tibet, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Mongolia—have benefitted from the programs, developing community development skills, a strong sense of cultural enrichment, and empowerment. Hundreds more girls and young women are anxious to join the programs when more facilities can be built.