Every morning during the summer of 2009, Michelle Pomeroy woke up at sunrise in Dharamsala, India with a group of exiled Tibetan nuns. Together, they performed mediation rituals at the local temple and walked along the kora, a Buddhist trail circumambulating the Dalai Lama’s residence. In the afternoons, she taught English and computer skills, helped run errands and assisted in cooking meals.
After receiving a research grant from NYU during her sophomore year in the College of Arts and Science, Pomeroy traveled to India over the summer to work with a settlement community of exiled nuns who spent decades fleeing rural Tibet as the Chinese government removed them from their homes. With the grant money, Pomeroy used outlets like audio and video as vessels to explore the monastic lifestyle changes the nuns underwent during their emigration.
While working with the nuns, she overheard discussions about the lack of women representation and leadership in their village. Pomeroy felt motivated to help them realize their potential, and returned to Dharamsala the following summer. With the help of the Tibetan Women’s Association, she launched the first two-week long political leadership training for the exiled community.
“There were many moments of inspiration when the women had self-realizations about a future goal or self-worth,” Pomeroy said, “like watching the women who were uncomfortable in public-speaking environments create really powerful ideas for the community, or projects they could implement.”
Pomeroy gave the underprivileged women living in Dharamsala and the surrounding communities a platform for their muted voices to be heard. She credits this trip as a driving force for raising awareness on policies for women. Now a candidate for a master of public administration degree in the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, Pomeroy stumbled upon the Wagner Women’s Caucus this September while strolling through the Wagner student activities fair. As a first-year representative, she works with her fellow board members to facilitate learning and discussion on domestic and international topics affecting females throughout the world.
To capitalize on the national concerns for women, the WWC hosted a debate on Oct. 22 to explore the two presidential candidates and their positions on gender issues. Even though Pomeroy has not registered as a Democrat or Republican, the discussion helped her decide how she might cast her ballot this election season.
“Voting on a social issue basis only and issues that are more friendly to women, Obama is clearly the stronger candidate,” Pomeroy said. “I also think that what either candidate will do that’s substantial for women and women’s access to healthcare and other rights will not be substantial in the next term.”
Despite her doubts about the next president, Pomeroy still sees the need to help women achieve a better lifestyle. In November, she will spend every Friday afternoon at The East Harlem School on 103rd Street to work one-on-one with a Latina high school sophomore. As a volunteer in the Latinas on the Verge of Excellence mentoring program, an NYU initiative that enhances academic performance and high school graduation rates among young Latinas, Pomeroy will be a role model and motivator for young Latin women en route to a higher education and a stable future.
“Mentoring is a really powerful empowerment tool, especially when you’re working with people between critical ages who are deciding whether or not they’re going to make it into college and how that will impact their future,” Pomeroy said.
From a nunnery in rural India to an all-girls high school in East Harlem, Pomeroy has traveled the world to create empowering opportunities for women. And by working with groups from various cultural backgrounds, she realized that mentorship extends both ways.
“It’s really a two-way street in the journey of me trying to figure out how, in the long run, I might be able to have some real effect [in women’s lives].”
A version of this article appeared in the Friday, Oct. 26 print edition. Kristina Bogos is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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