She spent years hoping to study outside of her village in Tibet, & in that time became a world-class photographer & filmmaker. Find out about Dawa’s story.
Among the skills that Dawa Drolma ’17 stated for her application to Bay Path College’s incoming first year class was wolf hunting. This was no metaphor: As a yak herder in the high altitude plateau of Tibet’s Dzongsar Valley, keeping wolves from her flock with a slingshot is vital to survival.
Dawa’s spellbinding story is a chain of epic journeys, and to hear her retell them brings the listener many thousands of miles, and even centuries, away from what we know as familiar. For this talented young woman left her ancestral village to pursue her two passions: a college education and the opportunity to hone her craft in filmmaking.
In that remote valley of Tibet, a son is traditionally envisioned to have the lone opportunity to leave his home to pursue a career in the world beyond. Like their father, however, Dawa’s brother is a master sculptor, creating intricate renditions of the Buddha, using techniques passed down in their family for generations. This craft is depicted in Dawa’s short film “Clay,” her moving documentary which highlights one small facet of the many ancient traditional crafts that are produced in her valley.
Recognizing her skills as a photographer and filmmaker, her brother said for her to take his spot and go off to college. Her father told her that an illness which almost took her life a decade before had instead saved her; because she lived, he knew that there was to be something meant for her. He agreed to her travel abroad for higher education.
What did this mean to Dawa? It was not just the ability to learn outside of her country. This meant that now she could leave Tibet to study business, with the hopes of bringing this knowledge back to the Dzongsar Valley and to help market the artists and their crafts.
They are weavers, sculptors, wood carvers, silver and goldsmiths, among others. What joins them is their dedication to traditional art forms that have been passed down in their families for centuries. Dawa hopes to learn business techniques to help these important, living cultural artifacts through and beyond their lifetimes. “They are so good at what they do, but they don’t have a market in Tibet anymore,” she explained. “The people who buy these items are old. Young people in Tibet want what is new, not old.”
Small actions we may take for granted are rendered incredibly complex on the rooftop of the world. Dawa was convinced by officials from her English-language school in China to submit “Clay” to the World Craft Council’s international film festival in 2012. Unsure if the copy even made it to the judges, Dawa said she was stunned to learn that she had won first prize of the competition.
Dawa is currently at work on her second documentary, “White Lies,” which draws upon her first career as a yak herder. In this as-yet unfinished film, a mother yak must come to terms with the loss of a calf, killed by wolves.
In addition, Dawa published a book of photographs from this strikingly beautiful place that she calls home. Her hope is to travel back to Tibet soon to film another short feature about the artisans there. In recognition of her work the Chinese state television giant, CCTV, travelled to the Dzongsar Valley and filmed a documentary on Dawa, highlighting this ascending talent.
Meanwhile, Bay Path College is immensely proud of Dawa’s contributions to the student body. She redefines what we know is bold.