Dagmo Kalden Dunkyi Sakya on the Pandemic: Healing the Community

Adapted from the original feature

Social media played a large part in helping Dagmo-la navigate the greatest challenge to face her community in recent years: the COVID-19 pandemic. “Thank you for asking me about this,” she says, “because it was such a stressful time for everyone, and a time that now seems so long ago, I had almost forgotten until your question made me remember all that I did.”

In 2020, Dagmo-la had never been busier. She believes that social workers play a crucial role during such periods of crisis. “For me, my commitment to society in general and my personal goal to be of as much benefit to the community as I can fueled me to action. One of the first things I did was to have vital information about the coronavirus issued by the WHO translated into Tibetan. We printed and put up posters in the entire Tibetan community around Dehra Dun, while also sharing the digital files online for those who wanted it to share it with ease. Then I held awareness talks by one of our Dharma friends who is also a nurse in our monasteries. Since hand-washing was encouraged, I purchased and installed hundreds of hand-soap dispensers at all washbasin stations in the monasteries and settlements.”

As the pandemic worsened, and mask-wearing was encouraged, there was a shortage of masks, so Dagmo-la decided to employ women who had been made jobless. She assigned them the task of sewing masks. “During this time, I would go into town almost daily to purchase cloth, make and print the designs, and visit the seamstresses. I felt that I could not task someone else to do it because I was afraid for my own health—so I went myself.” Even with adequate personal preparation, this was an extraordinary thing for a lineage holder’s partner to do. “On the other days, I would drive into town to hand out masks to anyone not wearing one. I also visited all the local old people’s homes personally and gave them masks and holy nectar pills, since the elderly were an especially vulnerable population.”

To encourage more people to wear masks, Dagmo-la became creative. She came up with numerous designs that would appeal to young and old alike. “In order to reduce single-use masks, I used cotton and other natural materials. My masks were not the best or most comfortable, but we sewed thousands and shipped many across the world. Many generous people even sent us money to sew masks that we could distribute. In general, with the profits earned, we were able to support many women’s livelihoods, and also sew lots of masks that we distributed for free. We also shipped them, in bulk and for free, to anyone and any institution who asked, as well as offering them to migrants leaving India and going back to their homes once the lockdown began.”

When she was made aware of the plight of healthcare workers in southern India, Dagmo-la again harnessed the power of social media, raising hundreds of thousands of rupees in contributions from people all over the world and distributing the money to the healthcare workers. “As I mentioned earlier, at the beginning of the pandemic, I also requested His Holiness to bestow the kah-go live on Facebook because everyone was worried and scared, and I knew that this would bring comfort and peace of mind to many. His Holiness, as always, so kindly and generously acquiesced to my humble request—I believe tens of thousands of people tuned in to receive the blessings.”

Dagmo-la further describes: “When our area was hit by the pandemic and there was a shortage of hospital beds all around, I lent the community our Sakya Hospital beds. I also helped to raise funds for high-quality hospital beds in one of our local settlements since they also were short on beds. Again, I contacted everyone through social media and my appeals went viral thanks to my platforms.” Another small settlement approached her to help them set up a ward equipped with oxygen and other medical equipment. “I used a majority of our Kalden Designs funds to purchase oxygen cylinders (there was a growing shortage at that time), mattresses and bedding, pulse oximeters and all the necessary items to support the patients if they needed it.”

Finally, when the vaccines were introduced in India, Dagmo-la discussed with His Holiness the 41st Sakya Trizin the possibility of sponsoring vaccinations for the entire Tibetan community in Dehra Dun. “With His Holiness’ approval, I led a small team, to whom I am indebted, to implement a mass vaccination program to not only Tibetans, but everyone in the local community as well.”

In the midst of such a trying and somber time, she also posted light content on social media to keep people’s spirits up. “It was also for my own. I lost a few family members to the coronavirus, as did so many others across the globe. Yet it was a time when I was able to connect with and help many members of the community as well as bond with many of them. May the world never go through such distress and suffering again. But in the eventuality that it does, you can rest assured that I will be there on the frontlines trying to do what little I can do the best of my abilities and capacities.”

This spirit of social work is perhaps what sums up Dagmo-la’s approach to life best: to give meaningfully and to be of real service. On the frontlines, up close and personal, adept at the skillful means of our age (Instagram and more), and endlessly creative in her methods of helping: she is a true healer among healers, whose compassion and selflessness hearkens back to the leaders of old that inspired and galvanized just by their presence. This is perhaps the way she teaches, which is different to the usual styles of rinpoches: to embody that love, mirth, and comfort that human beings naturally desire, no matter who or where they are.

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Dagmo Kalden Dunkyi Sakya (Instagram)
Dagmo Kalden Dunkyi Sakya (Linktree)