For someone whose every expression in identity merges upon the fore of the social, it only is a given that Keepu Tsering Lepcha would inevitably command for herself a fame that is more heartwarming than humongous, even when that definitely is defining of the stature in which she resides. But beyond her in- person popularity as a personality rather esteemed in her recognition as a now retired civil servant, this 80 year old lady from the picturesque state of Sikkim in India resides also in the aura of a grace not just emanating from her endearing essentialism in evident affableness. Adorable she indeed is in her grandmotherly image, but it also is the purity of her soul and spirit and the large heartedness of her being that makes the diversely decorated Keepu Lepcha a role model for one and all in her many defining distinctions.
Born in 1942 to a Lepcha family, the lady found herself bearing the legacy of an indigenous existence that however stared at the bleak prospect of non existence almost as being a community of dwindling natives. And while that might not have been particularly tugging at the conscience of a young Keepu even as she set out to fulfil her father’s dream of doing something for the community through the multiple realisations of her professional life as a teacher first and a government official later, it still has been her efforts at social work that has eked out for this eminent personality a certain esteemed essence drawing upon solely the ideals of her own consideration. As a social worker tirelessly engaged in such pursuits that aim at the betterment of her community, this more than worthy indeed Lepcha herself has brought upon herself the assertion of an identity that is not any less dignified than her head held high as a high ranking dignitary of the Sikkimese government.
Having started out on her career path rather early and even then very remarkably as well, having assumed role as principal of the Enchey Seniro Secondar School in the capital in 1967, Tsering moved on to chart out teaching responsibilities at the Government High School shortly thereafter. Continuing her association with the educational scheme of things had been this then assistant director of education additionally entrusted with managing the teachers training institute, a role she more than efficiently worked her way through in a myriad of different capacities from bringing out textbook for primary classes to training of teachers in the local language to ensure that the true purpose of education was forever met and the expected beneficiaries of it genuinely served.
It was in 1994 that Keepu Tsering Lepcha joined the prestigious Sikkim Civil Service, marking the beginning of yet another illustrious phase of her professional life that saw her eventually assume the role of a joint secretary. For 28 long years of her distinguished career, Tsering served as project director of the Rural Development Agency even as she retired from service in 2000 as the secretary of the Department of Sports and Youth Affairs. It had been during her years in service itself that Tsering secured for herself an alternate identity as a social activist, setting out to do something on a personal level stirred by the many a sights of plight she had encountered during her long years in close association with the rural people. Since 1989, Lepcha has also been serving as mentor in her own personal capacity to the underprivileged children of her community, beginning then with some 20 of them under her loving care to today rest in the realisation of a belonginess cherished indeed by more than some 100 of them.
Orphaned and semi- orphaned might be the identity charted out by these underprivileged kids when they move into the six roomed Lepcha cottage that Tsering inherited but once inside the safe, nurturing premises of that property pretty with its blooming gardens of flowers and rooms stuffed with toys and games that even a couple of dogs and a cat as well call their home, these kids once deprived of even their basic rights discover for themselves a sanctuary of comfort abounding in the most generous gift of love there ever can be. All of these members of a family, strangers indeed upon introduction but coming to call the same loving lady their very own ‘Nikun’ or grandmother, owe it all indeed to the dedicated effort and will of this forever spinster who have made it her life’s mission to create a better experience in living for one and all of her community.
Of course in foremost consideration had been the dwindling population of the Lepchas that concerned Tsering to extents for her to devise out ways and means in dealing with the root cause of this fading into oblivion. Her many accounts and experiences gained during her period as a government official led her to single out alcoholism and illiteracy as the main issues in the increasing marginalisation of the community. But also equally affecting the Lepchas was their inability to keep up with the fast paced competition that society almost ruthless adhered to eke out for themselves own space in supremacy, something that the very genial, peace loving people of her kind did not harbour much understanding of. Armed with her own awareness in education being a tool potent enough in achieving this end at sight, Keepu set about her pursuit first and foremost by throwing open the doors of her personal abode to those children she loves and dotes upon as if they were her own.
Why just Lepcha Cottage though, the surety in intention of this gracious lady led her to also dedicate her only other property at Chonge to serve as the premise upon which a children’s village would be developed to further help the cause of the destitute kids. Tsering’s dream of a free school became a reality thanks also to the fundraising efforts of some European tourists and that which stands testament yet again to her absolute dedication in realising indeed a better future for the community with which she identifies first and foremost. Once supporting the children under her care out of her own earnings, Tsering today sees such serving of her cause by means of donations as well, that however isn’t the only recognition of the service rendered by her with many an awards and accolades pouring unto the world the true magnitude of the efforts that she has been putting into through the most part of her life.
A Padma Shri awardee in 2009, Lepcha also had been awarded the 2007 Best Social Service Award of the Government of Sikkim even as she was conferred the title Jewel of Sikkim by the Sikkim Intellectuals Conference on Humanism, Nationalism and Peace in 2005. The 2012 Real Heroes Award under the Reliance Foundation as well as CNN-IBN’s 2013 Senior Citizens Award too celebrated the soft spoken Keepu Tsering whose actions however speak in a voice of such magnitude that drowns out one and all.
Also one among the PeaceWoman Across the Globe that was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 has been Keepu Rsering Lepcha who serves as well as the chairperson of the Human Development Foundation of Sikkim, an NGO functioning congruent to Tsering’s own aspirations in taking up the cause of underprivileged children and specifically charting out their educational needs. Endowed with the National Award for Children’s Welfare, this organisation set up by Tsering herself today runs its own schools and manifests even further the wholehearted devotion with which Sikkim’s Mother with a Golden Heart seeks to secure the identity of the Lepchas by empowering and uplifting the children of the community.
It though isn’t only the Lepcha children who benefit exclusively from their Nikun’s selfless efforts in ushering in a better future for its people. On Keepu Tsering’s agenda is also such vital issues in healthcare being accessible to one and all as another pivotal means in social and economic development. Even more wholesome is the extent to which this soft spoken lady furthers her commitment in ensuring the true assertion of the Lepcha identity by being as active an agent in yearning to preserve and promote the Lepcha culture and tradition as well as the dying local language.
So true is Keepu Tsering Lepcha in her engagement in that which defines life for her that plays out through very evidently and in much beauty through every experience of love filled happiness permeating the air at the Lepcha Cottage. Located some few kilometres away from the capital city of Gangtok in a very Sikkimesque setting of much pristinity, this beautiful abode of warmth and belonginess, steeped in the virtues of care and concern and resplendent in its conjuring together of a hundred many smiles and as many a beaming faces, all young and hopeful and blessed with the gifts of love and peace and the years is the ode that Keepu Tsering Lepcha has invariably earned for herself. In being the beacon of hope for an entire community not so much conversant with the convoluted ways of the world, Tsering’s ideals and principles and values is what has ensured that this indigenous community of the state continue to maintain the dignity of their identity, whether that be in the historical basis of its legacy or the continuing extent of its being. For all that this generously loving lady has done for her community out of her own accord in living, Keepu Tsering Lepcha is indeed the true Jewel of Sikkim that the original inhabitants of the Lepchas themselves referred to as the supreme space of Nye-mae-el, or paradise.