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Sonam G. Sherpa

Originally from Solukhumbu in Nepal. Sonam’s father — a Sherpa and his mother a Tibetan from Shigatse made Sonam leave Solu at the age of seven to go to a boarding school in Kathmandu — the capital city of Nepal. He spent a few years at school before he was sent to school in Kalimpong.
Concerned about the lack of religious education, Sonam’s father sent him to study at the Central Institute of Tibetan Higher Studies in Varanasi much against his personal wishes — a decision which Sonam now realizes was worth it — and attributes his knowledge of Tibetan and the many lifelong friends that he made there to that decision.

Q. How did you come to the US?

A. As the school in Varanasi has Buddhism as its core course, and as I was not doing so well in those subjects (more of my own choosing), at the end of six years there, I got very nervous regarding what I was going to do with my life. After many sleepless nights thinking about my future, on my summer sojourn in Leh, Laddakh, in the summer of 1984, I decided to write to my American friend, a father figure, in California, and asked him if he could help me in coming here to the U.S. With his positive response, and help from my dear sisters and their husbands, in September of 1984, I came here to New York, as a tourist, with just about a couple of hundred dollars.

Q. What was your previous occupation and what is your present occupation?

A. I work for a commuter railroad company in New York, as a Senior Treasury Analyst. It has to do with the cash management of our entire company that has over 5500 employees and numerous vendors. Although not related with my studies, I am very fortunate to work with people that have always tolerated my lack of knowledge on accounting and have been patient enough to show how it is done. Throughout my career in this company since 1985, I count it as a blessing that I got to work with so many wonderful people. community profile

Q. Could you tell us what roles you have played in various community organizations?

A. I’d like to think I’ve had a hand in starting a few organizations. Together with some Tibetan friends, we started the Tibetan Youth Association of New York and New Jersey (currently Regional Tibetan Youth Congress of NY and NJ) in mid-80s. In 1994, with the help of fellow board members of TYC, we started a Tibetan Dance group, Cholsum. And in 1995 with some Sherpa friends, I was involved in starting an organization for Sherpas, Sherpa Kyidug, and United Sherpa Association. I served as a board member of the Tibetan Youth Congress in New York at its founding and have since been on the board twice after as it’s president. While serving my third term at the TYC, I was fortunate enough to serve also as a board member of Tibetan Association of NY and NJ. In the Sherpa Kyidug, I have served twice as the president.

Q. What motivates you to do community work?

"To me, my first priority is my family. Second is my job that allows me to take care of my family. Once these two priorities are taken care of, community work, when presented — I’d like to think — comes naturally to me. I do have selfish reasons to do so though."

A. Many a times it isn’t any motivation at all. People call me asking if I can help, and in the cases I can, I agree, and go about doing what I can. With almost the same energy put, if I can do for the entire community, that, obviously benefit more and for that matter more effective. To me, it is a very simple proposition. I do try to get my priorities straight. Community work is something I dearly enjoy.

To me, my first priority is my family. Second is my job that allows me to take care of my family. Once these two priorities are taken care of, community work, when presented — I’d like to think — comes naturally to me. I do have selfish reasons to do so though.

Satisfaction that I get from doing any community work is tremendous. Making a person or two happy gives me certain pleasures. And it also gives me an opportunity to work with ‘grown ups’ to ‘solve grown up problems’.

One will start feeling that when you have two school going children. If you know what I mean. So, to anyone, who’s willing to hear me, I say, once you take care of your first two priorities, instead of staying home and watching TV – do something good for others. Be it to a person or a community. There’s always something we can do.

Q. In a busy place like New York, how do you make time to handle personal, professional and community service?

A. I work in a classic environment of 9 to 5 office, where all the modern communication is readily available to me. Additionally, my benefit of working here includes quite a number of personal, vacation and sick days. So, with a decent management of time on my part, after doing my daily duties at the office, community work is an extension of sorts I feel of my daily work. Much of the work is computer-related — writing letters or planning or creating agendas for next meeting or preparing budgets etc. So, even at work, whenever I can and am needed, I make time to do community work. (When, in a friendly way, harassed by my coworkers seeing me do community work, I tell them, “instead of talking about sports and TV shows like you guys do, I’m at least doing something for my needy community.”) At home, it is being on the phone or working on the computer, when the children are doing their homework or watching TV, or outdoors playing. I believe anyone can make time for anything one wants to do. It is a very highly exaggerated claim when any one says they’re too busy to do anything else. It’s not because I have time, but rather that I make time.

Q. What do you feel are some of the main issues that you feel your/ our community faces presently? What do you think some of these issues could have in the near and long term future on the community?

"Our children’s well-being in our community is the most important issue that naturally affects our future."

A. Our children’s well-being in our community is the most important issue that naturally affects our future. Naturally growing up in the United States, they are as American as an Apple pie. They, along with millions of children throughout the country long for Christmas. But, we have the responsibility to make our children long for Losar also. We have to instill that fun and interest that Losar should bring to them. It is just one example that one can apply to many other instances that affect our daily lives.

In the topic of Losar, for the first time in our Sherpa annual Losar party in 2002, we initiated programs for children. Clowns and magicians were invited; a cotton candy stand was brought in. Arts and crafts were introduced to children. Their favorite McDonalds and pizza were ordered for lunch and dinner. Children’s movies were shown and a stereo was set up for them to dance in their own choice of music. This was done in consultation with the children, making them part of the festivities of Losar. This to some children was so much fun, some asked when other such programs will be organized. Ever since that party, our Sherpa community has kept on the tradition of entertaining our young guests at the Losar parties.