Woman honored for tirelessly working for refugee children from occupied Tibet

President Sue Ott Rowlands presents Jetsun Pema with the Pearl S. Buck Award on April 18, 2024. (Photo: Randolph College)

Education and Society
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Lynchburg — Jetsun Pema, former minister and president of the Tibetan Children’s Village School, has been awarded the prestigious Pearl S. Buck Award from Randolph College in recognition of her contribution to the education of Tibetan children over the past five decades.

She reportedly donated the prize money to the Tibetan Village School, where she is known as the mother of Tibetan refugee children, 'Ama Jetsun Pema'.

Pearl S. Buck, known for her humanitarian work and for being a champion of civil rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, and the rights of those with disabilities long before these issues were widely discussed in public. The non-profit organization claimed the award is given to women who exemplify the ideals, values, and commitments of Buck, a member of the Class of 1914 and the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

A ceremony took place at the Smith Hall Theatre of Randolph College to award the Pearl S. Buck Award to Jetsun Pema, the younger sister of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. The event drew several hundred attendees, including Ama la's family and friends, former TCV students, and members of Tibetan communities in the United States. The ceremony commenced with a screening of the documentary "Amala: The Life and Struggles of the Dalai Lama's Sister."

Sue Ott Rowlands, President of Randolph College, conferred the Pearl S. Buck Award upon Jetsun Pema at Smith Hall Theatre on April 18, 2024.

In her acceptance speech, Ama Jetsun Pema expressed, "It is a great privilege and honor to receive the Pearl S. Buck Award, and I gladly accept it on behalf of all TCV staff who have worked with me and continue to care for the children. Today, over 53,000 Tibetan children have received education. They are dispersed globally and are giving back."

Bessenger, Randolph’s Barbara Boyle Lemon ’57 and William J. Lemon Associate Professor of Religious Studies and an associate professor of comparative philosophy, remarked, "It is not an exaggeration to say the schools and refuge they provide to children would not exist without Jetsun Pema; she truly epitomizes the tradition of service and compassion the Pearl S. Buck Award recognizes."

Pema is the seventh recipient of Randolph’s Pearl S. Buck Award, which includes a medallion and a $25,000 prize. She announced her intention to donate the award money back to TCV, where it would significantly impact the education of Tibetan children.

Pema boasts a plethora of international accolades, including the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child (Sweden), the Woman of Courage Award, the Maria Montessori Award in Italy, a UNESCO Medal, and the prestigious Nari Shakti Puraskar award given by the Indian government to individuals or institutions working toward women’s empowerment.

Born in 1940 in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, Pema commenced her formal education at St. Joseph’s Convent in Kalimpong at the age of nine. In 1959, she was a young student in India when His Holiness the Dalai Lama was compelled into exile following China’s invasion of Tibet.

Continuing her education in Switzerland and England, Pema returned to India in 1964 after the sudden demise of her eldest sister, Tsering Dolma, to take charge of running TCV in Dharamshala, HP, India.

Under Pema's guidance, TCV has expanded to encompass five Tibetan children's villages (schools) with branches, seven residential schools, seven-day schools, ten-day care centers, four vocational training centers, four youth hostels, four homes for the elderly, and an outreach program benefitting over 2,000 Tibetan children in exile.