[ There are amongst us those that toil away for the good of the community, but often away from the limelight and without much recognition. You won’t see these individuals much on the stage, in front of the camera, or on social networking sites. Yet, their work and service speak loudly and they are impacting our community in many positive ways. Starting with Kusho Pedor la, our first profile, we plan to identify and profile regular Tibetans in North America who are quietly and effectively working on strengthening our community in ways both large and small. The profiles recognize and celebrate our everyday heroes. ]
Kusho Pedor la bikes across the community hall floor towards the room where we are to hold his interview, his small stature and the boyishness of the activity making him seem much younger (and impressively agile) than his 64 years. Pedor la (short for Pema Dorjee) is affable and easy to talk to, his unassuming approachability evident in the many interruptions we face as people walk in to say hello or ask a question. ‘Kusho’, he tells me, is an honorific title community use for him due to his years as a monk at Nechung Monastery in Dharamshala, India, where he was a monk from 1974 till 1991.
Like the narrative of many Tibetans of that time struggling to make a living in exile, he tells me he did a few other odd jobs before joining the monastery. “I sold sweaters for a while, and I also did road construction labor when I was younger,” Kusho la says. “Done a lot of hard work,” he adds dismissively. In 1992, as part of an outreach (choetsok) organized by Nechung, Kusho Pedor was sent to Hawaii, where he spent a year before finally moving to New York. Here, he became one of the founding members of the Nechung Foundation where he served as a Buddhist teacher.
In 1996, Kusho Pedor was elected by the TCNYNJ to become a board member. When the board was asked to brainstorm project ideas for the organization to propel their community service, it was Kusho’s idea to start a program to teach Tibetan language and culture to the children in the area because he saw the crucial importance of education young people born in the West to preserve the Tibetan way of life. This was how the Tibetan Weekend School began, with a total of seven students. “Today,” Kusho la says, “we have 300 students and 22 teachers, run by the support and contribution of the community.”
Tibetan Weekend School is held at the community center hall in Woodside, Queens, every Sunday. The program offers free classes in Tibetan language and culture, teaching the kids Tibetan songs and dance that they get to perform during special events. Kusho la recalls a memory from the early days of the school, when the Newark Museum in New Jersey reached out to ask the children to perform something for an event. The invitation was on short notice and the children were unprepared. Yet the museum insisted, saying the children’s presence would be enough. On the day of the event, the Tibetan Weekend School was called on stage, where they gave an impromptu performance of the Tibetan National Anthem. Kusho la remembers how it delighted the audience who asked for an encore. Today, Kusho la can proudly claim that the students of the Tibetan Weekend School have more than just their national anthem to perform when they are invited to events.
“Kundun always asks us to be good representatives of the Tibetan culture when we’re interacting with people,” says Kusho la. “So it was my goal to provide a platform for the children here where they can learn their culture and traditions through a shared experience. As an immigrant, you lose a very important part of your identity when you assimilate so thoroughly into the new culture. When you offer a space for those kids to gather and learn together, they sometimes see that importance and they have fun too.”
Kusho Pedor la’s profile was written by Tenzom from New York City.