Our series "Teacher Warriors" honours some of the country’s best and bravest teacher warriors, striving to give kids a fighting chance at a better present and a future floating with possibilities. In the penultimate episode of our series, Nichola Pais interviews and profiles a group of extraordinary women from the Himalayas - The Kung Fu Nuns:
Living to love, the Kung Fu Nuns put their prayers into deeds. More likely to be spotted in athletic gear than monastic robes, they plunge into their mission of building and educating from the ground.
What drives the Kung Fu Nuns?
We began learning Kung Fu several years ago, at the encouragement of the spiritual leader of our Buddhist lineage, His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa. Our tradition of Drukpa Buddhism believes strongly in gender equality, and we also do rituals and spiritual practices that have commonly been restricted to male monks. We believe by promoting the role of women and young girls, we are returning to our original roots. Many Buddhist saints and celebrated figures are actually women. On top of that, Kung Fu also began in India with the Buddhist master, Bodhidharma. So for many reasons, Kung Fu seemed like a great way for us to connect to our core values, and where we come from.
Also, we believe so strongly in educating others by example, not just talking. We love to lead to by example. By mastering Kung Fu, we can show communities that girls and women can do anything. That we can be physically strong, take leadership positions, and defend ourselves in the face of danger. For much of the Himalayas, this is a very important and urgent message for the safety and livelihood of young girls.
We focus mainly on environmental awareness campaigns, women’s health, clean water and water rights, heritage preservation, and speaking out against human trafficking.
How do you work to bring change in the lives of disadvantaged children?
We use creative ways to reach the new generation in the Himalayas. Since we believe in reaching traditional, nomadic communities as well as the fixed-location villages, we have launched several educational efforts that have never before been done. One is the Eco Pad Yatra. We trek off-road annually, often on routes longer than 650 miles, to do environmental and ecological education programs for each community along the way. Recently, we began doing Bicycle Yatras, to reach an even larger geographical area. The Bicycle Yatra of 2016 covered over 5,000 km, and we rode from Kathmandu, Nepal to Leh Ladakh and back again. This allowed us to stop village to village and give our talks on sustainability and gender equality, do Kung Fu demonstrations, and interact with people of different religious faiths. These events have had a large impact in these regions, where people do not always have access to modern communications.
How has the response been?
The results have been so inspiring. In the wake of our educational programs, many positive things have happened. Locals have organized with our partners to break a Guinness World Record for tree planting – 100,000 trees were planted in 33 minutes, and tens of thousands from across Ladakh joined for the effort. Use of plastics has also greatly diminished, and we are now training others in monitoring the quality of water in the major rivers. Environmental preservation is especially important in the Himalayas, because its glacial melt provides fresh water to nearly a third of the world’s population.
We also collaborate closely with the award-winning Druk Padma Karpo School (aka ‘Rancho’s School’ from the film THREE IDIOTS) in Ladakh, India. It was also founded by His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, and has become a model for sustainable architecture and for providing a competitive modern education while maintaining traditional values.
What is your vision for the education of the disadvantaged children you work with?
In order to be properly educated, basic human needs must be met. That is why we organize and run regular health clinics (free of charge), do extensive relief aid work in disaster zones, and provide food and shelter for those in need. The Kung Fu Nuns take turns training in these special skills, and in collaboration with doctors, we now run dental clinics, women’s health clinics, and our well-known ‘Live to Love Eye Camps’, where cataracts surgeries are provided free of change. We do at least one of these each year, serving hundreds at a time. Many times, young children who dropped out of school from blindness come, and their sight is restored. For us, helping disenfranchised children survive is the first step to ensuring equal opportunity in education and in society.
The changes your mission has brought about are inspiring…
As a result of our efforts, there have been several wonderful advancements in gender equality in the Himalayas.
After the Nepal earthquakes, we were some of the first on-ground relief workers, delivering food, medicine, and shelter supplies to landslide-prone regions neglected by other NGOs. We organized a helicopter rescue mission, and travelled on foot to places no one else could reach. For the two years after the earthquake, we helped to rebuild over 200 homes and several community halls for villagers whose houses collapsed. Some of the halls are being used as schools and classrooms, as well. Now, it is so rewarding to see their lives slowly rebuilding. Hope is there.
Most importantly, we are so happy that the way people view religious women is changing because of us. We don’t just sit and pray… Yes, that is important, too. In fact we are all very well-trained in meditation and ritual practices. But also, we help to heal, build, and educate from the ground. We go in person, and we help people face to face. Now all these communities are starting to respect women more. The final result of this is giving young girls a sense of possibility - that they can also do anything, if their heart is in the right place.
This article was originally published in the June 2017 issue as a part of our cover story on Teacher Warriors. Subscribe to ScooNews Magazine today to have more such stories delivered to your desk every month.
Images courtesy - The Kung Fu Nuns of the Himalayas
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