Pandor cooks with one of 22 orphans she takes care of at a children's home in Lhasa, Tibet autonomous region. [Photo/Xinhua]
LHASA - Pandor, 37, has never been pregnant or married, but she is a proud mother to 22 children.
Born in Shigatse, a city in the Tibet autonomous region close to Nepal, Bhutan and India, she said she learned her mothering skills "on the job".
Six years ago, Pandor, who like many Tibetans only uses one name, moved to the regional capital, Lhasa, where she found work at a children's home. The facility, which cared for orphans from newborns up to senior-college students, was looking for women to manage family units.
"We divided 300 children into 18 families and assigned a full-time 'mother' to each of them," explained Norbu Drolma, director of the institute.
"We wanted our mothers to be different from a teacher or supervisor. We wanted to give these kids a home, and a mother to go home to," Norbu Drolma said.
Members of the family have dinner in their apartment. [Photo/Xinhua]
In 2015 Pandor, became mother to 22 children in "Family No 10". The family lives in a three-bedroom apartment, which Pandor designed and furnished to look and feel like a home.
She concedes that she felt out of her depth at the beginning. "Some of the children were already attending college. They were so tall. I didn't even know how to talk with them."
Despite the initial difficulties, Pandor threw herself into her work. As an orphan herself, she wanted "her kids" to have a better childhood and more opportunities than she had.
However, balancing their needs posed a different challenge. One of the boys under her care, Kelsang Lhundrup, felt overlooked and played up after Pandor missed a parent-teacher meeting at his school, so Pandor had to offer him individual support.
She has not missed any parent-teacher meetings since.
Pandor also holds household meetings so that each of her charges knows they belong to a big family and she may not be able to deal with their individual needs every time. She explains that it doesn't mean she doesn't love them, and like many families "big brothers and sisters" will help them "when mom is too busy".
Several children watch TV together in the sitting room. [Photo/Xinhua]
"Every child is sensitive," Pandor said. "I just wanted to build this belief in them that they are not alone."
Tibet has 11 children's homes that offer care for more than 5,400 children. Every child is allocated a monthly allowance of over 1,000 yuan ($144), which is managed by the house mother. They are also entitled to 15 years of free education.
Kelsang Lhundrup no longer plays up. Pandor listens with pride when his teachers heap praise on him. He is not the only child to do well. The family now includes six college graduates, a police officer, a social worker and a helicopter pilot. They send money home to help their "mother" provide for their "brothers and sisters" every month.
Pandor said her birthday last year was one of her favorite memories.
"The kids asked me to go for a walk and kept me away from the house. When I got back, they had thrown a surprise party for me!" Pandor said. "It was at that moment that I knew that becoming their mother was the best decision I have ever made."