Keepu Tsering Lepcha -India

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Keepu Tsering Lepcha (born 1942) has devoted her life to the uplift of her Lepcha community, indigenous to the Himalayan region of Sikkim. A teacher and retired civil servant, she helps educate members, especially the girls, of this diminishing tribe, which today numbers around 30,000. With the help of European donors, she has founded an NGO, the Human Development Foundation of Sikkim (HDFS), which has been working since 1997 with underprivileged families.

It is said: Keepu Tsering Lepcha, teacher and retired civil servant, has devoted herself to the survival of her rapidly diminishing Lepcha community, particularly educating the girls of this tiny tribe.

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Sorry, I can not find any photo (see also my comment ‘Brave women without photos‘).

She works for the Human Development Foundation of Sikkim HDFS.

Keepu Tsering Lepcha (born 1942), a native of Sikkim, was driven by the need to help members of her Lepcha community, an indigenous Sikkimese tribe whose numbers have dwindled to 30,000-odd today, and whose members have found it hard to keep pace with an increasingly competitive society.

Keepu’s father was a government official whose job took him to the remote areas of Sikkim, so she grew up hearing her father talk about the need to do something for the community. She fulfilled her father’s desire through her careers as teacher, government official, and eventually, social activist.

Keepu went to primary and secondary school in the capital, Gangtok, before going to college in Darjeeling in West Bengal. (Sikkim had no higher education facilities.) Keepu then went on to postgraduate studies in Calcutta, capital of West Bengal, before returning to Sikkim in 1967 to become a teacher and, for a brief period, principal of the Enchey Senior Secondary School in Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital.

The government school had been established mainly to help refugee Tibetan children, 400 of whom, including 97 girls, were in the school’s hostel. Keepu volunteered to stay with the girls and developed an excellent rapport with the school’s children, many of whom had lost their parents while fleeing Tibet. Apart from academic guidance, Keepu and other teachers also helped the refugee children deal with such aspects of their lives as bathing, washing their clothes, cutting their hair, and so on.

Later, Keepu was appointed to work as assistant director in the state government’s education department. She was also given charge of the training institute for primary teachers. She remained with the education department till 1994. Among her major achievements were the development and publication of textbooks from classes I to V, and the organization of teacher crash programs which led to the training of 600 teachers of local languages.

In 1994, she was inducted into the state civil service, promoted to the rank of joint secretary and posted outside the education department. Over 28 years, she served as project director in the Rural Development Agency, dealing with people living below the poverty line. She visited many of the rural poor in the state, especially women, and got to closely scrutinize the challenges of rural life. She went on to work in various other departments, finally becoming secretary of the department of sports and youth affairs before retiring from government service in 2000.

However, since 1989, Keepu had already embarked on her parallel role as a mentor for children of her community.

This was when Lepcha children started living with her in her own six-room home, called Lepcha Cottage. Apart from supporting the children who lived with her, Keepu also helps members of her tribe get access to healthcare, and improve their social and economic environment. She also endeavors to preserve and promote Lepcha culture and tradition and is trying to revive the dying Lepcha language: In fact, at Lepcha Cottage, speaking in Lepcha within the premises is compulsory.

Keepu works on her own as well as through an NGO, the Human Development Foundation of Sikkim (HDFS), of which she is chairperson. It was started in 1997, with help from Swiss and other donors, and its major aim is to cater to the needs of underprivileged children in Sikkim, mainly through education. Today it has about 400 children in its care, and runs its own school up to Class X. Some of its former alumni are now at university. On 14 November 2003, the HDFS was given the National Award for Children’s Welfare by the Indian government.

Keepu’s work has led to significant improvements in terms of children’s healthcare and basic education. The impact of her work with children has been inestimable – the children who have changed their lives under her influence serve as role models for other children of the tribe.

Awareness has also grown among the Lepchas of the need to preserve their culture and traditions.

None of this has been particularly easy. Two of the major difficulties Keepu has faced have been widespread ignorance among members of the tribe on healthcare issues, particularly with regard to children, and the prevalence of alcoholism, which has destroyed many families.

Sikkim is a state with few employment resources, since it lacks industries, and most of the population is involved in agriculture. The Lepchas are neither educated enough nor commercially-minded in order to profit adequately from their land. Many Lepchas have, in fact, been displaced from their own land by settlers.

Also, easily swayed by other cultures, habits, and religions, preserving their very own cultural identity is an uphill task. But, thanks to Keepu’s efforts, some of this is changing. (1000peacewomen).

Sikkim: A Himalayanreview, DOUBLE TREAT FOR SIKKIM EXPRESS AT THE STATE AWARDS.

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