Siri Weirum

Siri Weirum worked for many years as a manager for Oslo Red Cross in Norway. When she took early retirement, she decided to do something completely different by going to live abroad. After reading an article in a Norwegian newspaper about an international organisation looking for ‘senior’ citizens to work as volunteers in developing countries, Siri got very excited. She immediately contacted the organisation and applied for a position in India. Her first ‘assignment’ began at the end of September 2007 when she left Oslo to work as a volunteer for three months in a nursery/ primary school in the north of India.


Going to India

Siri enjoyed her stay in northern India very much, experiencing the culture and getting the chance to work closely with local children and their families. During the weekends the volunteers often travelled around to explore the area and visit interesting places. It was during on of those weekends that Siri went to Dharamsala (the seat of HH the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile). It was a visit that changed her life because right away, she  knew this was to be a very special place for her … a place she would eventually call home.


A Chance Meeting

In December, the camp where she stayed as a volunteer was forced to close earlier than planned due to severe winter weather. This gave Siri the opportunity to return to Dharamsala for a short visit before she was due to fly back to Europe for Christmas. On one of the last days of her stay, while buying Christmas presents in a local shop, she met the Tibetan lama,  Geshe Pema Dorjee . An offer from Pema Dorjee to help translate what the shop keeper was saying, was to the the first of many conversations between himself and Siri. When Pema Dorjee learned that she was Norwegian, he told her about his Swedish friends and that he visited Sweden many times to give teachings. As the Norwegian and Swedish languages are very similar, Pema Dorjee gave Siri a book by a Swedish author recounting Pema la’s childhood and early years in Tibet before he had to flee the country with his family. He gave Siri his contact details but unfortunately she misplaced them.


Travelling to Nepal with Pema Dorjee

After celebrating Christmas with her family in Europe, Siri returned to Dharamsala in the New Year to attend teachings by his HH the Dalai Lama. As usual during the Dalai Lama’s teachings, thousands of people had come to hear him speak. You could imagine her surprise when among the crowd gathered in the temple, Siri ran into Pema Dorjee! They made an appointment to meet for tea where they got to know each other better. After many conversations, Siri learned about the many humanitarian projects Pema la had initiated and was overseeing in the Himalayan regions of India and Nepal. She became very interested and asked how she could help. At the time, Pema la was trying to raise funds to rebuild a broken bridge that connected two sections of a remote village in Nepal. After hearing how much was needed, Siri offered to fund the project. But, Pema la persuaded her that instead of merely donating the money she should accompany him on a trip he to Nepal to see the situation herself.


Siri had not been to Nepal before and the trip made a big impression on her. On arrival in the village they learned that a French trekking group was already involved in funding the bridge through a friend of Pema la’s. Pema la and Siri then travelled on to Ratankot, another village where Pema la had organised several charity projects with the help of foreign friends and support groups. There, she became responsible for raising funds to build a Community Hall for the people of Ratankot and the surrounding villages. The Community Hall which was successfully opened in March 2011, now serves as a meeting place for cultural and religious celebrations, a prayer hall and a venue where international experts share their knowledge and expertise in areas such as first aid and agriculture with the local villagers.


   

When Siri first started raising funds for this project she invited Pema la to come to Norway to teach and raise awareness. Since then Pema la has visited Norway every year and Siri has arranged fundraising activities from Tromsø in the north to Arendal in the south.


The current focus in Norway as well as in the Netherlands is to raise money to build the nunnery/ girls’ school  in Lumla, Arunchal Pradesh. Pema Dorjee had seen the need to provide education and medical assistance in Lumla from his first visit to the area while doing research into the Bodong tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. When Siri later visited the area with him she also saw the need and whole heartedly supported the idea to help build the school for local girls.


The aim of this project is to provide poor and orphaned girls in the Lumla area with a modern education in a safe environment that also embraces their Buddhist cultural background.


Visiting Lumla

Lumla serves as a local administration center for close to 60 small, remote villages situated in the Himalayan mountain sides. Some villages are extremely isolated and can only be reached on foot. Siri and Pema la must trek for several days from Lumla to get to the most remote communities. Because of their inaccessibility few people from the outside world come to these places, so when Siri and Pema la arrived Siri was the first western woman the villagers had ever seen. Their reaction was mixed with excitement and fear … particularly among the children, some of whom were frightened by Siri’s ‘strange’ blond hair and blue eyes. However, Siri soon won them over with her kind heart and warm smile and the villagers opened their homes to her. Although they live in modest and often very primitive conditions, during every visit the villagers always share their food and a place to sleep with Pema la and Siri. Sometimes they even move out of their small houses to offer the best place to the visitors.


The trips to the Lumla area are physically exhausting and it is heart breaking to see the hardship and poverty in the communities. To reach Lumla, Siri and Pema la normally fly to Assam, the region that borders Arunachal Pradesh, via Delhi and from there, they travel for several days by car on very bad roads. Their last trip in May 2012 took three full days each way!

     

Life in Dharamsala

Siri’s first visits to India and Nepal have been ‘life-changing’ experiences for her. She decided very early on to leave her ‘Western comforts’ behind and rented a small apartment in Dharamsala to be able to stay for longer periods at a time.


She now spends most of the year in Dharamsala or on field trips to the remote project areas in northern India and Nepal. She has many friends in Dharamsala, comprising Westerners, Indians and Tibetan refugees. She gives English conversation classes to groups of young Tibetan Buddhist monks and is very happy with her new life in Dharamsala, even though she misses her children and grandchildren in Europe. Siri has already received visits from some of her family members, and loves sharing her ‘Indian life’ with them. She feels privileged to be able to do what she does and finds it motivating and rewarding to have the opportunity to help others and witness first hand how her efforts are making a difference to the lives of individual people. She often tells us that she learns a lot from the people she meets, often in the most desolate areas she visits. “People in these areas may be materially poor, but spiritually they are rich“. She feels that we in the West can learn a lot from ‘her friends‘ in the East.


Cecilie and Siri at the Golden Tempe in Amritsar, India

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