By Don Cayo, Vancouver Sun November 6, 2010
Vancouver, Canada -- If there's a silver lining to the 50-year exile of Buddhists who've fled Tibet to escape Chinese rule, it may be the greater role and much improved quality of life that is evolving for women who devote their lives to their faith.
Even in the free Tibet, life for nuns was difficult, said Rinchen Khando Choegal, the sister-in-law of the Dalai Lama who served for 10 years as education minister in the Tibetan exile government and now devotes herself to an educational initiative for nuns. Most had little or no education before they took their vows, she said, and few, if any, formal learning opportunities once they joined.
And it was much worse for the 2,000 or so religious women who in recent decades have fled Tibet to work and study at the Dalai Lama's new home in Dharamsala, India, or the handful of other South Asian communities where about 140,000 exiled Tibetans congregate.
"Many had been imprisoned, and tortured in prison," Choegal said. "Their health was very poor. They were living in fear."
So her Nun's Project, started 23 years ago but becoming a full-time endeavour for her only for the last five, began with health and security. It then progressed, with considerable success, into education.
Her Nun's Project today involves about 700 women, roughly a third of the Tibetan nuns in exile. Those who've joined recently must be at least 17 years old and they come with basic education, which is provided to almost all Tibetan exile children by the government in exile. But her initial participants were as young as 13, and most had no education at all.
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