Friday, August 23, 2013

The Story of Change from Eastern Bhutan

Gangla Khema Primary School.  Estd: 2002

Gangla Khema Primary School under Lhuentse Dzongkha in the north-east part of Bhutan begs First Price at the 3rd Awards Ceremony of Design for Change Bhutan 2013. Design for Change is a world initiative to empower children around the world.

The event was held on Sunday, 18th August in Motithang High School auditorium. The Award Ceremony was organized by Early Learning Center, the DFC country Partner. 17 schools participated this year for the contest- 3 from Luentse, 1 from Trashiyangtse, 2 from Chukha, 1 from Paro and 10 schools from Thimphu valley.
Students gathered for a reading session.

Like any other remote school, Gangla Khema Primary School also had a dreadful problem. The hygiene of the children was severely neglected by their parents.  The children were suffering from Itchiness and rashes were plenty on their body, fungal infection on heads and wounds on their legs were a common sight. Lots of lice and its nit invaded their hair and their body and mouth were stinking badly. The children were found having meals with long, dirty nails and being absent were the order of the day. The long distance and the rugged route from their houses to school would make them sweat a lot and the uniform they have worn would get muddy while they reach their school. Owing to these difficulties and ill health the children couldn't concentrate in the class- a problem so important to solve at the earliest hour.

After much discussion with the parents and the students, “Hygiene for Head, Heart and Hand” was taken up as their Design for Change initiative.

Cupboards for students to keep their uniform
With dying need to start the project, the school management used the fund of Nu 5000 which was given by the Dzongkhag Education Office for the school to celebrate World Water Day. The management used the fund to purchase tooth brushes, tooth pastes, nail clippers, soaps, mediker and toilet papers.


The school provided shoe rags and cupboards for the children to keep their uniforms at school when they leave for home after the school hour. The students of class V and VI were paired with class PP and I students so they could help the younger kids wash their hands and legs properly.

From the following day, as soon as the children reached the school then they brush their teeth, wash their legs, head and wear their school uniform. The management has also hung a mirror for the children to help comb their hair and help them dress properly.

Every Thursday afternoon, the students keep aside their learning to take a bath. The senior students help their adopted brothers and sisters to take a bath, trim their nails and clean their ears.
The Principal trimming his student's hair with a hair clipper.

All the boys of Gangla Khema decided to trim their hair short with the help of hair clippers four times a year to avoid fungal infection and keep their head free from lice and nit. 
Boys of Gangla with their Principal

Similarly, the girls decided to apply mediker four times a year to remove lice and nit. After applying this medicine, they massage it thoroughly and keep their head covered by a piece of cloth for 3 hours. Then they comb their hair and wash it with the help of soap.   
Girls of Gangla on their hair/head treatment

To sustain this program the school has started cultivating vegetables at the school campus and start poultry. The school has already discussed with a boarding school nearby which has agreed to purchase the vegetables and eggs from their small poultry farm. And after witnessing a drastic change in the overall hygiene of their children the parents also has agreed to pay Nu 30 each annually to sustain the program.
Students  involved in growing vegetables 
Gangla Khema Poultry Farm

When the principal of the school shared his story of change in the auditorium, i felt for those innocent children    in the depth of my heart. i couldn't help listening to the principal and staring at the photographs shared by him to tell the story.

Gangla Khema is one school among 500 plus schools across the country which has dared to do something and see the change they wanted to see.  HATS OFF to the Principal of the school, teachers, students and the parents for having achieved so much with so little resources and for silently telling us ‘I can and you can, and together we can bring the change in the world'.

Photo courtesy: Principal of Gangla Khema Primary School, Lhuentse.

With the Rolling Trophy and A Projector (First Price) the Principal of Gangla Khema  stands for  a  snap.
Photographers seen in the frame: The principals of Baktong and Dangling Pry Schools from Lhuntse.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My Speech at Award Day -Design for Change 2013.


More than 25 MILLION Students across the globe is saying “I can”. Wow! That’s a huge achievement in itself for the Design for Change world initiative. And for your information the three word slogan “YES WE CAN” is what our DFC students have been saying for quite some time now.

At Druk School, Our guiding philosophy of Excellence in body, mind and speech strives to achieve excellence in body conduct, in thoughts we think and in the language we use to communicate with the world. Having these principles in place, we have been feeling, imaging, doing and sharing Design for change stories since 2011.

“No BG vehicle” A DFC program started in 2011 is an initiative to reduce corruption by discouraging parents to use Government owned vehicle to drop and pick their children from our school campus. “Kindle a flame” which started in 2012 is about educating our housemaids and babysitters. Both these programs are being continued and are getting stronger. These programs are changing mindsets, changing lives and have been reducing an ounce of Government Budget each day that otherwise goes in purchasing an extra ounce of petroleum for those extra trips.

This year DFC program in our school was also dissected to class levels.  And by virtue of being the talk of the town my 7th grade student’s story of “Active Citizens” which relates to democracy and politics got nominated to represent our school here this morning.

Ladies and gentlemen, my involvement in their story of change as a facilitator made me realize that DFC Program brings about “Urgency” for action. The children hunt for the problems that bother them the most; then they list down the solutions to solve it, and then they execute their action and finally they share it with the world to inspire others to make the world a better place to live. They feel, they imagine, they do and then they share. They take all that matters in their own little hands!
It also came to my consensus while helping the children that the DFC program also indirectly teaches them about “designing” or about the “planning process” involved in creating something. The designing of a clothe, for instance, requires the designer to feel about the need for the cloth, then he imagines the fabric, design and the texture of the cloth, and then he cuts and stitches the cloth pieces together and finally sale it to the world.

Planning a dinner at home for friends would involve the same process. I should first feel the need to throw a party to my friends. Then I would imagine the menu and then I would invite my friends and have dinner. Finally, I would share with my other colleagues in my office about the dinner I hosted for my friends the previous night. Interestingly, the talk about the dinner in the office would then inspire another friend to host a dinner in the following night.

Personally speaking, DFC is changing the way our children think. With its FOUR stages of FEEL, IMAGINE, DO and SHARE DFC is teaching our children more than the stories they have in their minds to share with us today. Getting our children involve in this noble initiative will only make them more humane, visionary, smart planners, elite executives and above all a responsible future citizen.

To sum up, the story that my students so proudly want to share today with you all might not make you click your tongue or might neither garner compassion from all the Connors of this Assembly hall….because it relates to democracy and politics- the least admired topics currently…….but it’s righteous enough to say that these children have become more responsible citizens and have certainly curved a small space for themselves in the history of our young democracy by being an agent of change in their own little ways.



Saturday, August 10, 2013

In the mild cold of Darjeeling

Picture Perfect Darjeeling 

The following piece of feeling was penned down during my college days. This lyric (hope it sounds correct for the write up presented below) was meant for a music video which could never be filmed. i guess i was too busy in other stuffs. 

But this morning i found it tacked between my academic certificates. And going through it i felt happy for being at home but gradually my happiness was tainted by realizing the tremendous upheaval in Darjeeling (in the recent times).

This write up, call it a poem, lyric, you name it...but i wish to offer it as a sincere gratitude for letting us (foreign students) learn and grow in the mesmerizing beauty of Darjeeling. It also aspires to be a prayer that would help fulfill the 'aspiration for a separate state' and bring peace and happiness back to the Hills of Darjeeling; the place we would love to visit again.    
St,Joseph's College, NP, Darjeeling
Under the shadow of our college
Surrounded with mountains and hills
With people so kind and loving
Their culture so rich and pleasing

Darjeeling town
All it makes us feel
We are back home and living
It really churns out such a feeling
In the mild cold of Darjeeling

Under the banner of humanity
People live in the cream of harmony
Takes immense pride to celebrate
Their rituals with great excitement

People of Darjeeling
Whenever we close our longing eyes
We feel you are by our side
Whenever we see the blue sky
And feel the cold breeze blowing by

Our heart shed tears inside
“Miles apart” when this we realize
It really churns out such a feeling
In the mild cold of Darjeeling

Our heart keeps on missing you
As we are living far away from you
So we long for you each night and day
And there is emptiness in each day
In the shape of you
Oh! My Country; Bhutan you!
Photo courtesy: Google.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Crematorium more for the Living.

The coming of a crematorium made my fellow villagers happy because now they will have a proper shelter to cremate the dead. They will no longer have to stay under heavy rain while burning the deceased. The problem of corpse unable to burn completely into ashes will not be a problem anymore. 

But the villagers have been paying the price worth more than their comfort.
Crematorium along the bank of Sipsu River

The crematorium built beside Sipsu River near my village (Hangay) is a story of “Poor Morality”. Why? Please continue reading…..

The location of the crematorium depicts sheer negligence on the part of the concern authorities involved in the construction of the crematorium. They didn't have the basic commonsense or an ability to foresee some negative impacts of the crematorium considering its location.

Needless to say, the cleaning of the crematorium drains the dirty water into Sipsu River. It is the easiest and the only way for the caretaker to deposit the waste.

The river, as a source of drinking water for the villagers, has been a life line for ages. Now people cannot fetch the water for domestic use anymore whenever the water pipes installed by the Local Government run dry.

 Even more scary and sadden aspect of the crematorium than the water crisis is the smelly smoke that invade alters and rooms of the community where touching/eating meat is ethically and religiously unaccepted.

The only logical reason behind construction of the crematorium at the present location might be to make it more close to the main road but Crematoriums are not Hospitals!

The benefit derived from the crematorium has become minimal due to the negative impacts it have on the immediate water source and the sanctity of our small village. The crematorium in all measure is a good initiative by the Local Government but the present location is both debatable and questionable.

The immediate solution I see as a responsible citizen and as a member of the village is that the crematorium needs to be relocated at the extreme end of the Sipsu River.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happiness doesn't have a place.

On the Happiness Day 
On Wednesday, 20th March, 2013, HAPPINESS was all ours. We, as a nation, had celebrated International Happiness Day. It was a perfect sunny day. The weather was indeed synonymous to happiness. 

Family dining in a restaurant on The International Happiness Day
Norzin Lam, the main street of Thimphu City was closed for the traffic. The street was filled with activities. The nearby restaurant owners had erected food stalls with “happiness menu” tag posted on the top corner of their menu list. Songs of our latest Blockbusters blared across the street. The dancers entertained the onlookers. The clock tower had its own share of entertainment. And the people of Thimphu walked along the street enjoying the day to celebrate happiness.
The Time Square of Thimphu

The Boulevard of Thimphu (Norzin Lam)
From the innocent villagers of the far flung villages to the elite and snobbish group of people in our capital city, we, as Bhutanese know how to celebrate happiness. That’s for sure. We forget everything when we are in the mood of celebration. We sing, we dance and then we drink a lot! We live in the moment. We don’t make a point to discuss an issue of concern when we are all for celebration. We just don’t worry at all! We just cannot afford to do so because we are happy and would only like to be happier.

Though our country doesn’t have the military strength or the economic might to boost our patriotism but we have enough of other elements to be proud off. We had and have great kings. We have rich culture and tradition, pristine natural environment and we still have community vitality; we still rely and visit our neighbors often. We contribute and support any initiative in a locality. We come together in times of need and we mourn together on our common loss. We have ample reasons to be happy and to celebrate as a nation.

But the recent developments in the economic and political scenario of our country are quite baffling. These are the issues that would not be so easily taken aside. From the gasoline price to the international border disputes in the north, the online viral information about our first set of politicians being corrupt and the economic crisis make up too big a chunk to gobble down. I believe Bhutanese have never faced anything so alarming than the current situation. I believe we were never so worried!

Where have we gone wrong as citizens of this wonderful Nation? “Everything seemed OK before 2008”, remarks my close friend with deep lament. Where did we fail as citizens? Now, all said and done, we are yet again offered a choice to make! It’s the decision that will make or mar the already worsened situation. Coming 13th of July is the D-DAY for all of us. CHANGE is GOOD and CHANGE is at least certain to come in my constituency this fall.


Yesterday, I received a telephonic call from Lichen village in Trashiyangtse where I was once a community teacher. The callers on the other end were two mothers of my ex-students inquiring about my whereabouts and requesting me to visit their village someday along with my wife. In their limited Dzongkha and with their odd accent they informed me about a list of things they would present us if we happen to visit them.  Unaware of the latest developments, their excitement on hearing about my marriage and then the unending happiness that prelude in their voice simply touched me. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Old and The Young.

Young.......

“The wisdom in an old head is worth all the treasures of the world. And to say that life ends after retirement is to commit a travesty of facts. Doing good to others is for merit and causing pain to others is a sin”

In today’s world, there is a general feeling that old people are burden on Society; they are mistreated by those in positions of trust, power or those who are otherwise responsible for their well being.

Of various stages of human life, old age is the last stage of human life where they become emotionally and physically weak. The modern society is built by the young for the young and in the race of money, comforts and luxury they neglect the old.

An old woman seen begging on the stairs of BNB building
 It’s not uncommon now to see old people abandoned from their home. Youngsters have little tolerance. They shout at their old parents. In some cases they torture them both physically and mentally. The old doesn't have energy to fight back and what they possibly do is just bow their head down and serve their own children as a slave only waiting for their last breath. And many of these disheartened souls often land up begging others for food or money in front of Banks, along the street and in the bus terminus.

An old man begging one of the shop keepers.
Today, the difference between old and young is substantial. Young are better educated so they do not blindly accept the ideals of their elders. Youngsters today have lots of money to spend and enjoy their life at the fullest. And it is often the elders taking all the suffering and humiliations. In addition to it, the old age itself brings more ailments which only make their lives more miserable.

Along Norzin Lam
Interestingly, the old always assume that they know best for the simple reason that they have been here a bit longer.  They don’t like their values being questioned and threatened and this is precisely what young are doing.

The old consider ‘family’ as a good environment motivating them to live happily. They enjoy having meals together and play with their grand children.
 

The Old 
doesn't have the physical ability of a young person. And this aspect of their life keeps bothering me. I have seen them struggling everywhere; on the street across the town, toasted inside our crowded city bus and on the staircase of our Banks.

Crossing a busy road is just one problem they encounter, getting into a bus is another and they trying to get a seat inside the crowded city bus simply make me feel uncomfortable.
The old and weak

Travelling by the city Bus has always been a thought provoking experience for me. I have seen the old and the weak barely able to stand on their feet. Yesterday, as I was walking back home I saw a bus conductor lashing an old man to wait for the next bus because his bus was jam pack.

On the other day, I saw an old woman being dragged by few police officers and the woman was crying profusely. I wonder what could be the reason.
An old man and his Radio
I have always seen an old man wandering on the street of Thimphu with his radio blazing Bhutanese songs.

In one of the corners of our Bus Terminus lives an elderly man with his thin mattress to sleep on, a blanket to cover him during cold winter nights, a pair of Chinese shoes to help keep his legs warm, a Gho and a woolen hat to wear.

In reality, the mere presences of old parents indeed make us feel secure. They deserve our care and love and most importantly they deserve the due respect. Their dignity must also be maintained at all cost. They have a tolerant approach in whatever they intend to do for their family because of their affectionate nature. And this “Tolerant Approach” should not be misinterpreted in anyways as their weakness.

Pondering over the incident of the bus conductor lashing on the old man, I felt in the core of my heart to thank him. Why? If the old man did get on he would have to stand and that would be certainly not good for his old bones. And you know, people rarely give their seat to let any old man sit. Our youth have no time for the old and sadly the old doesn't have much time either.


 Sketches, Photos and Article contributed by Tara Dulal Bhandari


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Azzha visits Thimphu



He has to go now but he also doesn't wish the community know and feel his absence. He leans at the window and wonders.

Later that evening an old man enters the monastery. Azzha couldn't see his face properly. Azzha gently helps him sit down. The old man asks Azzha, what happen? He responses with his plan to visit Thimphu but wishes the community doesn't know about it. The old man keeps quiet for a while and shares his idea with Azzha.

Next morning Azzha Galong informs the villagers that he will be meditating inside the monastery for a period of two months. No one will be allowed to enter the monastery till the meditation period gets complete. He informs the villagers that the meditation is for the well-being of the village and the villagers. The villagers were pleased and they show their willingness to help him.

The villagers were informed to bring hot water and soup made of nettle plants only ones a week and only after the sun sets. The old man had told Azzha that the offerings will be eaten by him to make the villagers believe that Azzha is inside the monastery doing the meditation. Azzha Galong packs his bag on the same evening and gets out of the monastery form the back door. The fake meditation begins on the following day.

In Thimphu he meets with his monk friend who immediately takes him to his well-off monk friends and their gala time starts again. This time the excitement is more. Azzha and his friends visit night clubs in casuals, bluff in plain English and flirt with women in bars.

One night on the bar counter, Azzha meets with a young woman. She is married but her husband is working abroad. She buys a drink for Azzha and the distance between them slowly became smaller. Soon she starts taking him out on her own expenses. He is groomed well, paid well and fed well too. But he was abused as well. One morning he finds himself sleeping in a drain. He could only remember the woman forcing him to drink bottles after bottles of alcohol on the previous night. The feeling of embarrassment forces him to immediately head towards his village- the place where he is highly respected and worshiped.

He manages to reach back to his village and to his monastery a day before the meditation period gets over. It is a moonlit evening when his enters the monastery. His prayer-bead and his prayer books lay down untouched. He slowly sits down and gets into the meditation posture. After an hour, the morning sun rays penetrate through the window holes and touch his skin. He opens his eyes. He hears his people praying and murmuring outside the monastery. He opens the door and he finds the villagers engross in preparation to celebrate the successful completion of the meditation of their only monk- Azzha Galong. The elder ones are busy praying under a mad-shift hut.

As he steps outside the monastery he finds a pile of notes written in his own handwriting. He gets taken aback on looking at the notes. The notes were messages to the villagers regarding the progress of the meditation and his health. Azzha walks out to search him in the gathering but the old and destitute man is nowhere to be found. He knew it must the old man who wrote the messages too because he promised to eat the offerings made. Azzha really wanted to meet him and thank him not because he helped in letting him go to Thimphu but for making the meditation look real by eating the offerings and for keeping the faith of his villagers alive by writing the notes on behave of him.

Just as he looks down with deep resentment he finds a line on the ground made by a small stick. The line runs towards the tall tree next to the small stream that rushes behind the monastery. He walks towards the tree and when he reaches under the tree he hears a familiar voice. It is the voice of Aggay Sangay who had expired in his absence.

Aggay Sangay confesses that it was his soul which came that evening when Azzha had planned to leave for thimphu. He also confesses that the notes were written by him to keep alive the faith and believe the villagers have on Azzha Galong. Among all the confessions, Aggay Sangay informs that it was he who had found azhha Galong as a baby in a forest nearby and helped him grow into a monk. And the old man also informs Azzha that gods in the heaven has told him that he will attend his salvation only when Azzha whole heartily starts again to serve the purpose of his life- serve the community as a monk.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Azzha Galong: The monk who re-lives his purpose.



Some hundred miles away from Thimphu lived a monk in a far flung village in the east. He was tall, good looking and Azzha Galong was also the only monk in his small community. The village where Azzha Galong was considered as a precious jewel was isolated from other villages. Though the village had no road and electricity, the community was self-sufficient and happy. Nobody in the community ever felt the need to go out of their village.

Azzha Galong standing in front of the Monastery.
One early morning when Azzha Galong was untangling the prayer flags beside the monastery, he saw a monk coming towards him. Azzha greeted and invited him into the monastery. The monk told Azzha that he has lost his way to his village in the other side of the mountain. Azzha assured him that he will ask his village men to help him find his route tomorrow and requested the monk to stay overnight with him at the monastery.

After much discussion on Buddhist philosophy and religious practices over a butter lamp burning in a corner, the monk started sharing his recent visit to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. The monk told Azzha how different a life of a monk is in a city. He told Azzha that monks in the city drive biggest and the most expensive cars, wear branded clothes and eat continental cosines in five star hotels. And he also told azzha that the monks in the city use iphones to talk, laptops to read religious e-books and they speak foreign languages too.

Listening to what the guest had to share, Azzha got lost. In fact, he couldn’t resist asking more and more about the unique monks until the butter lamp in the corner went off which only compelled the two monks to stop their uncanny conversation. The news of the monks living their lives differently triggered Azzha’s mind and he starts thinking about visiting the capital city along with the monk. The monk also agreed to help Azzha reach Thimphu and spend sometime there.

The next morning Azzha informed the community that he would be going to Thimphu and would be staying there for a week. He assured the community that he would be back to perform the annual ritual of the village. With the word to return soon, Azzha went along with the monk for a week to stay in Thimphu and enjoy the modern life.

While in Thimphu, the monk friend introduced azzha to all the monks and nuns who live in spacious and well furnished bungalows. Azzha enjoyed each moment of his life in Thimphu; The ride in the most expensive cars, tasting continental cosines in five star hotels and wearing branded clothes along with his red robe.

On returning back to the village, the villagers informed that the elder most member of the community expired in his absence. The monk of the nearest village was also out of station. They couldn’t perform the funeral rites for aagay Sangay and without the rituals they had to also bury him under a tall tree next to the small stream that rushes behind the monastery.

Azzha Galong felt the lost and resentment for not being able to perform the rites for Aagay Sangay. Amidst the lost and resentment, the recent visit to Thimphu kept him exuberant about the life he had during his short visit. The images of tall buildings and the fly-over bridge, high speed rush of the cars he travelled in and the exotic cosines he tasted kept creeping in and out of his otherwise holy mind. The temptation lingered more and so deeply that he decided to go back to Thimphu soon.
                                                                                                              ...........................to be continue.
(sketch courtesy: Tara Devi Sharma(My betterhalf)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Life comes in packages.



One of my colleagues used the phrase “Life comes in packages” quiet extensively when he had to leave our school last year. He seemed to be happy leaving the school and happier to start his life with a new beginning. He was a calm and sensible gentleman with whom anyone would love to talk and enjoy a moment with him. 

The phrase he used didn’t click my mind then to put an effort to understand the core meaning wrapped in those four words. Actually the moment of his departure required me to be more compassionate and not get lost in the wisdom of the phrase.

But the events that unfolded in my own life recently have helped me comprehend the wisdom behind the phrase more easily yet strongly.

Just after the winter vacation commenced, the date of my marriage got fixed. 18th January was the date. So, before leaving for my village from Thimphu I asked her out for a final date. Away from all the noise and the crowd of our small city we decided to meet near Pangrizampa and walk along the road to spend few hours together.

Reaching home a lot of preparatory works for the marriage awaited me to begin. Excitement filled the warm southern air. But just a week before the marriage date her uncle expired and to fix another auspicious date for marriage would be done only after her bereaved family is done with all the rituals related to the funeral that often takes a week or two to complete.
The bride and the bridegroom
Finally after much waiting, February 5th was fixed as the new date. We got married! And after staying for four more days in the village we were back in the capital.

 My father and mother accompanied us a week later. They had come to Thimphu with a great hope. Hope to get a new life for my dad after he undergoes a major operation which was scheduled for 28th of February at JDWNRH. He was diagnosed with kidney failure. 
In the Surgical ward

An unending wave of worry kept rushing in our hearts as we stood silently outside the operation theater anxiously waiting to only hear good news. After four long hours he was moved out of the Operation Theater to the surgical ward. ‘Operation Successful’, remarked a surgeon from inside. 

Grate grand mother lays in peace
A new day had just started for my father after the operation when the news of my grate grandmother’s sudden death shook the ground beneath us. She was 97 years old-The beacon of our family. And she was the oldest and the most respected woman in the village. She left us after witnessing one of her last wishes come true- my marriage. For entire Bhandari family the lost is immense. The knot which connected the whole family for generations has now suddenly got loose!

Down in Phuntsholing my sister got admitted in the hospital. She was expecting. Only 11 days had passed since our grate grand mother’s death when my sister gave birth to her second baby daughter. Happiness and joy got its expression back with the entry of a new member in our family.
The latest addition in our family
Life is Life! In one moment you are happy and in another moment you are sad. Sorrow and happiness is what life is made of; it’s the ultimate truth. But the phrase my friend use to breath in and out then has now made me realize that life indeed comes in packages; some packages(our wishes and dreams) never get delivered to us, some packages that reach us are light(filled with happiness) and others are heavy(filled with sorrow).

Funny yet wired dream!

The previous night I had a dream. It was funny yet wired dream. Let me narrate the dream in nutshell. I see an elderly woman standing ...