The students in the program at this school all appear happy, healthy, and well-fed. Though the dorms are old and over-crowded by my standards (eight girls per room), the facilities are as clean as can be expected in this region. They definitely take pride in their studies and in their school, and their families are (for the most part) incredibly grateful for the opportunity for the girls to attend school. There are a few exceptions, as some families did not want the girls to get an education, and some had even arranged marriages for the girls to try to keep them home. The families now appear to be very proud of the girls, and have accepted the idea that educating girls is a positive thing.
On the other hand, I also met with families who defied local tradition and wanted the girls to be able to go to school, despite contrary traditions that were hundreds of years old. One father I met was the village chief, and his daughter is the first girl in the village ever to attend high school. He beamed as he told me through the translator that his goal now is for every girl to go to high school. I will never forget the proud look in his eyes as he stood with his arms around his daughter, and the determination in his voice as he spoke about his desire to see every child in his village educated, rather than just the boys.
I also spoke with families from villages where no one – boy or girl – had ever gone to high school. These girls are true trailblazers from their villages. The accomplishment of a girl being the first person in her village to receive a high school education cannot be overestimated. What I loved about these girls was their confidence. They stood before me as though they belonged in high school – which, of course, they do! I met so many future leaders in this school, and I am privileged to have met each one of them.
I was impressed by the teachers, school officials, and most of all the students at this school. (Can I say that again? These young men and women are impressive.) It is a poor school which has large financial needs – in need of new dorms, science labs, library, etc. – but they are humble in what they ask from us. In fact, all they asked was whether or not we could commit to sponsoring our current 40 students for the next three years so that they can finish high school. They are hospitable, friendly, and devoted to education.
Mama’s Wish Foundation:
Established in 1992 to help young women who have the intelligence and ability to pursue an academic career, Mama’s Wish Foundation is an extension of the Rebgong Cultural Center. The young women in the program are from nomadic or farming families who do not have the resources to enable their daughters to get an education. The goal of Mama’s Wish is to provide real help where it is needed most.
The [five founding members of Mama's Wish] have been friends for 20-30 years and have worked together for several years as well. They are all dedicated to educating the children in their region, and they have committed countless hours to the Mama’s Wish education program. The teachers outlined for me the required steps to becoming a student in the Mama’s Wish program. They are as follows:
Four Steps to Becoming a Mama’s Wish Student:
- Teachers from area schools submit student’s name for consideration to the MW Foundation.
- Student takes an academic test provided by MWF.
- If the student passes the test, all five MW teachers visit the student in her home. They look for things to confirm that this is the student’s home, such as family photos and asking the family to provide documents that would be kept in their home (such as prior year’s report cards) .
- The five MW teachers meet and vote on which students to accept to the program and which ones to deny. This is based on academic excellence, personal interview, and financial need. The teachers then make a list and rank each student. They then attempt to find sponsors for the students.
In a normal year, they usually find sponsors for ten or less high school students and 3-4 college students.
Until last year, this was a very small foundation, because the region is remote and it is difficult to find local sponsors who can afford to help with tuition expenses. Last year they had 60 eligible high school students in total on their list, and we sponsored most of them. They are extremely proud to have sponsors for so many students last year, and so grateful to have sponsors for so many college students. The help that we are providing is “beyond their dreams.”
But of all of my memories, what I wish the most is that you could have seen the look of gratitude in their families’ eyes.
The elder brother of a college student, who walked for two days from his village before catching a bus and riding for hours to get to the school – not to see his brother, who was away at college, but to see us and thank us for sponsoring his education. He traveled over 100km just to say thank you.
The uncle of a college student, who made a traditional Tibetan gift and walked from his distant village in order to present it to us as a thank you for making it possible for his niece to attend university.
The elderly father who was blind and yet insisted that his wife help him to walk for hours to get to the school so that he could visit his beloved daughter and say thank you to us for not only giving her an education, but also giving her a warm bed to sleep in, food to eat, and clothes to wear.
The grandmothers, and aunts, and cousins, and mothers, who walked for hours – and some for days – to get to the school. They brought with them what they could give – the most precious gifts of homemade bread, yak milk, traditional Tibetan food. They have so little, and yet they carried all of these things to the school and presented them to us as a gesture of their gratitude.
The dozens upon dozens of students, teachers, family members, friends, and villagers who stood in perfect rows in the sun for 2-3 hours waiting for us to arrive, so that they could greet us and give us the hadas.
It was a joy to meet the children. It was a defining moment in my life meeting the parents, grandparents, family members, neighbors, and villagers. Again I am reminded of all that I have, and of how important it is to give back. Again I am reminded that love knows no boundaries between countries. The love of a mother for her daughter is etched in the lines on the faces and in the hands of the poorest of the poor.
The people I met had so much dignity. They arrived wearing their best clothes. Those that didn’t have good clothes borrowed clothes from villagers. They walked in a dignified way and they spoke in dignified voices. And yet when our eyes met…it was almost too much for me to bear. They looked at me as if I was their child’s last and only hope. They looked at me as if their child’s future was entirely in my hands. They looked at me as if they felt shame that I was providing something for their child that was their responsibility to provide. And I realized just how powerful two small words can be – THANK YOU – when it comes truly from the heart.
All of this – every moment – was meant for you, the sponsors. Language becomes a barrier which I am inadequate to overcome in describing this experience to you. I hope that in some small way, through my words and through the photographs, you will be able to understand just how much your gift of education has meant to these students, their families, and their communities. Each child, teen, and young adult that I met is so very precious, and each one now has an opportunity that one year ago was but a distant dream. Education is all about hope for the future, and you have given these students hope.
As Angela said, all of these girls "do belong" at school getting an education. Please help us make a difference in the lives of more of these deserving young women. Whether or not sponsoring is an option for you, join us in helping these girls acheive their dreams by forwarding this email to everyone you know. As more people hear about the dreams of these young women, more dreams will be realized.