Debate_SchwalbeManduwala, Uttarakhand, India — The green courtyard and main campus street of Sakya College for Nuns are now safer and brighter thanks to a grant from Khyentse Foundation that brought solar-powered lighting to the area.

The college, which was founded in 2009, provides a classical Buddhist education to 51 resident students, who may study for up to 15 years, gaining the highest degrees conferred in Tibetan Buddhism. The campus is located in a once underutilized retreat complex in Manduwala, Uttarakhand, India, which is now home to the students and faculty of the school. Although the grounds and buildings are beautiful, the outdoor spaces lacked proper lighting, so it was difficult for the nuns and staff to make full use of the grounds after sundown.

Kurt Schwalbe, an American linguist who teaches a yearly Tibetan language intensive at Deer Park Institute, has worked on development projects for the college since before it opened. He remembers seeing the students conducting their evening debates in the dark and walking around with flashlights to make their way back to their rooms afterwards. Safety was a concern because the grounds are located close to a thick forest and there was danger of stepping on snakes.

“It was dark at night, and he could not see the joy shining out of the darkness, it was not visible who was honing her intellect with sharp reasoning.”

Principal Ven. Dechen Wangmo describes how difficult it was to see who was speaking during the spirited evening debates, which take place in the outdoor courtyard. Recalling one visit by Dr. Schwalbe, Dechen Wangmo says, “He attended the philosophical classes to feel the Dharmic environment and listen to the nuns performing debates. But it was dark at night, [and he could not see] the joy shining out of the darkness, it was not visible who was honing her intellect with sharp reasoning.”

Interior_Schwalbe

In addition to these practical concerns, the new lights have improved the general atmosphere, contributing to the education of the nuns. Dechen Wangmo explains that there was a great need for students and staff to get “fresh air and mental relaxation, joy, and new energy” by walking outdoors at the end of their busy day. She also points to the potential for the new lights to “increase the students’ enthusiasm for studies by providing a better facility and learning environment.”

During one of his yearly visits Dr. Schwalbe, along with Khenpo Gyatso, Sakya College director, learned of the need for improved outdoor lighting. In February 2013, he applied for a Khyentse Foundation grant on behalf of the college. Shortly after, the college community was delighted to learn that they had received a grant and could go ahead with the project.

The solar-powered lights were fully functional as of March 2014. The nuns who study hard all day can now enjoy their outdoor space in comfort and safety, and they can see each other’s faces during debate. Staff are pleased with the solar-powered technology, which means no electricity bill and no harm to the environment. The only expense to the college is minimal ongoing maintenance. This new element of the school environment will last long into the future, playing its part in the education, protection, and illumination of the students of Sakya College for Nuns. Dechen Wangmo says, “I do believe that in the future our nuns will make a difference by shedding new light in societies, and in the world at large.”

The nuns in a study group during the day time.

The nuns in a study group during the day time.