GlacierHub Writer Tsechu Dolma Wins Major Award

GlacierHub Writer Receives Youth Award

Tsechu Dolma at Himalayan grasslands in Nepal
Tsechu Dolma at Himalayan grasslands in Nepal (source: Tsechu Dolma).

The Asia Society recently announced the 2018 class of its Asia 21 Young Leaders program. Among the new awardees is Tsechu Dolma, a former GlacierHub writer.

Dolma’s award highlighted her achievements as the founder of Mountain Resiliency Project. As its name suggests, the NGO works to build climate resilience in vulnerable mountain communities. It focuses on the Himalayan region of Nepal, where economic and political marginalization are compounded by climate change impacts, particularly drought and glacier retreat. The strategy of the organization is to focus on supporting resilience through women’s empowerment in sustainable agricultural enterprises. These include honeybee farms, orchards, and greenhouses, all using locally available materials and drawing on traditional architectural forms and craft skills. They seek as well to promote opportunities for youth, as a way of stemming the outmigration from the region.

Tsechu Dolma during work with UNDP in Colombia
Tsechu Dolma during work with UNDP in Colombia (source: Tsechu Dolma).

Dolma grew up in a Tibetan refugee camp in Kathmandu, Nepal. She and her parents fled political violence in that country, coming to Queens, New York, when she was in her early teens. A graduate of Barnard College and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Dolma has also worked as a natural resource management consultant for the United Nations Development Programme in Latin America and climate change strategist for the Timor Leste Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Environment. She has received a number of other awards, including a Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship, an Echoing Green Fellowship, and a Brower Youth Award, as well as being recognized as one of the Forbes 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs.

Dolma worked as a writer for GlacierHub from 2014 to 2016. As a fluent speaker of Nepali and Tibetan, she conducted a number of interviews with community members and activists in the Himalayas. Her posts addressed challenges created by climate change, including impacts in a small village and the persistence of gender inequality in the Himalayas. She noted social obstacles as well, including policies which limit local engagement in small-scale tourism enterprises. She focused in detail on concrete activities to promote sustainability and social inclusion. One examined the construction of village greenhouses, and another discussed a post-disaster recovery program, which drew on local skills, knowledge and resources, rather than relying on contracting the work of rebuilding to outside firms.

GlacierHub spoke with Dolma about her award. She described what it means to her:

I was born and raised in a refugee camp. I spent the first 19 years of my life as a stateless person, until I became an American. It’s why I am so deeply honored and humbled to be recognized as one of Asia Society’s 21 Young Leaders, an unparalleled network of accomplished young Asian professionals representing the new generation of leaders in government, business, arts, media and the nonprofit sector. Having this level of recognition so early in my career is incredibly emboldening. I am so proud to fight alongside refugees and displaced peoples for equality, dignity and freedom. Leadership is the grit, vision, and communication skills to be a positive and effective steward to our community and environment. It is the tool to address inequities and development gaps, and improve livelihoods.

Asia 21 Young Leaders Program

Tsechu Dolma at community meeting in Nepal
Tsechu Dolma (standing) at community meeting in Nepal (source: IYFNET).

The Asia Society is a global non-profit organization that seeks to address issues of importance for Asia, and to build a deeper understanding of Asia around the world. It has long promoted international awareness of Asian art, and it has worked to advance public discussion of economic and policy issues in Asia. Well known for its architecturally striking headquarters in New York, which houses the Asia Society Museum, it also has centers in Hong Kong and Houston as well, with offices across Asia, the United States, Europe and Australia.

The Asia 21 Young Leaders Program honors professionals under the age of 40 from many different fields who demonstrate leadership and collaborative efforts, at local, national and global levels. This year’s group includes a number of women who are active in fields long dominated by men, including Bulgantuya Khurelbaatar, the deputy finance minister of Mongolia, and Ernestine Fu, an American venture capitalist who draws on her experience in cybersecurity and data science to provide guidance to philanthropic foundations. It also includes activists who work on social justice issues of ethnic discrimination, inclusion of people with disabilities and LGBT rights. Other awardees work on peace-making, poverty reduction and social entrepreneurship.

Sanjeev Sherchan, executive director of the Global Initiatives Group at the Asia Society, also spoke with GlacierHub about Dolma.

GlacierHub: What are the goals of the ASIA 21 Fellows Program?

Sanjeev Sherchan: To build a network of young leaders (under the age of 40) across the Asia Pacific as a way to promote mutual understanding and effective collaboration among the next generation’s most important and influential leaders. This will contribute towards creating a more connected, better integrated Asia-Pacific region with leaders capable of drawing on vital connections to move the region forward, for the betterment of all.

 

GH: How are the fellows nominated and selected?

 The people of Namgyal Village in Upper Mustang with donated tarpaulins in their hand
Tsechu Dolma (middle row, center, in red jacket and white scarf) at meeting in Namgyal Village in Upper Mustang, Nepal (Source: Tsechu Dolma).

SS: Nominations are sent by the Asia 21 Alumni community and Asia Society’s various networks. Selection process goes through two sets of reviews – first, by Asia 21 Secretariat and then, Asia 21 Selection Committee comprised of Asia 21 alumni

A typical Asia 21 Young Leader is someone who embodies the change that he/she wishes to see in the world and strives to create a wildfire of innovative approaches to addressing shared challenges within the region and beyond. Asia 21 Young Leaders endeavor to mobilize his/her counterparts locally, regionally, or globally to take action in affecting change—multiplying the number of people impacted, and extending the reach of Asia 21 through the power of the idea and the power of the people behind it.

 

GH: Are there any ways in which the class of 2018 is distinctive?

SS: The diversity of the expertise and their backgrounds is the distinctive feature of the Class of 2018.  The newest members of the Asia 21 network include activists and visionaries, policymakers and lifesavers, technology entrepreneurs and innovators—all affecting change in their own unique ways.

 

Readers can learn more about Tsechu Dolma and the Mountain Resiliency Project at the project’s website.

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Greenhouses bring hope to vulnerable mountain communities in Nepal

Growing up in a Tibetan refugee camp in Nepal, I vividly remember how food insecurity impacted our everyday lives. Floods, droughts, and landslides would immediately determine what we ate. We ate high carb with little nutritional value when things got really bad. I dreaded those days. I looked forward to the rare days when we had lots of vegetables. As a result, many in my community grew up malnourished. But things started changing once my mother started growing vegetables using plastic covering in small spaces. A small change, which shifted the trajectory of my four siblings and my life.

That was my first exposure to improvised greenhouses. It has stayed with me all these years and now the need for it is only growing. Due to climate change, climate-induced disasters are a daily reality in Nepal and food insecurity is rampant. Nepal is climate disaster vulnerable and projected to import more food.

This past growing season my nonprofit organization, Mountain Resiliency Project, with funding from American Jewish World Services, has been working on building greenhouses with our community partner, Himalayan Community Committee, in Langtang valley, Nepal.

Kimjung glacier inches from Kyangjin Gumba, Langtang (3870m asl). The above glacier had also released an air-snow blast avalanche that blew off all standing homes nearby. (Source: Tsechu Dolma)
Kimjung glacier inches from Kyangjin Gumba, Langtang (3870m asl). The above glacier had also released an air-snow blast avalanche that blew off all standing homes nearby. (Source: Tsechu Dolma)

In the past, I have led greenhouse projects in Tibet, Mustang and Baglung. These are high altitude communities that were directly being impacted by climate change. The greenhouses provided protection from extreme and erratic precipitation. And they support growing a diverse range of vegetables that would not survive outside in high altitude climate.

High peaks surround Langtang valley, villages inches away from glaciers, with the Tibetan Plateau bordering north and east. Langtangpas are people of Tibetan descent. The nearest road is three days of strenuous hike away. The April 2015 earthquake broke off a hanging glacier above Langtang village and caused an air-snow blast that hit and broke free rock and ice that came down 1000m and buried the village. Some scholars believe climate change has increased hanging glaciers and rock falls in the region.

Lakchung Tamang, 61, with his home in Mundu, Langtang (3500m asl) destroyed by the April 2016 Nepal earthquake. He lost 12 immediate family members, son, daughter, son-in law, daughter-in-law and 5 grandchildren. (Source: Tsechu Dolma).
Lakchung Tamang, 61, with his home in Mundu, Langtang (3500m asl) destroyed by the April 2016 Nepal earthquake. He lost 12 immediate family members, son, daughter, son-in law, daughter-in-law and 5 grandchildren. (Source: Tsechu Dolma)

The Langtang survivors of 160 households were relocated to a temporary shelter in Kathmandu. My colleague, Chhime Renzin Tamang, 21, a native Langtangpa, shared his grievance of losing 12 members in his immediate family. We brainstormed ideas of how to rebuild lives and I proposed building greenhouses. There had been a few greenhouses in the area before but the avalanches had wiped them away.

After all the pain and loss, it was difficult convincing families to think about farming. Many had just sowed their seeds before the catastrophic earthquake. They were in the fields preparing for a growing season when tragedy hit.

Tharchen Tamang, 62, and Lakchung Tamang, 61, with author in their home in Mundu, Langtang. (Source: Tsechu Dolma).
Tharchen Tamang, 62, and Lakchung Tamang, 61, with author in their home in Mundu, Langtang. (Source: Tsechu Dolma)

 “After the earthquake, our small field was covered by heavy landslides and it had hardened, since we spent a year without cultivating the fields. We have to carry in our food from a town three days walk away; it is very expensive and strenuous. How can we survive like this?” questioned Tharchen Tamang, 62, of Mundu, Langtang.

When I asked Chhime’s mother about rebuilding, she responded: “Everything my family had worked towards has been wiped out. I lost my eldest son, his whole family, my eldest daughter, and her whole family, too. Twelve members. How can we restart our lives again at this old age?” – Tharchen Tamang, 62, of Mundu, Langtang.

Tharchen Tamang, 62, starting to sow her family greenhouse in Mundu, which sits at 3500m above sea level. (Source: Chhime Tamang).
Tharchen Tamang, 62, starting to sow her family greenhouse in Mundu, which sits at 3500m above sea level. (Source: Chhime Tamang)

We provided psychosocial counseling with strong Tibetan Buddhist influences to mentally prepare the families for rebuilding. Together with the villagers and local leadership, Tempa Lama, president of the local Langtang Reconstruction Management Committee, our greenhouse project was welcomed.

“It has been a year and the government still hasn’t delivered its promise on rebuilding. The greenhouses are being built before the houses. We have stomachs to fill! It’s a sign of hope and a new future for Langtang,” as said Tempa Lama, a local leader.

Langtang community members volunteering at the greenhouse construction. (Source: Chhime Tamang).
Langtang community members volunteering at the greenhouse construction. (Source: Chhime Tamang)

My hope and Chhime’s hope for greenhouses is to fortify our local food system, expand local ownership and enhance community resiliency. It is a small project, compared to larger development projects, but it is a viable opportunity that makes a huge impact in our community. The same impact it made on my upbringing.

“The greenhouse is now our main source of food.  The food grown from my greenhouse is directly feeding my family and my community members who are helping me rebuild my home. I am growing onion, watercress, mustard greens, cabbage, chili, garlic, squashes and celery.  We can rebuild our lives again,” as said Lakchung Tamang.

 

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