Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ending 2015 with a Bhutanese Audiobook

Every year on this day and about this time of the day I open my blog and recount the year when the rest of the world go to party. I would take great pride in the number of articles I have written and but this year I can't do that because I have underperformed. Somewhere among great people I lost my confidence to write in my own style because they wanted me to write like scholars. I failed. I need to get back soon.

But looking beyond my blog I think 2015 has been the best year of my life so far. Perhaps I have matured enough to find happiness outside my blog. Earlier no matter what I have achieved during the day my happiness always depended on what I wrote on my blog at night but this is different now. I am happy looking back on what I have achieved.

I will always remember 2015 as the year I solved Rubik's Cube. Over the months I have bettered my time and now I can do it in less than two minutes. It's only matter of time before I master it but I have gift my cube to my nephew who has already beaten my record.

The other things I would like to remember from 2015 are Yangthang READ Centre, which READ Bhutan opened in my village in the spring. This I am sure will change the quality of life in my village and therefore the future of it. To sustain the activities of the centre and engage our youth meaningfully I have founded Yangthang Village Youth Club. This club will compliment and give wings to the facilities in the centre.

My dream to see clean toilets in Bhutan was shared by a group of very close friends and we made a big beginning this year with Bhutan Toilet Organization's Nation wide campaign that involved over 300 volunteers from across the country. We have set up our office with support from many people and now we are ready for more than just cleaning.

And finally before the year ended I had one last thing to take care of which began in 2014, the production of an audiobook. With permission from author Kunzang Choden I and my 12 year old student Sonam Chuki began recording the novel Dawa-The Story of a Stray Dog in Bhutan last year. M-Studio did four days of recording with the little girl and took months to put together the three hours audiobook. iBest Institute took from there and helped in producing 50 CD. From the author to the recording studio to the CD producer and the cover designer Che Dorji, none of them bothered about a penny, it was all labour of love.

It was launched last week at Camp RUF during Karma Choden's reading session, and later the book was played every night as bedtime story. While this first Bhutanese audiobook could be a great educational material for all students and especially the ninth graders who have the novel in their syllabus I saw that it's a priceless gift to the visually impaired students. Therefore I have asked Sonam Chuki to send a copy to Khaling Munseling School as gift from her side among other schools.

I am yet to present a copy to author herself. We are meeting in January and I will let her listen to Sonam Chuki reading her book. If she finds it worth I am going to gift the recording to her.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Yangthang Village Youth Club


My village Yangthang was connected by road half a century years ago but it didn't change us much, other than the occasional bus services people walked most of time. There was road but people didn’t have cars to use it. Twenty years ago electricity illuminated our village. The last two decades with road and electricity both couldn't quite transform my stubborn village. We remained backward in our ways of life and in our outlook to life.

The small generation of educated lot had to leave the village, and some of them who had strong influence over the village couldn't quite reconnect to the village realities, therefore fancied the idea of maintaining our village like a living museum- after all how much can they do during their week long annual visits? 

Over the years my generation of educated lot thrived and we were bigger in number but we too had to leave the village. Our village still remained a museum and we were mere annual tourists who only dreamt of bigger changes and better lives. We were disappointed but to our credit our tradition and our values were well preserved, we were harmless as much as we were helpless. 

Then the television made a grand entry. Few households that had TV became the popular hub of social gathering, our sleep pattern changed, our conversation lessened and overnight change became evident. It was at least serving a good purpose of giving people a common place and common subject to dwell on after their hard day's works until every house hold got their own TV sets. Then it isolated families. People stopped coming out, they talking about issues in Indian serial homes rather than issues at home and in the village. Younger generation showed lesser interest in the village affairs thereby risking the natural course of transition of tradition from one generation to another. 

Just when we thought the worst have happened the smartphones revolution began and this time it didn’t take long before the urban wind blew into the villages. With huge literate population living in the village the social lives became virtual just like in towns. That’s a dangerous trend invading the most potential generation in our village at the moment.
During the Launch

While it is tempting to force some solutions out of books, we must remember the classic egg breaking analogy which goes- if an egg is broken by outside force, life ends. If broken by inside force, life begins. Great things always begin from inside. We are more or less mere outsiders in our village and in their generation. If meaningful change has to happen it has to come from among themselves. We can only facilitate.
The youngest group

One of the significant facilitation was construction of the READ center in my village. It’s the first step toward an enlightened community. The facility is serving its purpose and beyond, and it’s continuously developed to suit the need of the community. It’s interesting to see how our people’s expectation from the READ center is changing and growing. At times they push the librarians to their wits end and thus we lost one librarian.

Electoral Education 
To ensure effective use of the facility and to address our growing issues, including taking responsibility of the center and other common spaces I have thought of a village youth club, which finally became a reality on the first day of Lomba. I named it Yangthang Village Youth Club. On the day of its launch we had 58 students, living and going to school from the village every day, registered as members. I am hoping this youth body, given the right conditions and opportunities, would identify and address our own local issues. I am also hoping that their unity will inspire and build harmony in the community and ensure better rural lives. Lopen Chimi Rinzin, a senior teacher and very steadfast member of the village agreed to lead the pack as the club master.

Youth goes to Poll
So far we received support from the following organization and individuals
1.     Rotary Club of Thimphu: A computer set for club works
2.    Deki Om: 45 pieces of club T Shirts
3.    Karma Yangzom: 45 pieces of club caps
4.    Dzongkhag Election office: In electing club captains.

The two individual donors are from our own village living away. Like them there are many successful folks living away from home that I hope will support the village through the club. I have received commitments from some friends for certain initiatives and I’m also looking forward to capacity building and life skills training for the members from READ Bhutan, VAST, BCMD, and YDF.

Some of the strategies outlined for the club are;

1.    Volunteerism in the Village

Yangthang Village Youth Club intends to serve the village community to address local issues and needs in the areas of health, environmental sustainability, cultural preservation, and socioeconomic development.

These activities include but are not limited to:
·      Conduct advocacy programs to promote health and hygiene in the village
·      Provide helping hands during cultivation and harvest
·      Take initiatives to manage village waste (behavioral change, waste segregation, decomposing, recycling)
·      Take ownership of common spaces in the village and initiate maintenance works to ensure the sustainability of the common spaces: Lhakhang, Archery ground, Electric fencing, Bridges, Chortens, Flood retention wall, Drainage, Road, Drinking water source, etc.
·      Volunteer and provide support during village events
·      Plan and undertake the building of small social infrastructures: Dustbins, Pit, Menchhu, Fencing, Wall, Rest House, Footpath, Water supply, etc.
·      Reforestation of barren land along the river

2.    Educational Enrichment

In addition to civic engagement, the Yangthang Village Youth Club also provides educational platforms that enrich the learning experiences of the youth members. These activities include:
·      Initiate a comprehensive village reading program
·      First Friday For Folk Tales: Invite a village elder to tell folk tales to children. Children will also attempt to rewrite the folk tales.
·      Sunday Reading Hour: One Sunday in a month, Children gather at the READ center to read for one hour together.
·      Sunday Book Talk: Another Sunday in a month, few selected children will talk about the books they read. Their reviews will be display on the wall for a month.
·      Initiate a youth mentorship program
Older youth members can provide mentorship to younger members in terms of academics and other areas of youth development
·      Initiate a Spiritual Life speakers program
Invite a local monk or nun to come speak to the youth once every month to explain some religious concept or lead a short prayer/meditation

3.    Youth Leadership

Lastly, the Yangthang Village Youth Club provides the youth members with the opportunity to learn key leadership skills through the club’s management and development. Club captains will be elected annually through standard electoral process. This not only enables the club members to practice the principles of democratic citizenship, but also enables the elected youth captains to step up and provide guidance and voice for the club members. All club members will also learn to raise and generate funds to support the club’s programs and sustainability.
Lastly, many of the club meetings and activities will be held in the READ Center in the Yangthang READ Center. The club members will be responsible for ensuring that the Yangthang READ Center facilities that they use are well-maintained, tidy, and well-utilized.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Mebar Tsho: Really a Burning Lake?

After I heard the history of Terton Sherab Mebar I found the attribution of origin of Mebar Tsho’s name to Terton Pema Lingpa not so convincing. The popular narrative has it that after Pema Lingpa reappeared from the river with the treasures and the butter lamp still burning, the portion of river came to be known as Mebar Tsho, meaning burning lake because of the burning lamp.
Picture Courtesy: TCB
About two centuries before Terton Pema Lingpa performed the supernatural act to prove to the skeptics of his time, Terton Sherab Mebar had to do the same in the very river holding a butter lamp to prove to the suspicious ruler of Bumthang then. Now is it a coincidence that the Terton and Lake both have a ‘Mebar’ in their names?

If the name of the lake originated from Pema Lingpa’s time, then why wasn’t it ‘Marme Tsho’ (Butter Lamp Lake)? Or why not ‘Terma Tsho’ (Hidden Treasure Lake)? Or ‘Pema Tsho’? Why did it have to be Mebar Tsho when the lake hadn’t burned in any sense?

Historian Karma Phuntsho, in his book History of Bhutan, says Terton Sherab Mebar “is perhaps remembered more for his failures than successes.” His failure began in Bumthang, through Pasakha to Nobtshona Patra in Haa (Read about this incidences). Therefore he is not in the good book of history and perhaps that’s how his association with Mebar Tsho was unacknowledged, and worse given it to the more popular figure in history.


Discussing about Mebar Tsho, it’s hard to forget the recent incident where a French tourist and his guide lost their lives. The tourist slipped into the lake accidentally but the guide jumped intentionally to rescue his guest who safety was his priority. Even though the rescue failed and he had to pay with his own life, his bravery and selflessness in performing his duty will be remembered by time.

The highest form of tribute we can pay to brave young man is never let another incident happen. But unfortunately, going by the record nine lives were lost in the lake in recent times and still no safety measures were put in place to prevent further accidents. Some people are even talking about closing down Mebar Tsho to tourist, as if putting in safety measure is so difficult.

After the incident when concerned authorities were playing blame game and counting excuses I was wondering how a presence of a throw-rope and ring buoy could have saved the lives of both the tourist and the guide. It will only cost less than Nu.4000. While authorities are still designing elaborate safety infrastructure that would take ages I would like to urge them to keep those two simple lifeguard equipment handy at the lake, for that matter even at the swimming pools and other water bodies where human activities happen. 


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Traditional Bhutanese Toilet Habits

The oldest form of toilets in Bhutan were in strange ways comparable to the most advance toilets today because they didn't need to be flushed, they never got blocked, and at the end human waste wasn't a problem. The typical traditional toilet hung from the first floor with a wide opening, and poop dropped one floor straight down losing all its smell in the wind before it landed. On the ground pigs would wipe clean everything as if there never existed a toilet, except for the sticks and stones that were used for wiping (May be our forefathers reused those). Remember not a single drop of fresh water was wasted. In fact some families fought with pigs to save the poop for producing manure.

Traditional Toilet 
Unfortunately, in 90s our toilets changed suddenly and people were obliged to shut their traditional toilets. People found it disgusting to see their own poop centimetres below in the pot, and smell filling up the air tight chamber, worse they couldn't understand the logic behind wasting huge amount of fresh water to wash their waste.

So old habits die hard; they still feel the pigs would eat after they leave and therefore forget to flush (or intentionally save water), and they smuggle in sticks and stones to wipe their hard butts, which land up choking the new toilets.
A typical public toilet 

The fastest way to solve our toilet usage crisis is to bring back our tradition auto system toilet or wait till the last generation of traditional toilet user die. Well that's what most educated experts think when we discuss toilet but that assumption seemed to have caused most of the modern toilet problems in Bhutan.



The assumption is that our people don't know how to use toilet well, therefore our toilets will be dirty, which made our intelligent engineers come up with a solution even before the problem emerged. The solution was to hide the toilet from public places, so that it doesn't become an eye sore in the unforeseen future. Smart solution, because not many people found them and therefore every open space became toilet for our people, and some people who managed to discover the hidden toilet found it very safe to misuse the facility because there is no one around to watch, while others reach there at the end of their wit and let go wherever they could manage to lower their pants.

It's hard to find the starting point of our problem loop- is it because our toilet are hidden that caused the problem or is it because our people don't know how to use toilets therefore it's hidden? Anyway, it's time to break the loop and dare to test our people- present them with clean toilets with adequate water supply at a reachable distance and see if our people are so evil.

During the 18 days Public Toilet Facelifting event by Bhutan Toilet Organization across the country we found out that toilets that are within populated areas are still in use and in better condition, whereas the ones that are tactfully hidden from public eyes are not only blocked and dirty but also destroyed (See the pictures).

Details report from all Dzongkhags will be shared soon.





Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I Pledge to Live Like The Great Fourth

Of course how could we help not making the celebration so grand for the king as great as His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck whose vision for the country and compassion for his people are only comparable to the god himself. But when I see so much of sound and fury of lavish dedications to the king who always chose quieter and humbler life I wonder if what we are doing is even agreeable to the great one. 


As much as I know of the Great Fourth, he would not approve of the extravagant show we are putting up in his name, some of which are so petty that even an average person gets goose bumps. How can we attach the name of the noble celebration on every little thing we do? How can we be so wasteful in the name of the king who has always been so judicious?

He would rather want the drains cleared and streets cleaned at all times; He would wish the potholes be filled and gardens watered beyond November; He would want us to build monuments that are useful to people after the celebration;

He would wish parents to spend time with their children and children care for their aged parents everyday; he would want us to do our jobs well without excuses and be incorruptible; He would wish us to be humble and helpful to people around us; He would want us be simple and satisfied in life; He would want us to do meaningful things that would last beyond the celebration and add value to people’s life.


If we could pledge to be as genuine as the Great Fourth himself, as humble, as sensible, as just, and as dedicated then we are giving the legendary king the best birthday gift ever. And that I pledge to thee, Your Majesty. 

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