Staff & Board Members
KARMA TENSUM - Executive Director
Karma was born in Tibet in 1957 and escaped to India as a very young child. His early education at Wynberg Allen School, Mussoorie- one of the top schools in India, was possible because of the efforts of HH The Dalai Lama to educate the early Tibetan refugees and the kindness of individuals who sponsored his school education. Karma’s early love was for teaching and after graduating from Wynberg Allen School in 1972, he joined Mt. Hermon College of Education, Darjeeling to get his teaching certification. In March, 1975, he began his teaching career at the Tibetan Children’s Village School (TCV) at Dharamsala. Since then, for over thirty years, he has worked for the education of Tibetan children in exile in various capacities – as a teacher, administrator, educational planner and fundraiser.
Much of his work was based at the Tibetan settlement at Clement Town in North India where he was the principal of the Tibetan Nehru Memorial School and helped to found Kyitsel-ling Tibetan Children’s Education Center in collaboration with TCEF. In 1994, he won a Fulbright scholarship and got his Master’s in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education with a concentration in International Education. He returned to India to continue his work with the education of Tibetan refugee children. As a leading Tibetan educationalist, from 1997 – 2001, Karma was a member of the first Tibetan National Education Policy Committee that helped to draft the first policy document for Tibetan education in exile. Over the past eight years, as the Executive Director at TCEF, he has traveled extensively all over the country doing well over a hundred presentations on Tibet, Tibetan culture and the educational needs of Tibetan children in exile. He is in love with his people and culture and is passionate about sharing it with Western audiences.
VALERIE HELLERMANN – Program Manager
Valerie Hellermann is an artist, world traveler, student of Buddhism and lifelong advocate of peace and social justice. She finds it a great honor to serve the Tibetan Childrenʼs Education Foundation as Program Manager.
Valerie has had the wonderful opportunity of attending many teachings by the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala India as well as the USA. HHDL’s lessons of mindfulness and compassion have been a great influence in her work and art. Valerie visits TCEF service sites yearly and leads cultural service tours for those interested. Working with a small nonprofit allows direct and deeply meaningful contact with those served by TCEF. Recognizing “the need is so great”, Valerie strives to promote awareness and encourage action to benefit the Tibetan people and the preservation of their culture.
TCEF BOARD MEMBERS
INDIA SUPERA; Board President
India has devoted her life to non-profit organizations. She is one of the founders of the Feathered Pipe Foundation which served as an umbrella organization for the Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation (TCEF) . India was instrumental in moving TCEF to become its own entity. Through her extensive travel experiences, India decided that she could make a difference in the world by creating and implementing educational programs. India’s work is based out of Helena, Montana.
DAVE ANDERSEN brings to the TCEF Board of Directors a long and enduring interest in interfaith relationships. As a United Methodist pastor, I have worked with Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus and others to move us all toward a common ground of understanding and mutual respect. As the father of three grown children and grandfather of six, my commitment to a world of religious and political peace is, understandably, quite personal. I have deeply appreciated and enjoyed my years of working with the
Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation. The educational projects, elder care and cultural preservation efforts have impressed me deeply and I am honored to be a member of the leadership team. In October of 2010 I made my second visit to India and to the Kytsel-ling school in Clement Town. One of the wonderful benefits of working with a small non-profit organization like TCEF is the opportunity to form personal relationships. The hospitality and generosity of the Tibetan people in exile in India and the United States continues to enrich my life.
Roberta became intrigued by the Tibetan people and culture initially through spending time traveling in India and Nepal in the 80’s and 90’s. In 2003, I was planning to move back to my home state of Montana. At that time I was traveling in India with my good friend V.J. Supera, who invited me to with her to visit Kyitsel-ling, TCEF’s first school in Clement Town in northern India. I was deeply affected by our two or three short days there. The love and great care for the entire situation that I experienced from everyone was wonderful. So I was delighted when V.J. invited me to join the TCEF board. I have found it a true privilege (as well as a lot of fun!) to work together with this great group of open-hearted people who are all deeply committed to making a difference.
I have been in the past a in junior high school teacher and a school psychologist. The last 27 years I have had a silver jewelry wholesale business, with production based in India. I still enjoy traveling in Asia and continuously re-discover how “travel is the best education”.
Roy Andes grew up in the east, but as a captive to mountainous geography, came west in 1977 to practice law and conflict resolution in Montana. Again pulled by geography, in 1983 he first went to climb in the Nepalese Himalayas, and discovered what has since became a many-year love affair with the Tibetan culture, people, and spirituality.
Alyssa first traveled to India in 2004 as an undergraduate student. There she studied Tibetan thangka painting, meditation, and the secular, spiritual, and commercial implications of Tibetan Buddhist art in the Himalayas. On this trip, her interest in art and human rights appropriately collided, and her passion for the Tibetan “issue” Upon graduation, she found a home in Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-exile. There she worked at the UNHCR’s Reception Center for New Refugees (known in Tibetan as the Nehlenkhang). Alyssa helped refugee children process their trauma through the creative and healing power of art. She has since returned to India to visit Kyitsel-ling youth hostel, leading art directives and full-belly laughing all along the way. She lead TCEF’s first collaborative trip with Carroll College in Helena, MT, providing perspectives for American students on the perilous situation facing exiled Tibetans living in India through service learning. She is honored, humbled, and excited to work with the brilliant students, inspiring monks, spiritually guided artists, and committed Westerners and Tibetans that have committed themselves so completely to preserving Tibetan culture, raising awareness and providing educational opportunities to communities in exile. Alyssa is a graduate student, now living in Seattle, WA.
Wintersong Safronoff is our newest board member. Winter’s interest in Tibet and her affection for the Tibetan people began with her family’s connection with Karma Tensum. She first visited Kyitsel-ling, Clement Town, when she was 15. Her admiration of the courage, resilience and integrity of the Tibetan people in claiming and preserving their culture drives her interest in TCEF.
Winter is an intrepid traveler having been an importer of jewelry and carpets from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as helping guide tours for the Feathered Pipe Foundation India and Bhutan. In the summers she works at the Feathered Pipe Ranch in Helena doing every kind of cooking and cleaning job as well as hosting workshops, attending to guests, assisting at the Shanti Boutique and much more.
Winter is also an artist in stained glass and fabric and has donated numerous pieces for TCEF fundraisers. She has many friends among the Tibetan artists community for whom she’s organized art shows in the US and Sikkim.
Winter’s experience in fundraising includes managing silent auctions for our many local fundraisers and participating in our MoMo Road Shows. Winter donates considerable time and expertise to TCEF and is excited to take her participation to a new level.
VJ was the founder of the TCEF vision of sponsoring Tibetan children. While living in India she began a sponsorship program for the young monks in the Clement Town Monastery. This project expanded into all Tibetan children in 1982. VJ is an international trader in antique goods from Asia and Central Asia. When not working in Asia, she resides in Helena, Montana.
My passion for different cultures goes back to a young age. My mother took me all over the world on her work trips for as long as I can remember. On one of these trips to India at the age of 4, I first met Kama Tensum (now ED of TCEF). He was assisting with the group my mom was leading and we survived a near death experience together in the Himalayas. Even at that age I already could see his kind nature.
Through the years our families have spent a lot of time together including various visits to Clement Town, the Tibetan colony where Kyitsel-ling is located. In these visits, I saw the difficulties Tibetans in exile were facing, poverty and living in refugee status. I realized more and more how amazing Tibetan culture is in its altruistic and peaceful nature, not to mention fun. This is a culture that can inspire us all.
With so many Tibetans living in exile, the risk of losing the culture becomes higher especially for children. This is why the Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation is so important. We can help make a difference in children’s lives while helping to preserve the amazing Tibetan culture. In 2000, I had the opportunity to join the board of TCEF and also started sponsoring a child. It has been an amazing experience watching him grow and develop in to a charming young man. He has had an opportunity to learn that he may not otherwise have had if it weren’t for the work for TCEF. His family is always so warm, welcoming and grateful when I see them. It is very fulfilling to be a part of TCEF’s good yet challenging work in helping to preserve Tibetan culture in exile.
Jane has been on the board of the TCEF since 2006. Prior to that, she served on the board of the Feathered Pipe Foundation for 7 years. When living in Florida, she served on the board of the Marine Discovery Center for 4 years. Jane worked as a Rehab Counselor for 18 years in Ohio. She lives in Helena, Montana with her teenage son, Sam and college student daughter, Emma. Jane has traveled with TCEF to India, and recently to Sikkim on a TCEF service trips and remains committed to the cause.
Michael joined the TCEF board in 1994. He holds a master’s degree in environmental philosophy from Bard College. Tibetan people and culture are close to his heart. Traveling to India and the Tibetan communities in exile nearly every year, he has developed a deep love and respect for Tibetan tradition and language. His work with the board focuses on the preservation of Tibetan dialects. In his work life, Michael is a registered agent in Montana, musician, and gardener.