Executive Director of Bhutan Nuns Foundation Makes It To BBC 100 Women 2018
Dr Tashi Zangmo, executive director of Bhutan Nuns Foundation (BNF) is the sole Bhutanese woman to be featured in this year’s list.
By Kinley Yangden | Bhutan Times
One Bhutanese has made it to the BBC 100 Women 2018 list. Dr Tashi Zangmo, executive director of Bhutan Nuns Foundation (BNF), is the sole Bhutanese woman to be featured in this year’s list of 100 inspiring and influential women around the world.
The 55-year-old devotes her energy and time to help empower Buddhist nuns in Bhutan. The foundation was created in 2009 and is working with at least 28 Buddhist nunneries throughout the nation, providing training to nuns to become well-educated, well-trained leaders in their communities.
The foundation also helps to identify and build much-needed infrastructure.
In an interview with Buddhist Door, Dr Tashi said: “When we started our work, we started from scratch. We started giving training to the nuns.
“When we went to visit the nunneries, we very quickly realised that they didn’t have access to basic necessities such as proper bathrooms, and nutrition was also very bad. It’s ironic to ask them to give health and hygiene and nutrition training when they don’t have sufficient food to put on the table or running water or proper toilets in most of the nunneries.”
PhD holder who was given a “one in a million chance” at education
Dr Tashi holds a PhD from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. The focus of her thesis was on education for female monastics, a subject that has enabled her to fully immerse into helping the girls in nunneries across Bhutan and to promote gender equality too.
But the opportunity of education had almost slipped her by. Dr Tashi told Buddhist Door that she was 11 years old when she went to school for the first time and was the first girl to do so too.
Born in a remote village, Dr Tashi was one of nine children. Her mother had asked if she wanted to try out school. Her five older siblings had no such opportunity.
“I always say that it’s one in a million,” says Dr Tashi. “It’s a narrow escape.”
To Dr Tashi, being sent to school was a “big leap” for her and her mother. But it wasn't easy. It took a day to walk from her village to school, so she attended a boarding school, where there were no facilities for girls.
In an interview with Carmen Basquets, Dr Tashi said she had to share a room with boys.
She added: “The teachers weren’t used to working with young girls so it was a horrible experience.
“But every experience I had there made me stronger, and when I look back now I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Dr Tashi then attended Mount Holyoke College in the United States, one of the oldest and most prestigious women’s colleges in the country.
Photo: Ben Barnhart
Dedication and commitment
Although her opportunities at education had helped to broaden her horizons, it was her hardships that instilled a sense of dedication and commitment in helping women in Bhutan.
“In situations where I did not even have a pair of slippers on my feet or an extra set of clothes, I always dreamt of giving, sharing and doing something for the women in my country.
“I had a special feeling for women because we were majority female in my family and I have seen how hard my mother and older sisters worked to make ends meet for family without any education,” said Dr Tashi.
BNF is under the guidance and support of Her Majesty, the Queen Mother, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck, who also stated that they have to “work hand-in-hand among monks and nuns, women and men, for the well-being of not only our own country, but also for world peace. We have to think big.”
Nuns receive certificates of achievement from Her Majesty, the Queen Mother, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck after completing a training program. (Photo: BNF)
One such big accomplishment is the establishment of a Training and Resource Centre in Thimphu, which will serve as a common platform for nuns around Bhutan. This centre is seen as one of the biggest achievements of BNF so far.
10 years on
It has almost been 10 years since BNF was founded and Dr Tashi has seen some changes so far. According to her, people are now open to nuns potentially becoming leaders in the community.
BNF seeks to not only benefit the nuns in Bhutan, but also the development of society at large and Dr Tashi believes that it starts, like herself, with educating female monastics.