Women for Positive Change
Drouk-kar Tsho, our little “Karuna Girl,” turns 20 this year. I first met her in 2005 when she was five years old, while I was visiting a clinic our organization Karuna-Shechen supports in Eastern Tibet. I walked into a dark kitchen, and standing near the hearth was a little girl with a face so pure, her eyes at once laughing yet serious, whose direct gaze and smile lit up the room.
I took a picture of her before she continued eating her tsampa (roasted barley meal), and the image of this little girl became the symbol for our humanitarian vision. Ever since then, her picture has been the welcoming image on our website, brochures, and posters.
Over the years, our Karuna Girl has been a shining symbol of the hope and potential of the people of the Himalayas, and the need to provide access to education and opportunities, especially for women and girls. Contemporary women face many challenges that hold them back from equality and opportunity, which have ripple effects throughout society. It is not only our moral responsibility, but also in the best interest of all of us, to invest in women and girls — to lift them up for change — and create a better world for us all.
Educating Girls Fosters Equality
Two-thirds of the world's 796 million illiterate people are women. Without access to information, they lack knowledge of female health issues, are more likely to be malnourished and have under-nourished families, and face a higher risk of child mortality. A significant decrease of child mortality has been reported among mothers who benefitted from even one year of education, and UNESCO studies show that education plays an important role in poverty, health, and economic development: “Education provides skills and knowledge that facilitate integration into the professional world, raise wages and break the cycle of poverty.”
Ensuring gender equality is crucial. Educated girls have more potential for caring for themselves and their families, and for contributing to the economic and social well-being of society. To provide a girl with a quality education is to give her, and those around her, a better future.
Mitigating Climate Change
As climate change and related issues have become the main challenge for the 21st century, educating girls is emerging as an important solution that has been largely overlooked and undervalued in the past. A recent study from Project Drawdown (1) highlights educating girls as the #6 most impactful way to mitigate the impact of climate change, as it empowers girls to manage their reproductive health and increases their resilience and capacity: “They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change.” This perspective, which has been central to Karuna-Shechen’s mission since we began, is a progressive approach that offers a better future for everyone.
Fostering a Most Altruistic World
Buddhism teaches us that it is important to build a more altruistic and equal society at all levels: economic, social and ecological. Education can play a pivotal role by teaching cooperation, compassion, and equipping people to pursue their potential. It is therefore important to provide access to education, training, and economic opportunities for women and girls — for when they reach their potential, they are better able to find personal fulfillment, develop their self-esteem, and become agents of change at the family, community, and societal levels.
Educating Girls for Change
As our Karuna Girl turns 20 this year — the same year Karuna-Shechen celebrates 20 years of humanitarian service in the Himalayan region — I am again reminded of the hope and potential I saw in the little girl’s eyes, and am again convinced of the importance of our mission to invest in women and girls through education, access to information, and equal opportunities.
When Drouk-kar Tsho was 13 years old, I met her again in Tibet and thanked her for having become, through her smile, the ambassador for our humanitarian projects. She had the same innocent gaze and smile, and when I told her that so many people have looked at her picture, she could not quite understand why. Now in our 20th year, I also thank those who have joined with us and helped us to invest in hundreds of thousands of women and girls over the years. Each one is an investment in hope and positive change. As the challenges of our modern world increase and the stakes grow higher, I invite people around the world to continue to join us in this important and meaningful work.
Learn more about the work Karuna-Shechen is doing to educate women and girls in the Himalayan region!