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Keepu Lepcha and Her Giving Spirit


Last week the Sikkim Chronicle published a feature story about a retired Lepcha civil servant and educator who exemplifies the giving spirit of her society. Although this website published  an article about her in 2012, Ms. Keepu Tsering Lepcha is inspiring enough to warrant another look at her accomplishments and ideals.

The Enchey monastery in Gangtok

The Enchey monastery in Gangtok (Photo by lionel.viroulaud on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Ms. Keepu was born into a Lepcha family in Sikkim in 1942. Her father worked for the government in a job that required him to travel to many remote corners of the state. As a result, he raised her with an ideal of doing things for their society. She attended primary and secondary schools in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, and went to college in Darjeeling, a town in West Bengal to the south that also has a Lepcha community. After that, she did postgraduate work in Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal state. In 1967 she returned to Gangtok to take a position as a teacher.

She taught at the Enchey Senior Secondary School where she also served as the principal for a while. The school had been established as a refuge for Tibetan children, 400 of whom lived in a hostel attached to it. In its early history, the school was affiliated with the Enchey monastery. Ms. Keepu volunteered to live with the refugee kids, many of whom had lost their parents when they had fled from Tibet. She and the other teachers served as counselors for the children, advising them on personal hygiene issues such as bathing, cutting their hair, and washing their clothes, as well as on academic matters.

She then took a position for the state department of education as the assistant director, where she worked until 1994. She developed and published textbooks for the primary grades and organized training programs for elementary school teachers who taught the local languages.

A young Lepcha woman in a village in North Sikkim

A young Lepcha woman in a village in North Sikkim (Photo by Kandukuru Nagarjun on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Ms.  Keepu also served for 28 years as the project director for the Rural Development Agency, which helps the rural poor in Sikkim. As part of her duties, she visited rural poor people, especially women, and learned how they cope with their problems. She took a variety of other jobs, finally retiring in the year 2000 from a position as secretary of the department of sports and youth affairs.

But those were just her formal positions.  Since 1989 she has devoted herself to the role of mentor for children. She opened her home, called Lepcha Cottage, as a refuge for Lepcha kids. In her spare time, she tries to help other Lepcha people gain access to proper healthcare and to improve their economic and social conditions. She works to preserve the Lepcha traditional culture and the Lepcha language.

Children playing in a Lepcha village in North Sikkim

Children playing in a Lepcha village in North Sikkim (Photo by Kandukuru Nagarjun on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

She pursues these projects both on her own volition and in her role as chair of the Human Development Foundation of Sikkim (HDFS). She helped establish that NGO in 1997 with the assistance of donors from Switzerland and other places. The primary mission of the organization is to provide for the needs of underprivileged kids from Sikkim, primarily by ensuring that they get an education. Today, the HDFS cares for many children and runs its own school up through class X. Some of its graduates are now attending universities.

The impact of Ms. Keepus’s commitment to her people and particularly to the Lepcha children has been enormous. She was given the Sikkim Award in 2007 for her many contributions to her society and she received a prestigious award from the government of India, the Padma Shri, in 2009.

An elderly Lepcha couple in a village in North Sikkim

An elderly Lepcha couple in a village in North Sikkim (Photo by Kandukuru Nagarjun on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Her generosity is certainly a characteristic of the Lepchas in general. Geoffrey Gorer in his 1967 book Himalayan Village: An Account of the Lepchas of Sikkim describes the generosity of the people with one another. He writes, for instance, that whenever he gave one person, adult or child, a gift that could be divided, such as a pack of cigarettes, the recipient would carefully divide the contents with everyone else present.  Even children of three or four years old would reciprocate gifts from the author with gifts of their own. Gorer concludes, “Lepcha children and Lepcha adults are extraordinarily unselfish… (p.253),” one of the key elements in their peacefulness.

More information about the Lepcha Cottage and the Human Development Foundation of Sikkim can be found on its website.


Piaroa Protesters


On Wednesday January 23, the political crisis in Venezuela deepened when Juan Guaidó, leader of the national assembly, declared himself to be the interim president until another election could be held. He maintained that the earlier presidential election had been corrupt and that the victory President Nicholas Maduro had declared for himself was therefore invalid. According to international news reports, the governments of the United States and Canada immediately supported Guaidó’s move. In addition to the protests by opponents of the Maduro regime in foreign capitals, Venezuelans responded to appeals for support by the national assembly and joined demonstrations in favor of Guaidó’s call for another election.

The Avenida Orinoco near the indigenous market in Puerto Ayacucho (Photo by Solem Josias in the Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

The Avenida Orinoco near the indigenous market in Puerto Ayacucho (Photo by Solem Josias in the Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

Several young Piaroa in Puerto Ayacucho, the capital of Amazonas state, got involved in the demonstration that broke out that day in response to the announcement by the national assembly. A 19-year-old Piaroa man named José Francisco Díaz claimed he was just trying to intervene and prevent a brutal beating that the Bolivarian National Guard was inflicting on the young demonstrators, including some minors. He and a couple other Piaroa men were arrested by the police as they broke up the demonstration. His sister told one news service, in the words of the Google translation, “they put him in prison for defending some teenagers assaulted by the National Guard.”

The police had opened fire on a crowd of protesters, killing two men. They swept through the streets of downtown Puerto Ayacucho, capturing 23 people of whom 10 were indigenous. José Francisco and his brother were simply checking on transportation to return to their village in the Sisipa parish, Communidad Autana, when they got caught up in the police repression of the protesters. They saw the police attacking the teenagers and pleaded with them for mercy. The troops continued with their beatings.

A Piaroa man and his daughter, Katherin

A Piaroa man and his daughter, Katherin (Photo by Orlandojosevc in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

According to José Francisco’s father, Carlos Díaz, his son “shouted at them to leave the boys, who were human beings.” The National Guard did not stop. A relative of the Díaz brothers managed to free the older brother but not José Francisco, who was arrested and taken by truck to the command post. Two other Piaroa young people, Leandro Coronel, 22, and Ender Herrera, 20, were also among those who were arrested.

Three days later, on Saturday January 26, Judge Dayana Matera confirmed the detention of the protesters, which included the three Piaroa and seven other indigenous people. They were charged with terrorism, obstruction of a public roadway, instigation of public disorder, and other related crimes. They will be held for 45 days, enough time for the public prosecutor’s office to determine if there is enough evidence against them .

A Piaroa family in the Amazonas state of Venezuela

A Piaroa family in the Amazonas state of Venezuela (Photo by José Mijares that was in Wikimedia with a Creative Commons license)

Jorge Herrera, the father of Ender Herrara, argued that there is no evidence his son committed any of the crimes he is charged with. He was just coming home when the police arrested him. “He did not go to protest. He just went to look at what was happening,” Mr. Herrara said. Ender is a student at the Simón Rodríguez University, José Francisco is in the business of marketing manioc, and Leandro is a fisherman.

Two of the prisoners, juveniles, were released to their families in the afternoon of January 29, but the others are being detained in what could only be described as grim conditions. The jail evidently has no bathroom facilities so when a doctor was allowed to see them, he said that they smelled terrible. The prisoners have to sleep sitting up. Ender deserves medical help—he has an open wound on his head. The relatives of the prisoners were sending in food but they had no way of contacting their family members to see if they were getting any of it.



Older News and Reviews

News and reviews of publications relating to peaceful societies—and sometimes to related topics—are normally posted here on Thursday mornings (U.S. time). Older news and reviews for the year are listed on the 2016 page, and ones from previous years are listed on the News and Reviews 2004 page, the 2005 page, the 2006 page, the 2007 page, the 2008 page, the 2009 page, the 2010 page, the 2011 page, the 2012 page, the 2013 page, the 2014 page and the 2015 page. All stories are also included in the News and Reviews Subject Listing. They are listed at the bottom of each society entry in the Encyclopedia of Selected Peaceful Societies, after the heading: Updates: News and Reviews. News and reviews about peacefulness in general are referred to from the bottom of the Facts page, while news stories about this website are linked from the About This Website page. News and Reviews can also be found with the search bar.