Ani Choying Drolma was barely 13 when I first knew her. Irrepressibly bright-eyed and intelligent, she spent as much time as she could
working on her English with Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s foreign disciples–the “Injis”–at Nagi Gonpa. We called her “ani chewing gum” affectionately. How did this bright and lively young nun who loved to sing and dance become such a force for good in the world, spreading blessings and joy with her voice and her songs, all the while working tirelessly for the education not only of the nuns at her own Arya Tara School, but also for other poor children?
As Ani herself will tell you again and again it is all due to the great power and blessing of our Tsawe’i lama, our root guru, the late master Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. I met Rinpoche when I was 28 and he absolutely changed my life; Ani met him when she was 10, and he completely shaped hers. Rinpoche inspired his students to be the best people they could, and to do all in their power to work for the benefit of others.
He did this by accepting us completely, thereby enabling us to accept ourselves, to find our strengths and use them.
My first connection with the Nun’s Welfare Foundation and the Arya Tara School came when both were mere dreams of Ani’s. I say “mere” with some hesitation because Ani’s dreams and goals appear to have a life of their own–but only because of the energy and faith she brings to all of her work. She called me one evening and asked whether she could come over right away because she needed to write a proposal.
It had to be delivered that same night to an American consular officer who was going to present it to
someone the next day. Even now it doesn’t sound possible, but somehow we did it. Ani described to me her dream and I managed to convert it into a plausible project proposal in a couple of hours: her ideas, back then my words. Did I think this dream of hers would get anywhere? Frankly, I didn’t, but I loved Ani Choying and had watched her grow up into a remarkable young woman, and so it never even occurred to me to say no. As it turns out that proposal didn’t make much of an impression, or at least not a big enough one, on whoever it was written for, but as we can now see it was simply the beginning of something much larger than I had ever thought possible. Visiting the school last week for the first time in a couple of years, I was astonished. Not simply at the size and beauty of the buildings, but because of the details: the 50+ nuns of all ages and sizes in their school uniforms of nun’s robes and knitted caps, the clean and orderly classrooms, the well-equipped computer lab and, as a final delightful surprise, the thanka painting school. Ani tells me she is still dreaming–of ani thanka painters, ani khenpos and Anis who return to their home villages to educate the people there, teaching them about hygiene and good health and telling them to send their girls to school.
Ani no longer needs my help with her words; her eloquence and natural intelligence never cease to amaze me. Many years ago, we attended some talks on women’s empowerment at the regional UNICEF office. There were lots of words she didn’t understand, which she wrote down and asked me about later, but she grasped the concepts intuitively, and grasped as well how to give such talks herself. Not long after that she was invited to a conference at Harvard University, and that time Judith Amtzis it was my husband who helped with her presentation. He made her write it herself, ignoring all protestations that she couldn’t, and then helped get the final product ready.
The remarkable thing about Ani Choying is that she is still learning, still striving to do better, to be more, and to expand the range of her work and her experience. Now that the Arya Tara School has been built, complete with fields for growing organic vegetables, she is working on building a kidney hospital, and has dreams for a retreat centre. And we know about Ani’s dreams: she won’t stop until they all come true.