For a month and a half, I’ve been visiting the nunnery in Wangsisina for my internship and teaching the nuns how to use a computer. Shechen Ugyen Chodzong Nunnery was established as a branch of the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery, which was built in 1980 near Boudhanath in Nepal. It’s based in the Nyingma tradition of Buddhism from Tibet. Other branches of this particular monastery are located in Tibet and Bodh Gaya, though the monastery is based on the Shechen monastery from Tibet which was founded in the 17th century. Its mission is to educate nuns. It includes schools for primary and secondary education, two temples, dormitories, and a small retreat/meditation center.
My job is to go several times a week to the nunnery, where I teach small groups of adult nuns how to use the computer. Many of them have never touched a computer before, so it’s an interesting process to get them accustomed to simple functions, like clicking, double-clicking, right-clicking, or clicking and dragging. Once I teach them how to click, it’s difficult to get them to stop clicking – most of them still persist in clicking on menus in the start menu when you’re just supposed to mouse over them. Keyboards are foreign tools (using the shift key presents its own set of complications), and the kind of computer coordination skills that are ingrained in me from childhood must now be patiently taught to women who have never used a computer before.
Once we’ve progressed past simple functions, I teach them how to open and close programs and save documents. Then we practice changing the desktop picture and the screensaver. (They love to make the screensaver say things like “Well come Miss Catherine!”)
I show them how to use MS Paint and save their work (they really enjoy MS Paint), and then I teach them solitaire. For a group of people who have never even played a card game, let alone solitaire, they pick it up quickly and enjoy it so much that it’s difficult to get them to stop playing.
Recently, we’ve progressed to Microsoft Office, which was recently installed on their single computer. I’ve successfully taught several of them how to make powerpoints, and now we’re working on a group project to make a powerpoint featuring the nuns. I’m taking pictures of them individually and in groups while they each get a slide to customize and write things on. Eventually I’ll show them how to put their pictures and artwork on their slides, and leave them with a fun memento (while getting to carry something away myself).
The nuns are shy at first, but incredibly warm and welcoming, and they loosened up after a few weeks. They’re very kind and gracious; they always present me with tea or juice and snacks while I teach, walk me to the taxi when I leave, and insist on carrying my bag and books for me. They’re a pleasure to work with, even if the job gets a little repetitive after a while.
But teaching isn’t all I do – there are many other opportunities to engage in new experiences with the nuns. I’ve visited a few times when they were participating in interesting activities – chanting during a puja, or practicing debate. They’ve offered to let me stay overnight (an offer which I unfortunately haven’t taken up yet), and when they threw a going-away party for their English teacher, I was invited. It’s a totally different experience to watch nuns play truth-or-dare!
– Catherine Perkins