Eco Femme has been cultivating a strong relationship with the Tibetan community in India with ambassadors such as Kalsang Dolma and Pema Llamo leading the work. Read about our recent visit to Ladakh here.
Kalsang was born in Tibet but moved to India with her father, twin sister and elder brother. She came to Auroville on an exchange programme from TCV in 1993 when she was 16. She has now lived in Auroville for 23 years and currently serves at Pavilion of Tibetan Culture as an Executive. She has been trying to build the bridges between the 2 communities through exchange programmes with students and with Eco Femme through our Pads for Sisters programme.
Our other ambassador, Pema, has her roots in Ladakh. Having worked in the health department in Dharamsala, Pema has been crucial in moving things forward in this location. With exciting developments in this relationship emerging, Nikethana interviewed Kalsang and Pema on this work, it significance and challenges in the Tibetan context.
Kalsang has expressed deep fondness for Eco Femme from the very beginning of our work. While promoting the cloth pads through her own use of them, with a full bucket of responsibilities, she regretted not being able to do more towards reaching out to her community regarding sustainable menstruation.
Travelling to Dharamsala in 2016 through the Bridging Bridges programme (which saw Auroville students go on exchange to the Tibetan settlements in Dharamsala), Kalsang expressed deep dismay at seeing the beautiful mountains increasingly filled with waste, with ‘the biggest kick’ being the disposable sanitary napkins being eaten by monkeys and dogs.
This sight is not new, but stood out starkly in juxtaposition to the Buddhist ethos of the Tibetan community. Something needed to be done.
Kalsang met with the director of the Upper Tibetan Children’s Villages (TCV) in Dharamsala who offered understanding and support to bring cloth pads into the school.
Doing a combination of general health, menstrual and sex education presentations with different classes in the TCV, Kalsang has been on a journey towards encouraging Tibetan girls to make the switch towards cloth pads. Talking to the home mothers as well who support the girls, she now reports that some of them have even made the switch to menstrual cups!
Pema discovered Eco Femme in mid 2017 while volunteering under Tibet corps initiative at the Department of Health of Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala. Being driven by the need to open discussion on in the Tibetan society, Pema began to research menstrual health awareness in the community and initiated a survey in both English and Tibetan language to better understand the knowledge and myths surrounding menstruation in the Tibetan community in Dharamsala. She designed a brochure on menstrual health and hygiene in both English and Tibetan to distribute in schools and health clinics.
While going through the variety of menstrual products available, Pema was very intrigued to learn about Eco Femme cloth pads and pre-ordered some to try. She enjoyed using the pads so much that it inspired her to write an email to Eco Femme in June this year to share her experience and to ask for help to widen the knowledge on sustainable menstrual practice in the Tibetan society.
With the support of Eco Femme and through observing Kalsang during her visit to Dharamsala, Pema has now given educational sessions and distributed cloth pads to schools and nunneries through the Pads for Sisters programme covering TCV Ladakh.
The girls buy subsidized pads at Rs. 50. They receive a monthly allowance from which they had previously bought disposable napkins. Under the Pads for Sisters programme they direct this allowance towards more sustainable options. Three out of eight TCVs in Dharamsala have now been covered under the Pads for Sisters programme. Kalsang and Pema have also offered sustainable menstruation presentations with nunneries in Dharamsala and started a conversation with various administrative boards in the Tibetan community, which is now bearing fruit.
Through the good will and efforts of Pema (who now leaves us for a few years for research study in the US – we wish her all the very best!) and Kalsang, we are starting another exciting journey with the Tibetan community. The Women Empowerment Desk under the Central Tibetan Administration is collaborating with Eco Femme on a pilot project to expand the ongoing initiatives on a larger scale in the Tibetan community!
Although at its initial stages, we at Eco Femme are delighted to be developing this valuable partnership…watch this space!