The beginning of a journey
In the beginning, it was not about founding an aid organization, it was simply a desire to help people. In 1980, Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche, Lea Wyler and Dr. Veit Wyler laid the foundations for ROKPA. Everyone who has accompanied us on this path since then carries this motivation and the values of ROKPA within them. We believe that everyone can help someone, and that this is the way out of poverty.
Especially now in the Corona crisis, it is important that we stick together and support each other worldwide.
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your loyalty over all these years.
Meanwhile, have a look at some old pictures from the beginnings. Enjoy!
Food distribution in the early day
On the ground, without infrastructure: Food distribution in the early day. Thirty years ago, the Soup Kitchen was created in Boudha, and with it the first project in Nepal – right next to the Stupa, Nepal’s famous landmark. It all started here with the distribution of food to beggars and people with disabilities.
Helping in the beginning
It all started on the pilgrimage to Sikkim (India) in 1979/80: there, Lea Wyler met countless people in need. Back in Switzerland, ROKPA was founded by Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche, her father Dr. Veit Wyler and her. Then all efforts were devoted to finding the first donors for the needy. The first sponsorships in Nepal and India, and later in the Tibetan areas of China, came into being. ROKPA has supported around 1,900 people through individual sponsorships in the past.
Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche
Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche, Co-founder and President of ROKPA, dedicated his whole life to those suffering from poverty and illness.
Due to the Tibetan uprising in China, he was forced to flee to India with a group of 300 or so other Tibetans in 1959. Their escape lasted ten months and was shaped by hunger, great hardship and mortal danger. The group soon had nothing to eat and in their plight resorted to cooking the leather of their shoes to at least find some nourishment. Out of the group of 300 people, there were only 13 survivors.
Touched by these terrible events, Akong Rinpoche decided to help people suffering from poverty, illness, fear and emotional distress. In 1967 together with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, he founded the first Tibetan Buddhist center in
He was involved in ROKPA projects for more than 30 years – especially in the Tibetan areas of China, but also in Nepal and Africa.
"In a place where no one is human, you try to be human", said Veit Wyler to his daughter Lea. Thanks to his pronounced sense of justice, coupled with his profession as a lawyer, he repeatedly rescued and helped Jewish refugees during the Second World War. He worked hard for the inclusion and acceptance of persecuted people. Veit Wyler supported his daughter and ROKPA at all times and unconditionally in every respect until the end of his life.
What has driven you during the past 40 years?
The will to help as many people in the world as possible – especially children.
Do you have a hidden “superpower” that helped you?
No, definitely no superpower! But I had and continue to have exceptional role models: Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche, who provided help to anyone who asked him and whose life was determined by the well-being of others. And then my parents, who taught me by example that one is not in the world only for oneself. And the fact that I never fitted with the norm, most likely made me stronger.
How were you different?
Firstly, my mother was 42 when I was born. Her life experience, love and wisdom have enriched me enormously and taught me a lot. Secondly, I was the only Jew in my class. Other schoolchildren bullied me because of this. Thirdly, I became an actress. Not the norm either. And so I was actually a lifelong outsider and have always been swimming against the current. That was not easy but was exciting. I was fortunate to experience so much that others cannot. And all these events and experiences showed me that almost nothing is impossible, where there is the will.
The orphanage in Qinghai Province, China (Eastern Tibet) was founded in 1993 by Akong Tulku Rinpoche and built by ROKPA. Here, children from the poorest families were admitted and trained in Tibetan medicine in addition to schooling. A large number of people in this region are poor, which is why they often die from the consequences of work accidents or illnesses without medical care – hence the high number of orphans. The students subsequently trained at a university as doctors of Tibetan medicine and today work in remote areas which, without them, would often have no doctors at all. After the 2010 earthquake, the school was taken over and continues to be run by the Chinese government.
Kepcha Monastery for women
Monasteries in the Tibetan areas of China are more than religious and cultural centers: today they are probably the only places where the precious knowledge and language of the Tibetans is preserved. They are also a social safety net and often the only way to learn to read and write.
Kepcha is a very special monastery for women, in a very remote location at about 4,000m above sea level and therefore without outside influence. A unique meditation practice has been preserved here and now Kepcha is the only place in the world where it can be found. The women come from extremely poor families and stay here under harsh living conditions. It is difficult for them to meet their basic needs. For years, ROKPA has been supporting the preservation of this ancient and wholesome culture and way of life.
ROKPA Children's Home
It was in 1990 when Lea Wyler took in the first seven Nepalese street children, became their “mother” and placed them in home schools. Six years later, a house was rented in Boudha (Kathmandu) and the ROKPA Children's Home opened with space for 35 children.
Finally, in 2005, ROKPA’s own Children's Home opened its doors. The Children’s Home provides a safe space for around 65 children, where they are lovingly cared for and receive an education in humanity as well as knowledge. Here they grow up to be confident people who never have to beg again. The Home is run by former ROKPA children who grew up there themselves and know exactly what these children need.
ROKPA in Tibet
The Tibetan areas of China are some of the poorest regions in the world. Comparable with Europe in area, only around 6 million people live there, scratching a living from arable land and livestock farming. Settlements situated between 3,000 and 5,500 meters above sea level, it is the highest region inhabited by people in the world.
Between 1990 and 2016, ROKPA carried out projects in the Tibetan areas of China in the fields of education, medicine, the environment, food aid and the preservation of Tibetan culture. The work has become increasingly difficult since the loss of former President and Co-founder Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche in 2013, so that only a few projects in this region can currently continue.
Learn more about the beginnings of ROKPA in our very first film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7579tt5QUpo