Kasur Jetsun Pema was born in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, on July 7, 1940 to Choekyong Tsering and Dickyi Tsering. She is the younger sister of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama. She came to India in 1950 and studied first at St. Joseph’s Convent in Kalimpong and later at Loreto Convent in Darjeeling from where she completed her Senior Cambridge in 1960. In 1961, she went to Switzerland and then to England to do further studies. She returned to India in April 1964.
In June 1964, she was directed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to take over the responsibility of running the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala. Since then, she has been the moving force and mother of thousands of destitute and orphaned Tibetan children. The children call her “Ama La” (Respected Mother). With her dynamic leadership and untiring dedication, coupled with her sense of urgency and clarity of purpose, the Tibetan Children’s Village has become one of the most successfully flourishing Tibetan institutions in exile. She became the President of the Tibetan Children’s Villages in June 1964, and held that position until her retirement in August 2006. She held this position for more than 42 years, dedicating her life to educating Tibetan children in exile.
In 1970, at the first General Body Meeting of the Tibetan Youth Congress, Jetsun Pema was elected as its Vice-President, and at the 1984 first General Body Meeting of the Tibetan Women’s Association, she was elected as an Adviser. In 1980, she was sent by the Dalai Lama to visit Tibet as the leader of the third Fact Finding Delegation and for three months traveled extensively all over the country.
In May 1990, the Dalai Lama convened a special Congress of the Tibetan People-In-Exile in Dharamsala to elect the Kalons (Ministers) of Central Tibetan Administration. Jetsun Pema was one of the three Ministers elected and became the first Tibetan Woman Minister. In 1991, she was again elected by the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies (Tibetan Parliament) as one of the Ministers and was allocated the portfolio of Minister-In-Charge of the Department of Education. In July 1993, she resigned from the Kashag (Cabinet).
She wrote an autobiography in 1996, called “Tibet: My Story”. Jetsun Pema, has traveled widely to speak about the Tibetans and her work at the Tibetan Children’s Villages. In the 1997 movie Seven Years in Tibet starring Brad Pitt and David Thewlis, a film based on the book by Heinrich Harrer, Jetsun portrayed her real-life mother in the film as the mother of the young 14th Dalai Lama. She won the UNESCO medal in 1999
On 20 April 2006, she was awarded the World’s Children’s Honorary Award in Sweden in recognition of her life’s work by the Swedish organisation Children’s World.
On 28 March 2008, she was awarded Bharat Jyoti Award in Delhi by The India International Friendship Society.
On 27 May 2010, An Italian human rights organisation, Association for Human Rights and Tolerance has conferred the prestigious Human Rights Award 2010 (Eroe per i diritti umani) upon Kasur Jetsun Pema in honor of her absolute dedication to the cause of peace, tolerance and love towards children and future generation of Tibetans.
She is the Governing Body member of the Tibet House in New Delhi and the trust of His Holiness the Dalai Lama Charitable.