Shem is a women's group dedicated to empowering Tibetan women and their communities through grassroots development. We focus on increasing the well-being of people in impoverished communities by providing access to basic needs such as water, fuel, electricity, health care, and basic education. We fulfill our mission by training educated Tibetan women to design, implement, and manage sustainable grassroots development projects that will successfully alleviate the problems that their communities face.
What does Shem mean?
Shem means charity and compassion in Tibetan. Charity and compassion are fundamental in helping others, and are the guiding principles behind our work. The women of Shem hope to serve as inspirational examples for our families, peers, and generations of Tibetan women to come.
Women shoulder much of the burden caused by limited access to clean water, electricity, basic health care, and basic education. No one knows better how to lighten women's burden than women themselves. The members of Shem have first hand knowledge of what is needed to improve the lives of the women in impoverished Tibetan villages. Our projects are designed to give village women more free time, better health, and safer access to fuel and water.
The fact that women are designing and implementing these projects is important. Our group members come from communities where we are often the only females with more than a middle-school education. In our villages, many people believe that it is useless and wasteful to educate women. Our work challenges this attitude.
The positive effects of our development projects are far reaching. The members of Shem are helping dispel myths about women's intellectual inferiority both in the university and in our communities. We serve as positive examples of the outstanding results that educated women can produce. On another level, designing and executing our own development projects gives us a chance put our educational abilities to practical use. We hope to serve as positive role models for our fellow villagers and also for our female peers, whom we encourage to take on similar projects.
When did Shem start?
Shem began in October of 2003 as an after hours course in gender studies taught by Michelle Kleisath, an English teacher and gender studies specialist. In September of 2004, at the request of the gender class participants, Ms. Kleisath started teaching an additional course in small-scale development to interested women. This class began in hopes of encouraging female students to design and implement their own of small-scale development projects. Such a class was unprecedented in Qinghai province.
The immediate response to the development class was overwhelming. Nearly sixty women attended the first class meeting, far exceeding the expected turnout. The fifteen top applicants were chosen from this pool and met with Ms. Kleisath on a weekly basis to learn basic development skills. During the course of the semester, the students learned how to identify the problems of their communities, design sustainable projects that would successfully alleviate these problems, write professional proposals to outside funding sources, and manage the execution of their projects.
By December of 2004, several project proposals were successfully completed and sent to donors for consideration. Once funded, these projects brought potable water to the women's villages, improved schools, brought solar electricity into the homes of nomadic communities, improved village infrastructure in the form of a bridge, and supported micro-financing in the form of a yak loan.
In an effort to create a sustainable support system for Tibetan women active in grassroots development, Shem was formed in March of 2005.
In their first two years of operation, the members of Shem raised nearly $140,000 and successfully implemented sixteen development projects in impoverished Tibetan communities. These projects were funded by private donors and international funding organizations, including: The Shambala Connection, Tendel Group, The British Embassy, the Canada Fund, The German Embassy, and The Royal Netherlands Embassy.
Now in its third year, Shem is run by four full time staff, Chugpilhamo, Lhamotso, Rendzenjyi, and Samtsogye. These core staff are running a third annual development class and a women's discussion group for educated Tibetan women.
Chugpilhamo and Lhamotso leading the development class
Development class students take notes
Read more news about Shem on the following web links:
University of Virginia's Tibetan & Himalayan Digital Library
Women of China
Xi Zang Fu Nu
China Development Brief
The Austin Chronicle
The Daily Kansan
ChinaTibet Information Center
The Shambala Connection
The San Francisco Chronicle
Contra Costa Times