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Refugee Daughter Returns Home With Climate Change Battle Plan

The newly built greenhouse in Ghilling Village inside Upper Mustang Nepal.

The newly built greenhouse in Ghilling Village inside Upper Mustang Nepal. This greenhouse will be incorporated in the local village school's curriculum and it will generate funds for the community. Outside the greenhouse 1500 apple trees have been planted. Courtesy Nawang Gurung

While working as an ethnographic research assistant in Ghiling, in the remote Upper Mustang region of Nepal, then 17-year-old, Tibetan-American Tsechu Dolma learned that villagers were concerned about the effects of climate change on the area. They'd witnessed erratic precipitation, depleted water resources, and food security issues. Coupled with the violence of Nepal’s civil war, the young people were leaving the village to go to Kathmandu or India in search of work.

“Communities like Mustang have existed for centuries,” said Dolma, “It has a very rich history. These communities are vulnerable and endangered by the effects of climate change. The only way these communities can move forward is if we build sustainable models of local ownership and expansion of community rights over resources.”

Tsechu Dolma in the Dhauladar Range of the Himalayas during her first trip back to India and Nepal in 20
Tsechu Dolma in the Dhauladar Range of the Himalayas during her first trip back to India and Nepal in 2011. Courtesy Tsechu Dolma

For Dolma, the desire to help is about more than just helping a community in need. Dolma was raised in Nepal, the daughter of Tibetan refugees, until she was 10. Her family then moved to the US, seeking political asylum. Her first trip back "home," as a teenager, inspired her to invest more deeply into the country she left behind.

That investment came in the form of a community greenhouse -- built in conjunction with local villagers and local organizations, using local materials, and able to withstand the harsh climate." Dolma was recently honored with a prestigious environmental Brower Youth Award for her work.

"The only way these communities can move forward is if we build sustainable models of local ownership and expansion of community rights over resources.”

“My project’s sustainable food security model directly engages community members with local organizations and international institutions,” said Dolma.

“After the greenhouse was built earlier this year, the locals have taken over and invested in an additional orchard of 1500 apple trees outside the greenhouse," said Dolma. "They have also integrated the greenhouse as part of the village school’s curriculum. This space has transformed from a mere greenhouse building to a platform for incubating social innovation and community revitalization.”

Tsechu Dolma (far left) with Upper Mustang women making the journey to Lo Manthang, Nepal, while discussing the high rates of malnutrition for children, and maternal and neonatal mortality.
Dolma (far left) with Upper Mustang women making the journey to Lo Manthang, Nepal, while discussing the high rates of malnutrition for children, and maternal and neonatal mortality. Courtesy Tsechu Dolma

Dolma, now 22, is studying for her Masters in Public Administration at Columbia University in New York. But the project launched after her first trip to Nepal as an adult is still very much on her mind.

“Post graduation, I intend to scale up the sustainable food security model by building coalitions to incubate community revitalization and climate resilience for the Himalayas,” said Dolma. “My long term vision is to include multifaceted projects that expand local ownership, skills building and triple bottom line profits.”

Tsechu Dolma, recipient of the 2014 Brower Youth Award, honored for her work in creating a sustainable model for food security in Upper Mustang, Nepal.
Tsechu Dolma, recipient of the 2014 Brower Youth Award, honored for her work in creating a sustainable model for food security in Upper Mustang, Nepal. Courtesy Teschu Dolma