Pema Choling Shedra, recipient of a 2017 Ashoka Grant, provides basic and higher education in Buddhist philosophy for nuns. The first Buddhist College for women in Bhutan, the Shedra was established in the Bumthang region in 2001 to increase opportunities for Bhutanese girls, with most of the 176 students coming from rural or vulnerable backgrounds.
The nuns of Pema Choling Shedra, a residential Buddhist community of 100 women and girls, aged 12 – 60, located in the Bumthang region of Bhutan.
To foster a sustained, high-quality environment for learning, students must be healthy and have access to nutritious food. Bumthang, Bhutan, where the shedra is located, presented two specific obstacles the staff needed to address to ensure consistent availability of healthy food: the cold climate in Bumthang, which limits what vegetables can be grown; and Bhutan’s mountainous terrain, which significantly increases transportation costs.
With these considerations in mind, the shedra developed a vegetable garden that the students can maintain themselves. They purchased vegetable seeds that can grow in high altitude and cold weather, including cabbage, carrots, lettuce, beans, peas, chilies, cucumbers, spinach, and ola-choto (crow beak). Before the garden, the shedra’s supply of green vegetables was often limited to cabbage and chilies from local markets.
Teaching in Remote Regions
The shedra’s remote location has also complicated finding qualified teachers. Teachers must be willing to live in or travel to Bumthang, and they must be qualified to teach a range of topics, from Buddhist philosophy and English, to vocational skills such as thangka painting, embroidery, and tailoring, to yoga and meditation. Khyentse Foundation funds currently support the salaries of four full-time teachers, who are key to the nuns’ education.
“Many of Pema Choling’s students come from disadvantaged and rural backgrounds, and while their wants are small, they need better meals and living conditions. The Foundation’s support helped them continue to plant their own food by providing quality seeds and gardening needs. In the greenhouse, the girls grow lovely greens to supplement their meals. In a place where the winter is long, it’s a real treat to have something like spinach and fresh local veggies.”
—Sioksian Pek, who helps coordinate Pema Choling’s Ashoka Grant
Khyentse Foundation is committed to increase funding for Buddhist nunneries and women, and we need your help to identify possible recipients. Traditionally, nunneries receive less funding than monasteries, and although that is changing, there is still a discrepancy in educational opportunities for girls and nuns compared to young monks.
If you know of a nunnery that could become more self-sufficient with support from Khyentse Foundation, please encourage them to apply during the current grant cycle.