31 May 2014

Dasho Benji Factor in Bajothang

"Gooooooooooooood morrrrrrrning Bajothang" began Dasho Benji like he always does on Radio Valley, and my students were surprised, they never expected anything to begin so exciting in that hall, where they were used to sitting for hours listening to ceremonious talks if not boring. The students who were leaning on to each other or were engaged in gossips suddenly straightened their spine and raised their brows.
The Legend-Benji in our humble hall
This was so far the best talk ever heard in my school hall, I feel very sorry for the remaining half of the students who couldn't be accommodated in the small space. The lucky half who attended the talk listened with all the keenness in the world. The subject of the talk was drug abuse and reading habit, which the students have heard many times so far and are fed up of, therefore I invited Dasho Benji. It takes Dasho Benji to add life to such topics and send it straight into the young hearts. That's called the Benji Factor. 

I have never seen my students respond so excitedly to a talk. They laughed when Dasho imitated Bob Marley, the cheered when Dasho acted like a doped guy, they whispered to each other when Dasho told his alcoholic history and the hall went silent when Dasho shared about Tashi Namgyal Dorji, his dear son who left him last year. I met Tashi twice in Thimphu and we talked of many beautiful thing in life, he was so full of charm. He could do magic with his camera and had great dreams but one day he took his beautiful life and left thousands of hearts broken. Dasho shared with my students that his son was influenced into drugs that took his life. He beg of my students not to give that heartbreak to their parents. I could feel the message seeping into the little souls.

Dasho then talked so profoundly about the magic of reading, putting it against drugs. He said every bit of drug makes our brain a little dead, little weak and little dull. On the contrary every book we read adds a new dimension to our brain making us wiser. Children roared their agreement to his confirmation questions. But the talk seemingly ended very soon when everybody was hungry for more of Benji Talk. He promised to visit us again and I am in charge of any future arrangements.
Kids requesting for autograph from the star before he left like a shooting star. We were having a quick tea in our rustic school canteen. (Seen on the right is my principal Shangkar Lal)
Dasho was on some environmental campaign when I hijacked him en route CNR Lobesa to Taktse in Trongsa. We had talked at length during out first meeting at Mountain Echoes in Thimphu where I made a casual invitation. He accepted generously expressing his strong urge to reach out to as many school children as possible. I already received some "How to Invite Dasho Benji?" questions from school teachers and I answered them easily because it's that easy: Send an Invitation on Facebook and Dasho will kindly respond depending on his schedule. Unbelievable but true when it comes to him- The Benji Factor begins right there.
With Dasho Benji @ Mountain Echoes 2014 (On Right: Jambay Dorji and Nawang Phuntsho, two published yet humble writers)

29 May 2014

Unsettled Echoes from Mountain Echoes 2014

I was an Alice in Wonderland for three days at Mountain Echoes Literature Festival in Thimphu, lost among people from dreams and wandering in places I normally won't dare set my foot. I was invited as a speaker there, yes seriously, and even I was surprised. But some kind people told me that I did well. Thanks.
My Session "Living on the Edge" with Siok Sian Dorji, Dr. Francoise Pommaret, Marie Venø Thesbjerg
After months of anxious waiting my session at the festival was over like a sprint at Olympic. So that's not a big story at all, the real stories were what happened around the story. I returned with heavy heart, heart overloaded with stories and therefore heavy, but for days I have been waiting for these echoes to settle down and take turns to come out. I think all of it was too much for me to digest in these few days, I need to take longer reflective rest to put pieces together.
For now, leave all the excuses aside and watch my session on YouTube (Drag the player to 2:05:00 point) if you have missed it. I forgive you.

26 May 2014

Good Bye ThimphuTech.com

The couple who authored Thimphutech.com-the blog that kept Bhutan informed about everything regarding telecommunication technology so far said good bye to Bhutan this morning. The couple, Boaz Shmueli and Galit Shmueli and their daughter Michal, whom I fondly call Bhutan Baby after her blog title, lived in Bhutan for many years working with Rigsum Institute where they worked on developing software solutions. Their last project and memorable one was the Rigsum Sherig Collection, which is a collection of 28 GB of Educational resources for students that is freely distributed. It was this project that brought us together and when they left they had launched RSC 3.0.
Our Families at their Farewell Party.
Readers of K2 Magazine every Saturday will miss their regular column Ask Boaz because there is no more asking Boaz from this Saturday, he said though he could write from his new place of work but he won't be able to deliver accurate answers to Bhutanese questions from overseas. Thank you Boaz for all the contribution you made to Bhutan. Hope your wonderful family will return to Bhutan someday and continue the journey. We will miss you guys.

24 May 2014

Students Pleasing the Rain God

If you are enjoying today's cloudy weather after some many days of dry heat, thank the students of Motithang and Kelki who undertook the divine journey of Kanjur-lingkor around the Thimphu city to please the rain god. The absence of rain may not quite bother the urban population but the farmlands around the city were crying for rain.
Thimphu Thrompon Kinley Dorji and Thromday Education Officer Dorji Wangchuk were leading the boys under the scotching sun. I don't know if they can please the rain god and change the course of natural phenomenon but the event was a big out-of-classroom cultural lesson that the students will never forget. It's the lesson of faith in god, faith in ancestral practices and most of all the demonstration of brotherhood among us and the farmers who work in the fields and produce food for us.
I met the pilgrims above the Tashichodzong and the sight of them pleased me beyond words- I wish I were the rain god. I stopped my car and my family received blessings from the boys. It was an unexpected revision of spiritual lesson in an unexpected place, it's been quite sometime I went on that journey in my village. Salute to the Thrompon who has always held my highest regards and the TEO who took education beyond school, who didn't care if it was out of syllabus. 

Photographs are from Organizer Dorji Wangtchuk's Facebook post. 

22 May 2014

Homeless Within Hours

I was on leave from school today, packing my bags for Mountains Echoes in Thimphu when an explosion drove me out of my house. It was fire right near our school gate, houses were burning like match boxes. I know every soul living there. I would always admire a peaceful man on wheelchair sitting on the balcony of his newly constructed home facing the morning sun when I walk to school every morning, and now his home was up in flames. When I reached closer I could see the metallic skeleton of his wheelchair glowing in fire.
I took out my phone to take a shot of the fire when the second explosion went off. By then it seemed like the fire was going to be very bad. Two tradition houses located very close to the burning cottages were beginning to smoke and catch sparks of flame. If the fire couldn't be contained the fate of many house that lie behind those houses will be ashes in hours. There was just a thin line of hope. If everybody present there threw a ball of mud each perhaps a difference could be made but despite my request many people behind me chose to enjoy the show and shoot movies.
Wooden Cottages burning like match boxes
By then our school boys have joined team. They were untrained and inexperienced yet they have braved to join the fight. They transported hundreds of buckets of water. On the other end huge group of boys were lined up and were salvaging belongs of eight families whose houses were almost catching fire. The rooms were filling up with smoke and ladder was very narrow but despite that every little item from those houses were transported to the paddy fields where we handed over to the owners. 
Teachers were anxiously running around to make sure that no student was endangering themselves. After few hours battalion of young soldiers marched at the scene, then we withdrew our students hoping the soldiers would do better job.
I found that one of my slippers was not on my foot. When I was looking for my lost slipper it broke my heart to see shoes and clothes scattered all over the ground with children's toys and family photographs- all those small things that holds years of memory, that that have changed many places and homes and traveled with family. We randomly collected all those pieces of memories and took them to the paddy fields where rescued things were piled up, to be segregated in better times. 
I couldn't really look straight at the family members who were made homeless within hours and screaming at heavens now. Though rescued they furniture were all over the place, some broken and some taken into wrong places. Their cloths and cookeries were scattered like seeds sown in the field. Some didn't know where their children were taken... they were shattered. I found a pair of rubber slippers in the mud, I wore them and walked home. 
By 2 pm fire fighter from Police and PHPA projects have brought the fire under control with the support of hundreds of office goers. The two houses that narrowly escaped were partially damaged by fire and water. Many families were homeless. Among them were eleven of our students.
School administration gave Nu.5000 each to our students as emergency relieve and further support was mobilized. Dzongkhag administration and school arranged relief shelter for the affected families in our empty classrooms until better shelter could be given.

**During the four hours I was at the scene I couldn't dare take out my phone to take a picture, in such times it seemed to me very disrespectful to resort to luxury of taking pictures. Because there are better thing you could do. The picture I posted was taken the moment I came out of my house. It reminds me of many pictures of Wangdue Dzong fire I took, but those were taken when all hope was lost and when you can do nothing at all.

18 May 2014

Matalungchu Beyond My Expectation

Matalungchu is a village above my school, hidden behind the ridge on which Bajo Lhakhang stands. All I have seen in the last many years was that Lhakhang and beyond that is just an imaginary village I have never been to. This weekend School Museum Club members persuaded me to take them on the long promised village tour and we took the journey into the imaginary village.
The Team Musuem
I packed two bananas and a bottle of water for the journey which I assumed to be just as far as behind the Lhakhang but when we reached the top of the ridge I couldn't believe that a whole world lies beyond that tiny hill. My imagination had been betraying me for many years, there is no village behind the lhakhang. The village is across the endless paddies. The village is not small.
Waiting under the only tree in sight!
The landscape is the best geographical art I have seen in Bhutan, with occasional and unusual plateaus rising from the plains of paddies. I wished I could own one of them and build a small cottage on it. But I also noticed that there were no trees as far as the eyes could reach, the farmland has driven the treeline away on to the hills, otherwise it was a dreamland.
From one part of the Village to another...
My team was on the mission to collect rural everyday items for our school museum. I have instructed my children to let the villagers understand what we are after and why we are collecting those items, I also told them not to accept any antiques or expensive items (in case some people turned out to be very kind). So we structured our language this way,
"... we are starting a museum in our school which we intend to create like a typical rural home, for that we need everyday items that were used by our ancestors in the villages, if you have any of those old things that are no more used, please donate to our school..."
The first house which stood all by itself was a bit shocked because two boys rushed in and began asking for old items, but when the woman saw the whole team outside she gave away a plough, and two other bamboo items. We refined our approach and our language, I tested the team leaders on their approach and we even made it a team challenge. By the time we reach the cluster of gigantic houses we were joined by folks themselves, they recommended us places to go and some led us to their own places. We were treated with fresh peaches. A woman patiently demonstrated how traditional weighing scale is used.
Aum Chimi Dem showing my children how many Sangs make up a kg
The villagers agreed that much of what we are seeking have disappeared even from the villages and therefore they complimented our effort in trying to preserve it somewhere for the future to witness.

We lunched at newly renovated Matacungchu Lhakhang, where my children offered me lunch by collecting a spoon each from every tiffin- it turned out that the man who didn't bring packed lunch got the most to eat. An ex student who lives there brought me a cup of hot suja and zaw. With the new energy we headed further into the village. The houses were massive three storeyed structures with aristocratic ancient designs surrounded by unbelievably clean campus- it was nothing like the villages I have known so far.
Truly a Bhutanese Village
As I sat in the middle of the village minding the already collected items I couldn't hold my smile at the sight of my children coming with amazing artifacts from all directions. They were even more excited and encouraged that we extended our journey further across to another part of the village. The village seemed endless but my children won't agree to return after having come so far.
Novin and Leki Wishing if they could take one because we couldn't get one of these.
It was 5pm by the time we could convince ourselves to call it a day and then we realized that we have collected more than we could carry. We adjusted small items into biggers ones and made one load for each one of us, they gave a wooden waa for my shoulder. By my calculation we were at least few hours away from the school and if we had to walk all the way with the load we won't be home for dinner. So I started making calls with my almost dying phone, if someone didn't respond within a few minutes my cell battery would be dead and we would be on our own. But my friend Tandin Tshewang responded promptly and rescued us.
Celebration in my heart!
This first successful and enriching excursion gave birth to our plan of visiting Rinchengang, Wanjokha and Ninzigang over the months. And for the record this time we have collected 53 artifacts from 18 households.

And that is me posing with a jasum and jazi

11 May 2014

Young Bhutanese Scientists

The 2014 Cluster II Science & Technology Exhibition in Bajothang is the grandest I have ever seen. Children from twelve higher secondary schools have broken many barriers though there is no denying that we are still caught in the box by international standards.

The chief guest, Madam Secretary took special interest in every exhibit and often remarked in amazement: "You should patent it". Each school presented three exhibits each and the result was calculated from the average of three

The winner was Ugyen Academy took home a cash prize of Nu.25,000. They presented a Multipurpose Machine- a washing machine and spinner, grinder, rice mill and water pump- run by paddle connected to series of gears. The carpentry and welding works are done so beautifully that it ought to win.
1. Multipurpose Machine, Ugyen Academy
The team also presented a concept of traffic signal that is a result of complex algorithm of circuits.
1. Traffic Light Concept, Ugyen Academy
And their third exhibit was a solar food dryer that they claim can also be used as cooker. They have also brought along a TV disc that can also heat water. But since only three exhibits were allowed they must have presented either of the two, anyway they were declared the winner! Congratulations.
1. TV Disc and Food Dryer, Ugyen Academy
The first runners up was explosive literally, it's my school Bajothang. They have made an anti fire ball, which when thrown in fire will explode and extinguish the fire. The demonstration impressed many people but the idea to me seemed imitated.
2. Anti Fire Ball, Bajothang HSS
Next was a Mop on the Wheel. This can be driven across the floor and the wheel will help turn the sponge that will clean the floor, the handle has a pair of switches to spray water and soap on the floor.

2. Mechanical Mop, Bajothang HSS
 Our third exhibit was a traditional grinder (rangtha) driven by gears connected to paddle.

2. Grinder, Bajothang HSS
Second runners up was Gelephu Higher Secondary School who were more into chemistry, they demonstrated the procedure to extract vinegar from bamboo.
3. Bamboo Vinegar Extractor
and also show us how to make bio-plastic from potato. The plastic can be fried into chips after use or cook as curry lol.
3. Bio Plastic
And they impressed us with their miniture robotic bull. The bull is run by series of motors and can be maneavured into any direction including reverse.  They took home Nu.15,000.
3. Robotic Bull, Gelephu HSS
I will share about the rest of the exhibits after I finish compiling the official report. Some of them are even better than the ones I have shown here, but they couldn't win because the result is based on the average of all three exhibits.

09 May 2014

Sonam Choki- The Story of a Girl Who Reads "Dawa- The Story of a Stray Dog"

I met Sonam Choki on her first day in school. I am usually very forgetful but I still remember about that meeting because she left a lasting impression on me. She came to me to ask if she and her friends could go home because she had seen people leaving. The fineness of the language with which she asked me took by the pleasantest surprise. I couldn't believe a little class VII girl could own such beautiful language. I even asked her father if she had studied overseas but the secret to her amazing language was her habit of reading endlessly. Reading surely does magic, she proved it to me.

After a few weeks my school started forming clubs and I had to leave my old eLearning club to take up School Museum club but I had some unfinished dreams with the old club. So I called back all the old members of my former club to rebuilt the team and carry on. I then went looking for Sonam Choki. She was already into another club. I asked her if she would like to join my former club and read for audiobook recordings. She happily accepted.

I handed her over to a senior member, Chidananda who was the technical operator of the club and asked him to try some recordings with her. One day he came running to me to express his appreciation for her skill. He agreed that she is the best we have had. They have tried several poems, and short stories over time, and our ultimate goal is to record Kuenzang Choden's "Dawa- The Story of a Stray Dog".
Please listen to the following piece of recording they have done with minimal technology.

If forward looking companies like M-Studio would agree to help we are ready to record the book, so that the book, which is studied as textbook can be loaded onto mobile phones and any student can listen to it for free. Of course books are to be read but when it's a textbook you have to read it over and over, therefore listening alternative can be a great help.

If you like her reading, know that it's the magic of her reading habit therefore encourage, inspire and motivate children around you to read. Reading not only makes one a good reader but also shapes the soul and changes one into a cultured young fellow. Sonam is that.

08 May 2014

How Are Scientists Made?

Does it take a scientist to invent a scientist? Seemingly yes because we never had a Bhutanese Scientist and therefore we don't have another. There is no inspirational figure to look up to for the students who are pursuing science. The highest dream they can dare is a mere MBBS. I don't know if the science we teach in school is only capable of making children dream as far as engineering college or medical college. Invention cannot be taught of course but how is it inspired?

School Science Exhibition is perhaps one obvious optional answer. By that I don't mean those namesake events where children do imitations of steam boat, waste chemicals from science lab to replicate volcanic eruption (for the thousandth time) or make a rocket with plastic bottle and football pump that will only fly two meters high.

School science exhibitions have reached new heights now. Children now make chopping and grinding machines with renewable energy, solar mobile phone charger, bicycle mop, and prototype of very futuristic machines. I am very excited to see what other 11 schools will come up with at the 2014 Science & Technology Exhibition in my school on May 10, 2014. These schools are coming from eight different dzongkhags.
The Logo images are not original, integration is :)
Each school will showcase three exhibits, which were the best from their own school exhibitions. The winning school takes home Nu.25,000 and load of inspiration. Sadly it stops there. Because unlike in other countries no company takes part to see if there are some inventions they could invest in. I hope this happens down the line.

We could go that far to bring in companies but at least we have taken the first step toward making the Science Exhibition very scientific. The judges we are bringing in are not only science lovers but some of them have inspiring inventions in their names. Two of the judges will present their inventions and brave attempts to the expected 72 budding student scientists on May 9, 2014. 

The venue my school has set up will win every heart that comes here, every little soul is hard at work these few days to make the place so welcoming that no one would want to go back. The school intents to make the whole experience the most memorable and inspiring.

On the Exhibition day I will be photographing and compiling reports on every exhibit and I intent to share them here with you all. But if you are around or if you love science enough to come all the way to Bajothang from wherever you are, you are invited. 

04 May 2014

Teacher's Day to Remember

This Teacher's Day in Bajothang was more than a cut-cake and some happy-teacher's-day dances. It will be remembered for ages, there will be thousand trees telling the story of May 2, 2014, literally. Every student and teacher in my school planted at least a tree each around the town.

Drawing the Plan of Action at 7:30
 Planting trees is not an interesting story to tell, and some could even think we got confused about the dates. It's supposed to be June 2. Well there is a difference, June is not as good as May for new saplings to grow. When we plant in May we mean to see them survive.
The Mastermind, supporter and friend.
And Green Zone in Bajothang town remained on paper for very long. The town has so many urgent issues to take care of before they could have the luxury to think of the green zone they once planned with pride. Thanks to the Environmental Wing of PHPA-II that is led by my friend Sangay Dorji. Last year he proposed the idea of plantation and I took the matter to my school. We agreed to do a massive community service and here we are. We formed a core team who put the idea together and made everything possible. Thanks to Vice Principal Melam and Ugyen Tshering for making it happen.
Plantation as far as the eyes could see
The trees are named and their survival is put up for a competition, therefore we expect this plantation to be different from other mass plantations, we want every sapling to grow into tree. The best classes will be awarded prizes at the end of the year. One parent came looking for his child's plant so that he could nurture it when she is gone to school, but only one parent. I would request more parents to own this idea.

One businessman came forward to offer refreshment to our students, I was so happy with him but I declined because we had our own refreshment. He act of kindness and responsibility earn so much respect from me. But again only one businessman showed that mentality.

The 1,300 holes were dug by JCV, we should have rather dug them ourselves because we wasted as much time in filling the massive hole. We planned the program for an hour and it took was over three hours before we could finally return to school for cut-cake celebration. By then I was dead exhausted but the cake looked very refreshing until I realised that I forgot to pick up my daughter. I borrowed a car and ran with the cake on my dashboard. I thought it was once in a lifetime fun but at the end of satisfying event I got a few disappointed friends who hated me for taking them on plantation trip. But I bet students loved it and that's all that matter.
Finally Cut-cake celebration in School
Happy Teacher's Day to all the teachers across the country, and to all my teachers who helped in shaping my life.