Stephanie Sabato in Tibet

Knowing more and doing more

Stephanie Nuria Sabato, professor, graphic design, worked alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, and in the Himalayan Mountains, she sat at the feet of the Dalai Lama. 

Twenty-two years later, she still searches for the words to describe profound passion she discovered for the people of this region. 

“There was something about this great gathering that touched something very deep within me,” Sabato said. “During this time, I began to learn more and more about the situation in Tibet and the human rights violations and oppression of the Tibetan people. As a person who believes deeply in the upholding of the values of freedom, I became more deeply drawn to learn more.” 

Sabato has championed for the rights of a free Tibet locally because of what she learned and felt while on that trip and subsequent trips to the region. She even set up a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation dedicated to helping Tibetan refugees. 

First visit

In 1990, Sabato first visited northern India simply to introduce herself to the sacred and historical sites. Mother Teresa’s orphanage for unwanted children and the Dalai Lama’s temple complex of the Namgyal Monastery were engraved on her heart, she said. 

Second visit

In 1993, she visited again. This time, the trip took a disastrous turn when Sabato became violently ill. The message that an American was in the village and in need of care reached the Office of the Dalai Lama, and his personal physician was sent to care for her. 

Word that the Dalai Lama’s physician was attending an ailing American spread widely throughout the village. Tibetan monks and nuns prayed by her bedside, and Tibetan villagers brought clean food and water. Local shopkeepers sent small religious gifts as a show of friendship and support. 

“I began to understand more deeply the teachings of the Buddha on compassion, and found the actions of those around me not just a ‘concept of compassion,’ rather a ‘living example,’” she said. “My connection to Tibet and the Tibetan people grew stronger and stronger.” 

After Sabato returned home, she studied more about Tibet and Buddhism during her recovery. 

Third trip

Due to health concerns, Sabato’s family sent her sister, Cecily Sabato, to accompany her on her third trip to Dharamsala in 1996. 

One day while she and her sister were having tea in a hole-in-the-wall café, Cecily began reading a quote on a poster with these words of the Dalai Lama: 

Never give up
No matter what is going on
Never give up 

Be compassionate 

Not just with your friends
But with everyone 

Be compassionate 

Work for peace
In your heart
And in the world
Work for peace 

And I say again
Never give up
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up 

After contemplation, the sisters agreed that they had to help the Tibetan refugees. They made a plan that upon their return to Kansas City they would talk to anyone who would listen to them about what they had learned and ask them to help. 

A dear friend of Cecily’s, Lama Tenzin Choeden, an elder of Namgyal Monastery gave a name to the sisters’ effort – Jamtse (jom-tsay) Tsokpa (tsoak-pa). Jamtse means “compassion” and Tsokpa means “society.” 

Returning home to Kansas City, the duo met with Tibetan Study groups whom they knew would be sympathetic to what they had witnessed and learned. 

“We asked if they would be willing to give $30 a month to support one of the many Tibetans we found in dire need,” Sabato said. And many others have since joined in the effort to help impoverished exiled Tibetans, she said. 

Jamtse Tsokpa

Jamtse Tsokpa is a 501(c)(3) non-profit tax-exempt recognized organization that operates under the direction of three officers: Sabato is president; her husband, Joseph “Joe” Gorski is treasurer; and Terri Erickson-Harper, professor, JCCC graphic design professor, is secretary. Cecily is an adviser. Contributions are set up for sponsors to write and send money directly to a Tibetan living in exile. Officers do not handle any money directly, she said. 

“Like a magic carpet being spread over the city, word of our efforts spread to people from various sectors ranging from business, religious organizations and the media began to contact us for interviews and offer support,” Sabato said. “To all these we owe so much, for our inspiration could only carry us so far. We owe the ongoing success of Jamtse Tsokpa to so many.”