Indien: Keepu Tsering Lepcha

Keepu Tsering Lepcha, teacher and retired civil servant, has devoted herself to the survival of her rapidly diminishing Lepcha community, particularly educating the girls of this tiny tribe.

— Keepu Tsering Lepcha

Keepu Tsering Lepcha (born 1942) has devoted her life to the uplift of her Lepcha community, indigenous to the Himalayan region of Sikkim. A teacher and retired civil servant, she helps educate members, especially the girls, of this diminishing tribe, which today numbers around 30,000. With the help of European donors, she has founded an NGO, the Human Development Foundation of Sikkim (HDFS), which has been working since 1997 with underprivileged families.

Keepu Tsering Lepcha was driven by the need to help her Lepcha community, whose members have found it hard to keep pace with an increasingly competitive society. Her father was a government official whose job took him to the remote areas of Sikkim, so she grew up hearing her father talk about the need to do something for the community. She fulfilled her father's desire through her careers as teacher, government official and, eventually, social activist. After postgraduate studies, Keepu became a teacher at the Enchey Senior Secondary School in Gangtok, Sikkim's capital. The government school had mainly been established to help refugee Tibetan children. Later, Keepu was deputed to work with the state government's education department as assistant director. In 1994, she was inducted into the state civil service, promoted to the rank of joint secretary, and posted outside the education department. Over 28 years, she served as project director in the Rural Development Agency, dealing with projects for people living below the poverty line. She retired from government service in 2000. Starting 1989, Keepu embarked as a mentor for her community's children, with Lepcha children living with her in her six-roomed home, Lepcha Cottage. Her work is focused on girls, women, orphans, the elderly and the neglected. Keepu also works through an NGO, the Human Development Foundation of Sikkim, of which she is chairperson. It was started in 1997, with help from Swiss and other donors; its major aim is to cater to the needs of underprivileged children in Sikkim mainly through education. Keepu's work has led to significant improvements in children's healthcare and basic education. It is the Lepcha tribe that counts.

Human Development Foundation of Sikkim (HDFS)