The ROKPA Founders

The wish to help others brought the three ROPKA founders together in a magical synergy – Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche, Lea Wyler and her father, Dr Veit Wyler. Lea Wyler first met Rinpoche in 1974 in the Tibetan Buddhist centre Kagyu Samye Ling in Scotland; this marked the beginning of an unusual relationship.

In 1979/80 they made a pilgrimage to India and Nepal. Both were deeply moved by the sight of countless street children surviving without regular meals, dressed in rags, with no roof over their heads and without care or any prospects of education. This sparked the deep motivation of taking on the task of supporting those who have lost everything. Together with Lea Wyler's father, the Zurich-based lawyer Dr Veit Wyler, they then founded ROKPA in Zurich.

Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche

One of the leading Tibetan lamas who had to leave their homeland in the 1959 Cultural Revolution, Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche stands out for the extraordinary breadth of his commitment to his native country.

Born in 1939 in the east of the Tibetan areas of China, from the age of four he was acknowledged as the reincarnation (Tulku) of the first Akong, a holy lama and physician, and was trained to become the Abbot of Dolma Lhakang. At nineteen, Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche completed his religious training as a lama of the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma schools. His most important teachers were HH 16th Gyalwang Karmapa and HE Jamgon Kongtrul of Shechen. He was also trained in traditional Tibetan medicine.

Together with Trungpa Rinpoche and another three hundred Tibetans, he fled to India in 1959. Under the impact of this terrible experience – only thirteen survived –, Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche resolved to help people suffering from poverty, sickness, fear and psychological torment.

With Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche he founded the “Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Centre” in Scotland in 1967, the first Tibetan Buddhist teaching centre in the West. Across the world there are now twenty one branches (Samye Dzongs).

Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche was not only a Tibetan doctor and master of meditation: In the 1980s he worked with Western therapists to develop a new form of therapy, the Tara ROKPA process, which combines Buddhist and psychotherapy methods. 

In 1983, Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche returned for a short time to the Tibetan areas of China, where he was very dismayed to learn that the Tibetan culture and language were under threat of disappearing. He encountered abject poverty, lack of education opportunities and environmental problems. He immediately began to plan and implement aid projects to help the Tibetan people to learn to help themselves. His efforts were also devoted to breathing new life into their language and culture. 

A major part of his work related to his position as co-founder and President of ROKPA INTERNATIONAL. Together with Lea Wyler, for several
months every year Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche travelled through the Tibetan areas of China to visit over 120 ROKPA projects.

On 8th October 2013, just before another trip to the projects, Rinpoche died as the victim of a violent criminal assault in Chengdu, China.

Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche was married to a Tibetan and leaves four children.

Lea Wyler

Actually Lea Wyler’s original ambitions were very different to what they would become, but the shock of the untimely loss of her mother lead to a complete change in the life of the successful Swiss actress.

She remembered the words of the high Tibetan Lama, doctor and meditation master, Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche who gave her advice during a trip together through India and Nepal in 1980: “the best way of helping yourself is to be involved in solving the needs of others”. Confronted with immense poverty, starving children and distraught mothers, Lea Wyler decided to give her life a new sense of direction. Encounters with a blind youngster, a beggar crippled by leprosy and an old woman racked by hunger were key experiences that culminated in a split-second awareness of what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She wanted to offer humanitarian help in Nepal, India, later also in the Tibetan areas of China, and wherever else necessary.


Once back home in Zurich, Lea established ROKPA together with Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche and her father, the lawyer Dr. Veit Wyler. The motto of this relief organization is to "help where help is needed”, for those in distress regardless of their religion, political leanings or cultural background. Since that time, the commitment by Lea and Dr. Akong Rinpoche has produced over one hundred and fifty ROKPA projects worldwide.

Lea Wyler established a home for former street children in Nepal, and is known there as ‚Mummy Lea’. She also initiated a Women’s Workshop and started a Soup Kitchen in Kathmandu that during winters provides eight hundred meals for the needy per day. In Tibetan areas of China, she and Dr. Akong Rinpoche have arranged for schools, orphanages and clinics to be built, organized medical training projects, restored a nunnery located at five thousand meters and supported reforestation projects in the highlands. The primary focus of ROKPA’s activities is upon the education of boys and girls; the vital first steps towards improving living conditions in Nepal and Tibetan areas of China. All of Lea's work is influenced by Dr. Akong Rinpoche.

Lea Wyler travels to the two regions in the Himalayan mountains for a few months every year. Once on site she inspects the projects in progress and set up new ones.

Mummy Lea, as she is called by the children at the ROKPA Home in Nepal, can be proud of her achievements: Since ROKPA's inception in 1980 hundreds and thousands of people have received medical aid and over a million in distress have been provided with food. She is supported by a growing team of voluntary helpers, with the result that the administrative costs are kept to a minimum.

Lea Wyler’s humanitarian concerns are no accident, since her family has a long tradition of helping those in distress. Born into a middle class Jewish family that had respect for culture, literature and the arts, her grandfather Felix Salten made a name for himself as the author of such well known pieces as “Bambi”, “The Shaggy Dog”, and the novel, “Josephine Mutzenbacher”. From an early age, Lea saw how her mother, Katja, also a successful actress with engagements with the Viennese Court Theatre, took care of those in need (as had been the tradition in her grandmother’s house on the father’s side). In her parents' house she saw beggars being fed and clothed, and her mother was one of the first to take in refugee children after World War II. She learned and imbibed characteristics that are now the basic pillars of ROKPA: to have respect for all. People should be helped with respect and treated as equals, as her mother never tired of saying.


Lea Wyler was also greatly influenced by her father, Dr. Veit Wyler. An intelligent lawyer, he made entry into Switzerland possible for many refugees from the war zones. He also collected funds and passports so that the victims could travel on to safe countries. The motto he passed on to his daughter was: “where there are no humans try to be one yourself”. He supported ROKPA with legal advice and funds until his death in 2002. 


Lea Wyler has been a tireless and passionate advocate for her life’s work for almost three decades. Her talent as an actress has also helped her to give deeply inspiring public speeches and fundraising talks. She has in the meantime been showered by accolades for her commitment, including the Jonas Furrer Prize and the award of the Order of St. John. In recent years she has become well-known to the wider public thanks to general press coverage and television documentaries. 


Dr. Veit Wyler

In 1980 the Zurich lawyer Dr. Veit Wyler founded the ROKPA relief organisation together with his daughter, the actress Lea Wyler, and the Tibetan lama Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche.

Being one of the best-known Jewish personalities in Switzerland, Veit Wyler continued the family tradition of commitment to the needy. During World War I, his mother had placed children with Swiss families so that they could recover from the consequences of war in Germany, Austria and Hungary.

Beggars knew his house in the Zurich Böcklinstrasse as a place where they would get something to eat and wear. The name of his wife Katja was at the top of a list circulating among those seeking help. Lea Wyler said in an interview recently that her own humanitarian engagement had been roused and fostered by her mother, but that her father had also had his share in it. He also gave her a motto for her life: "Wherever you miss the human touch, try to compensate!"


An Unflagging Commitment to Refugees

In saving lives, Veit Wyler did not shy away from danger. Born in the Swiss town of Baden in 1908, he studied law at the universities of Hamburg, Berlin and Leipzig. His stay in Germany coincided with the Weimar Republic, which had a lasting effect on him. After graduation, he returned to Switzerland, and at the age of twenty-two became one of the country's youngest solicitors, establishing his own law office in Zurich.

Hitler’s National Socialism and the support this received from some of the Swiss were a challenge for him. In his most spectacular case he pleaded in the Chur court of justice – together with the non-Jewish solicitor Eugen Curti – in favour of David Frankfurter, who had shot the German leader of the Swiss NDSAP (Nazi party) Wilhelm Gustloff in Davos in 1936. Instead of the death penalty requested by the Nazis, which was in contravention of Swiss law, Frankfurter was given an 18-year prison sentence.

 During World War II, Veit Wyler was garrisoned as a soldier in the Grisons (Swiss Alps). There he experienced how, in their attempt to reach Switzerland over the mountain passes, Jewish refugees were intercepted by the Swiss armed forces, put into prison and then sent back over the frontier, often to their death. Using his intelligence as a lawyer, Veit Wyler found a paragraph stipulating that refugees wearing part of a Swiss uniform could not be expelled. Using this regulation, he repeatedly equipped refugees who tried to cross the border unnoticed at night, with a jacket, a belt or a cap of his uniform in order to protect them. He provided many of these despairing fugitives with passports and visas and organized adventurous escapes so that they could continue their journey to safe countries and thus be saved. All of this was done at his own risk, and he also campaigned vehemently for the admittance of the refugees, a policy which was extremely unpopular at the time.

Honorary Doctor of the Weizmann Institute

Veit Wyler was frequently disciplined for his actions, but he saved many lives, unflinchingly. He responded to each and every request for help without question or waiting for the agreement of the Swiss authorities. Furthermore he pleaded in court on behalf of many people who risked being imprisoned for aiding and abetting escape attempts.

His support for refugees often met with the disapproval of the Jewish organisations in Switzerland at the time. He, on the other hand, criticised them for their lack of empathy. 
Veit Wyler was also committed to the Zionist ideal. In 1948, he founded the monthly journal “The New Israel”, which he published for almost forty years. In addition, he held quite a number of offices and functions, including being President of the Swiss Alliance of Zionists, and was an active member in the committee of the Jewish Community of Zurich and the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG).

As one of the leading Jewish trustees, he was awarded many decorations and distinctions abroad, including the honorary doctorate of the Weizmann Institute in Rechovot/Israel in 1980.

When, upon a long journey to the Himalayan regions in 1980, his daughter Lea saw the misery of the local population and confronted her father with the idea of founding an international relief organisation, he did not hesitate to back her in every respect. He assisted her and ROKPA anytime and unconditionally with legal advice and financial means until his death in 2002. In his honour, Lea created the ROKPA “Veit Wyler Fund” that enables young students to go to university, just as her father had done.

Veit Wyler will always be remembered as a great philanthropist, who met all human beings with equal respect, in a spontaneous, unconditional and unpretentious way; a man who helped wherever help was needed and argued with passion and conviction. His values were the same as those of ROKPA: “Helping where help is needed”.