Situated 5kms away from capital city Gangtok, Lepcha Cottage is not just a house but a home for over a hundred orphans. For them, dreams and aspirations bloom in this cottage and one person who has made this house into a home for these children is Ms Keepu Tshering Lepcha.
A former civil servant, retired teacher, social activist and Padma Shri recipient, Keepu Tsering Lepcha has devoted her life to the upliftment of her Lepcha community, a tribe indigenous to the Himalayan region of Sikkim. So let’s get to know more about this golden hearted lady.
Keepu Tsering was born in 1942 in a Lepcha family to a government official in a rural area of Sikkim. She did her primary and secondary education in Gangtok before completing her college studies at Kolkata, from wherein she secured a master’s degree. She started her career in 1967 as the principal of the Enchey Senior Secondary School, Gangtok but stayed there only for a short period to move to the Government High School, Gangtok. Most of the students in the school were from Tibetan refugees. She volunteered to stay with the girls at the hostel and developed an excellent rapport with the school’s children, many of whom had lost their parents while fleeing Tibet.
Moving later to government service, she became the assistant director of education in Sikkim, a post she held till 1994. In 1994, Keepu joined the Sikkim Civil Service and quickly rose in ranks to the position of a joint secretary.
In 1989, the golden-hearted lady embarked on a parallel role as a mentor for children of her community, by taking in 20 Lepcha children to live with her in her six-room home, Lepcha Cottage. Her decision was driven by the need to help the peace-loving community, whose members were finding it hard to keep pace with an increasingly competitive society.
During her years at the civil service, she also continued her social activities for which she founded the Human Development Foundation of Sikkim (HDFS) in 1997 and was involved in the activities to revive the Lepcha culture.
Human Development Foundation of Sikkim (HDFS)
In 1997, she started the Human Development Foundation of Sikkim, with help from Swiss tourist, Max Melliger and another Sikkimese couple, Wendy and Loday Chungyalpa. The organization’s main aim was to cater to the needs of underprivileged children in Sikkim through education. Out of this developed a children’s village that provides food, education and accomodation to the needy destitute kids.
Today, Lepcha no longer finds herself a lone crusader, fighting to provide the children with a home, love, values and quality education. Joining hands with her is Children of Sikkim Foundation, an NGO in Sikkim. The foundation helps in collecting funds in cash and kind from donors in Europe. Thus, in 2011, the Padma Odzer Choeling School finally became operational, catering to the educational needs of the children, both of Lepcha cottage and of the surrounding areas.
Their efforts have led to significant improvements in the children’s healthcare and basic education. Having grown from strength to strength, the school is today a sprawling complex with over 300 children who are given free education.
Awards & Recognitions
For her continuing and selfless work in the development of underprivileged children, her name features among 1000 Global Women for Peace published by the association ‘1000 women for the Nobel Peace Prize, 2005’. In 2007, the Sikkim Government also conferred her with the Best Social Service Award for her outstanding contribution in the field of social service. In addition to that, she has been rightfully called ‘Jewel of Sikkim’.