Nearly 100 people gathered to celebrate the life of a woman who was one of six people killed this week in a fiery crash near Jasper, Alta.
A prayer service was held for 37-year-old Gelek Wangmo at the Calgary Buddhist Temple on Saturday.
Wangmo came to Canada as one of 1,000 Tibetan refugees in 2015, said Nima Dorjee, president of the Project Tibet Society.
It was a privately sponsored project at a cost of $600 per person. One third of the refugees were illiterate, including Wangmo.
Dorjee said the program shows that through hard work and opportunities, refugees can succeed in this country.
“We promised that we will bring them and make them into 1,000 contributing members of society,” he said. “And we did that. Every one of them working — not one relied on welfare.”
Wangmo is one of many who didn’t have educational opportunities growing up, Dorjee said.
“They lived in a very remote part of India in a Tibetan refugee settlement,” he said. “So I remember when each and every one of them came with great hope — a hope for certainty, a hope for permanency.”
Wangmo was very hard-working, very pleasant and always smiling, he said.
“It’s kind of ironic, in a sense, that it was that one day off she decided to take for a bit of a reprieve and retreat, if you will, from a very hectic schedule,” Dorjee said.
Wangmo didn’t have any immediate family in Canada, so the community came together to cope and take care of funeral arrangements, with Dorjee setting up a GoFundMe page to cover costs.
Prayers for Wangmo will also be taking place in the Toronto refugee community.
Dorjee explained the Tibetan Buddhist belief that after a person dies, their consciousness wanders around for up to 49 days before it finds the next source of life.
“These prayers are done immediately after they pass away, and then every week for seven weeks to allow for — to wish for — a smooth journey if you will, to the next life,” he said. “And so these prayers are done partly to reflect on one’s own death and also to help in her journey to the next life.”
Dechen Kabsang grew up next door to Wangmo in India.
He hoped the horrific news wasn’t true.
“I can’t believe it but then we have to accept it, so it was very sad,” Kabsang said.
“I’m very emotional, especially when I’m thinking about her family and the way she was supporting them.”
Wangmo’s dad died when she was young, so she has since been taking care of her aging mother and was planning to visit her in India in the next couple of months.
Kabsang has been in touch with Wangmo’s family.
“They can’t even talk. Everybody was crying… [Her] mom can’t even eat,” he said.
Wangmo was working three jobs — two of them full time — saving all she could for her family.
“It was tough,” Kabsang said. “I believe she did it for the family, not for herself.”
Coming to Canada, for both Wangmo and Kabsang, was a great opportunity to create a better life, he added.
“She said, ‘I never ever believed that I could help my family back home this way.’ So she was very, very happy. And I believe she is one of the most successful among the new arrivals.”
Kabsang will remember Wangmo as a very friendly person, noting that everyone has something good to say about her.
“I miss her. Everybody misses her,” he said. “She’s no more with us, so hopefully she will soon have a rebirth. Hopefully she’ll be a human again to help others the way she was doing before.”
“I can’t even think about anything except the great loss that we have.”