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Chisem Foundation : an initiative of the young Tibetan students

  • 11 May, 2024
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Chisem Foundation: Drivers for Mental Health (Interview)

We, Tibetans must walk along with the evolution of new ideology and thinking. One must not stick to what has been there but rather what is here, as the people and their emotions are ever changing likes of what surrounds them.

Chisem is not only an organization, but rather a bravery, the kindness and an initiative of the young Tibetan students. It was founded on 15th Jan, 2022 by a then Bachelor Student of Psychology, Lhamo Choedon. Through all the self-doubts, lack of confidence, fear of society’s reaction, she finally bought her idea into an action.

‘Micro-Activism’- “We are aware, we won’t be able to bring a swift change in the society yet we believe in the snowball effect of our action. Through small steps we will work on to bring change in the society”

Chisem, solely aims to help the ones in need, teach and to normalize the idea of Mental Health in order to harness a friendly and supportive environment where anyone can openly talk and seek help about it. Mental Health becomes something that is not only ignored behind the notorious talk ‘It’s all in the head, we don’t need it’ of course it’s in our head but something malignant and invasive, some issues not talked about so much yet most of us go through at the same time. When none can relate to what you feel, that’s when you feel the loneliest and yet if we talk about it, we can relate and finally will be able to accept and normalize it.

“Mental health should be of top priority in our personal lives as well as in society.” Lhamo emphasized during our interview.

She recalls back in her school years when she never had the slightest idea of Mental Health and  that one could love themselves, so was the term ‘Self-Love’ alien to her. She can still vividly remember when she was a school prefect, she had an encounter with a student who had social anxiety but little did Lhamo know about it she viewed her more of a rebellious student than of someone who needed help.

Lhamo said “She didn’t attend the school assembly and functions daily. And one day I found her hiding in the school washroom when she was supposed to be at the assembly. So I forcefully took her out from the washroom and sat her down with the crowd. I wasn’t able to empathize with her because I lacked knowledge of what she was going through. She would scream out of nowhere and constantly laugh for no reason when social anxiety hits her. People, including me, judged her not having the slightest idea of what she was going through.”

“We were well educated by textbooks but not about this!” -Lhamo Choedon


Who are the current members of your foundation and how do you further take in members?

“I would rather consider myself a member of this foundation than co-founder or the founder because I want the team to feel supportive of each other and that Chisem foundation is yours as much as mine. That we are all equally part of the foundation.”

The founding core members consist of Lhamo Choedon, Namdoe, Tenzin Lhadon, Sonam Dakpa, Kalden and Tashi Wangmo.

“Through all the events and programs we have hosted, I felt like this foundation can not only bring changes in the society but also to oneself , being the member, one can develop their skills, get new experiences and learn new things in every step. Talking about further selection of members, it is supposed to be on the voluntary bases but honestly I had to approach people to help out most of the time.”

What specific goals are you aiming for through this foundation?

“First thing would be creating a vast, fulfilling and impactful awareness on Mental Health in Tibetan society. Social Media being a powerful tool, we generate and moderate as per it’s needs and importance. We also hold yearly events to catalyze and boost our actions.

Secondly, to promote the acceptance and normalization of negative emotions such as sadness, anger, frustration etc and that we can learn and grow from such emotions. To create a safe and healthy space to grow and help each other grow is the third goal. And the last one would be quite personal. Since childhood, from the day I reached India, the monks and nuns were incredibly helpful and are grateful people in my life and that is why the last objective would be helping the monks and nuns with every small thing such as accompanying them to the hospitals, guiding with the documents etc in big cities.”

Back in the time the concept of Mental Health was not evident and yet people lived. Do you still think it is a top priority?

“Ofcourse! It is still at the top list of priority. If we compare both the worlds, the need of an individual has increased drastically so is the technology. Back in the time, to go to a school they took only a book and pencil, students at the time would have no idea where their slippers were, they even didn’t care what they wore.. They are not greedy compared to now, they have more sense of community belonging. With more materialistic thoughts people become in some way more narrow minded, selfish and less empathetic. With more Tibetan students finding their want for apple products and branded clothes, their attachment for such materialism increases, in such a time without Mental health, youths would face difficult times in their lives.”

Lhamo believes in the powerful and intense role of teachers, home matrons and staff in the school in spreading awareness about Mental Health.

“The reach of Mental Health in Tibetan Schools is not that prominent and vast, neither is our Foundation. So if we were to go to schools to talk about it, I don’t think it will be the greatest solution and that it will bring fruitful results because Chisem’s visit to the school would be of one time experience and wouldn’t have lasting impact in the school and amongst the students. But if the staff and teachers are well educated and trained, they are someone who can constantly bring change in the school community and form a friendly environment. As per my observation, I feel like most of the Tibetan students lack Identity crisis and self confidence but if the teachers can bring balanced and a healthy environment in the classroom, the students will eventually become aware of their presence building up their confidence. Another important subject of matter, gender identity. It’s time for the schools to start educating about the queer community and form safe spaces for the ones who come out rather than ignoring what is already prominent in the society.”

As for the older generation of our Tibetan society, I frequently noticed the denial and ignorance of Mental Health. They act and behave as none of this concerns and relates to them which is still very disempowering but I hope to see changes. We target majorly on the youth as they are the future parents and future leaders but for those youths, their parents and the grandparents matter a lot in their life which is why they should also be aware.” 

For the past two years, Chisem has hosted many events annually, weekly and monthly. In 2022, they organized a Mental Health Awareness program on 26th of June funded by the Tibetan Health Department, enriched with performances from Tibetan pop artists like G-Tashi and Tammy, professional guest speakers and drama performances from Tibetan Youth Hostel. A monthly open discussion also helped students to open up about Mental health and interact to build connections. They also took part and put up stalls in the Confab 2023 organized by Youth for Mental Health.

In April of 2023, they organized another Mental Health awareness program on the theme ‘Self Love’ with prominent speakers like Dr. Itisha Nagar, an assistant professor at Kamla Nehru college, Delhi University and Mrs. Tenzin Dawa to share her experiences. Activities were carried out by Ms.Ngoshi Choedon, an artist and a certified expressive arts therapy practitioner. The event was surrounded by different activities and stalls were put up by Genyik Studio, then run by late Jigme Choeduck. Following in the month of october, Chisem, collaborated with GTSU (Global Tibetan student Union) and hosted a massive event- ‘Tibet Youth Fest’ in the Tibetan Youth Hostel, Delhi. Many young singers and dancers, Tibetan big and small businesses put up stalls in the campus and participants from most colleges for panel discussion did wonders. Stall presentations were also carried out by Tibetan Students to share about Tibet, it’s history, culture and climate crisis.

Currently, Chisem has been running an ‘About Me’ program that releases two times a month on YouTube platform. It is a talkshow to discuss arising and present issues on mental health. Along with About Me, they also carry out two sub-programs, What’s in my Kugma(ཁུག་མ།), 23 Questions and uploads audio version on Spotify Podcast.


Why do you think it’s you who formed this foundation and not anyone else?

I believe it has to do with getting out of one’s comfort zone.

I know and can tell that many people have thought of initiating something similar but  stayed stuck in their comfort zone. I was also very much with low confidence, didn’t like public speaking and doubted my ability before any of this.

But once I forced myself out of my comfort box, once I became a part of this organization, I felt responsible and important. I found my voice.

What is the one thing you would say is needed in the Tibetan Society?

Emotional support, specially for the youths.I observed that many youths are just there, doing nothing and lost. Some are not able to express and depress their inner struggles. And because we lack emotional support, most of us have friends and yet we still feel lonely and suppressed. So I feel like developing emotional support is something our Tibetan society lacks and should work on.

To know more about the foundation, to engage, to help and to volunteer you can always reach out to them through:


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