The mountains in Bhutan have a bit of character to them. Apart from their ever-greenery and great height, they have withstood and acquired over the years, reliance and a certain disposition. One cannot easily imagine the virus making an enormous effortless leap over the mountains to reach this remote part of Bhutan. The mountains in Lhuentse continue to stand tall, and the virus remains at bay. Norbu has lived in the village of Khoma for the last 30 years. Now 64, he lives with his children and runs a homestay guest house. Without a single international tourist in the country, many hotels and farmhouses across Bhutan have temporarily closed. However, the guest room in Norbu’s farmhouse tells a different story.
“It’s been an unusual year. Normally, flocks of tourists come to our village or pass through our village to trek to the Singye Dzong. Tourist vehicles and buses would be riddled all over our small village. They’d halt here in Khoma and then begin their 3-day trek to Singye Dzong. But this year, we have had no tourists. Having said that, I have been receiving Bhutanese guests in my house over the past couple of months. There is an overwhelming increase in local tourists and pilgrims,” said Norbu.
“Initially I was convinced the guest room in my house would remain empty this year, but I was wrong. International or local tourists, they are all guests at the end of the day,” continued Norbu.
Houses in Khoma have seen a number of visitors recently, mostly pilgrims. In the wake of the pandemic, the domestic tourism sector in Bhutan has been on a steady rise. Perhaps an untapped market prior to 2020, this collective response and effort to promote domestic tourism has progressed and has been received quite well. A recent culinary training was conducted by Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) to provide traditional culinary skills to homestay and restaurant owners in Khoma. The training included preparing and cooking Bhutanese cuisines, chopping vegetables, presenting food and a crash-course in Driglam-namzha– proper etiquette and code of conduct.
“Such trainings don’t come often to our village. We were provided and equipped with all the cooking items during the training at no cost, all we had to do was register. Our country is giving us every opportunity in these difficult times, it is just a matter of whether we take it or not. We learned how to cook at least eight authentic Bhutanese dishes each day. As a homestay owner and having to prepare good food for guests, it helped us cook better meals, with more variety and taste,” said Norbu.
“I immediately decided to register for the training as soon as we were informed. Some still talk about how it is a woman’s role when it comes to the kitchen. But here in Khoma, we help each other, it is important that we support each other in every way we can,” added Norbu.
For the time being, the usual multi-coloured atmosphere in Khoma has somewhat been replaced by a foreign drift in the air. Khoma is silent these days, the sound of weaving is barely heard. The weaving of the famous Kishuthara, a kira design Khoma is well known for, has drastically reduced. Owing to the lack of resources which used to be purchased from the border markets in India, weavers in Khoma find other means to get by, farming and homestays being the top on the list.
“This virus has taken away our raw materials and textiles. At this time of the year, normally we would travel to the west to sell our finished textiles and products. Now even travelling is not so easy or safe. We grow more varieties of vegetables these days. At such a time, we must not count on others, travelling and transportation as it is, is a challenge. We must trust ourselves, this is the time to become self-reliant,” said Norbu.
Norbu often finds himself looking towards the mountains in the west with a rosary in his left hand, and perhaps hoping for the next batch of pilgrims. The mountains in Lhuentse represent a sense of faith, and many residents of Khoma rely on it.
JICA Alumni Association of Bhutan (JAAB) is an association comprised of Bhutanese nationals who have availed studies or trainings in Japan with a common aim to disseminate the achievements of Japan and Bhutan’s cooperation and to strengthen good networking among the members. Over the years, JAAB has carried out social service activities in Bhutan such as tree plantations, blood donations and mass cleaning campaigns among many others. However, owing to the pandemic, the members decided to alter their activities for 2020.
“From several proposals, the members unanimously agreed on the fire prevention and preparedness for the residents of Amochhu shelter in Phuntsholing. The community shelters at Amochhu were constructed in haste as temporary shelters for Bhutanese who were living across the border. The shelter houses more than 3000 people and the structures are built adjacent to one another with predominantly timber materials. In such a close-knit settlement, there are risk that a small fire could wipe out the whole community. Similarly, with the COVID-19 virus, a single individual can become responsible for widespread community infection. This activity was therefore deemed extremely suitable as both a COVID-19 risk mitigation measure and meeting the mandates of JAAB,” said Yangchen.
Yangchen Lhamu is an Urban Planner working at the Department of Human Settlements with Ministry of Works & Human Settlements. She is also the Vice-President of JAAB.
“The Fire Rescue Division (FRD) of the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) has both the necessary equipment and expertise in delivering fire safety drills, so we collaborated with them on this project.” The training was provided for six days to 1500 people. The first part included comprehensive training in the risks associated with fire at an individual and community level and the need for such trainings along with several engaging stories of fire hazards in the country.
The second part of the training was a mock drill led by an expert firefighter. It began with explanations about different types of fire extinguishers, their differences and how to use them. Participants were asked to voluntarily take part in the mock drill of extinguishing a controlled fire made by the trainers. “It was interesting to watch the participants do the drill as most of them miscalculated the time to press the release lever and handling of the hose was not as easy as demonstrated by the experts”, observed Yangchen. The mock drill also included the operation of a firefighting engine, ways to use the hose, controlling the water pressure and the use of pumps.
The mock drill finished with the trainers requesting the mock drill volunteers to register as front liners if such fire disasters were to occur. The registered firefighting front liners also took part in a drill with a real community alarm/siren to prepare them for real life situations.
“The objective of the training was to let the community have a hands-on experience using firefighting equipment. At the same time, the training was an opportunity to advocate for the community to be responsible in their individual homes and spread awareness of the risk associated with the hazards of fire in a close-knit community”, concluded Yangchen.
We Care, We Share
UN and JICA Bhutan’s joint initiative – Resilience tools for COVID-19
Challenging time for children and youth with disabilities of Draktsho
“When the corona virus hit us we were first shocked then afraid and wondered what would happen to our country and us. We wondered if our country would be able to withstand the virus and contain it.”
Rigzin Padma Tshogyal is the Founder and Director of Draktsho Vocational Training Centre for Special Children and Youth, where youth with disabilities are provided vocational training in various crafts such as tailoring, painting and embroidery as a means for them to earn a living in the future. She is also the recipient of the National Order of Merit (Gold) by His Majesty the King of Bhutan in recognition for her contribution to empowering children & youth with disabilities in Bhutan. She was the first individual amongst all CSO’s to receive this award in 2014.
“During the lockdown, I was extremely worried about those children who are intellectually challenged. Draktsho has many children who do not understand the concept of a virus that can threaten people’s lives.”, said Rigzin adding that many children and people with intellectual disabilities do not possess the capacity to cope with the demands of their environment or their own.
“They would experience extreme frustration and deprivation of movement under lockdown and this caused behavioral problems. They have limited ability to communicate; it is very difficult for the parents to manage children”, stated Rigzin. Understanding these unique needs, Draktsho sought special movement cards for the families so that the children could go for walks with their guardians within the permitted zones.
“After the lockdown, many children with disabilities and their families were affected physically and mentally. There are many women who are single mothers with no jobs and who had to seek Kidu during the lockdown. Many are farmers living hand to mouth; some live with support from the community. When the country was under lockdown, they faced the worst times of their lives. In normal situations, parents and guardians of children with disabilities have temporary jobs to sustain their families. However, when they were not able work due to the lockdown, their conditions worsened. Under such conditions, persons with disabilities suffered more compared to others, as they need special care and attention, constant guidance and most importantly financial assurance”, said Rigzin.
With support from a few international agencies such as Helvatas, UNICEF and JICA, Draktsho managed to retain the employment of several graduates. Sewing machines and other materials were provided to them so that they could work from home and continue to make face masks. Draktsho remains extremely grateful to His Majesty the King of Bhutan for the Kidu support and agencies for helping Draktsho during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The United Nations in Bhutan will observe the 75th United Nations Day on 24 October at the UN House.
The UN marks its 75th anniversary in the middle of a global pandemic, which more than ever, reinvigorates the UN’s founding mission – to promote human dignity, protect human rights, respect international law, and save humanity from war.
Join UN Bhutan to celebrate this important day. We will be livestreaming on 24 October at 2pm through our Facebook page. #UNDay #join75
We Care, We Share
UN and JICA Bhutan’s joint initiative – Resilience tools for COVID-19
We can do it: We can build Bhutan!
You may be familiar with the famous World War II propaganda poster depicting “Rosie the Riveter.” A woman dressed in blue overalls, with the slogan “We Can Do It.” Once the war ended the urgent need for women to join the labourforce declined but the picture remained a powerful symbol for many women in the labour workforce for years to come.
19-year-old Kinley Peldon is from Paro. She completed her Class 12 exams last year and planned to study in India to pursue a degree in Economics. 2020, like any other year, seemed promising for many high-school graduates looking to take another step in their academic journey in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree and ultimately a professional job. However by February and March, COVID-19 had taken over and cases were rapidly increasing across the world. For some students, the transition from school to college stretched from 6 months to an indefinite gap year. Kinley decided to defer her college plans, and the rest of the year looked uncertain and empty. It was then that Kinley heard about the Build Bhutan Project.
The Build Bhutan Project is an emergency intervention initiated and implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources to address the gaps created in the construction and the skilled workforce due to the pandemic. Kinley is undergoing a foundational plumbing course in Sarpang. It is one of the many training opportunities offered by the Build Bhutan Project,
“Before coming here, I was helping my parents at home and in the paddy fields. When I read about the Build Bhutan Project, I saw it as a good opportunity to learn something new and acquire a new trade. I immediately registered,” said Kinley.
The second round of the plumbing course started on the 27th of September. The course is a month and seven days long. Other courses like masonry, painting, and carpentry are also offered to interested Bhutanese across the country. The training is free and after the students complete their training, they are sent to agencies and companies as apprentices. Trainees can also choose to sit exams to acquire the National Certificate (NC) under the Bhutan Vocational Qualifications Framework (BVQF). The current plumbing course has 11 male and 10 female trainees,
“As women, we are often under the impression that it is not appropriate for us to work in such areas. But in fact we are all given equal opportunities and we must come forward and take them. We should not let these stereotypes stop us. Here in the training we all help each other. We are learning many new skills, irrespective of gender. We are all on the same level and we are being taught the same skillsets” said Kinley.
Stereotyped gender roles and socio-cultural perceptions of women working in male-dominated professions often lead to bias. Most women face the added burden of not only working in “blue-collared” jobs but also gender discrimination in their workspace.
Traditionally, the importance of these jobs were overlooked and for most people, the dignity of labour was not valued. However the construction and vocational workforce have both experienced significant challenges over the past months. 2020 dramatically reduced the number of foreign human resources available and an apparent skills gap emerged in the Bhutanese labour market. Build Bhutan Project is aimed at addressing this gap and building the national capacity in vocational based areas,
“After joining the training, I realised that not all college graduates can get a desk job. There are only so many jobs and only so many desks,” said Kinley. “This training has been an eye-opening experience, it is a powerful learning journey and I am very grateful to my country. I am now even considering doing the exams for certification,” added Kinley.
In many ways, Rosie the Riveter is relevant not just to women but to us all. It is imperative for Bhutanese in general, to use our hands to build Bhutan and to realize that “We Can Do It.”
We Care, We Share
UN and JICA Bhutan’s joint initiative- Resilience tools for COVID-19
Community Resilience in Drepong gewog
With COVID-19 affecting lives across the globe, Drepong, an isolated Gewog Administration under Mongar Dzongkhag is working towards developing community resilience. With a shrinking local economy aggravated by limited government resources and threats brought about by the pandemic, the effects have been severe on local governance and development. The Gewog Administration being the closest arm of the government is confronted with addressing these issues directly.
“The Community Engagement Platforms (CEPs) established under the ‘Support to Community in Local Governance (SCLG) Project’ implemented by the Department of Local Governance, exudes hope for community resilience,” mentioned Sonam Chophel.
Sonam works as a Gewog Administrative Officer in Drepong gewog, and he serves as a coordinator for the SCLG project. The CEP is a mini-neighborhood group formed by the community and based on the principle of volunteerism. It is a platform for the community and aimed at enhancing their participation in local governance and development. Drepong has formed three CEPs under Laptsa chiwog with 13 household members in each group. It has enhanced the level of participation for community people in combating COVID-19 through two roles; improving community livelihoods and information dissemination.
In order to improve community livelihoods, the CEP groups have embarked on using ‘Dongsep Yardrak’ tools introduced by the SCLG project for carrying out community scanning or surveillance, mapping and development of action plans. This technique has created opportunities for the community to engage in self-help and mutual-help activities, as a way of reducing pressure on public resources during the crisis.
During the time of national lockdown, the CEP groups constructed temporary gates using locally available resources at the entrances to check on visitors and monitor movement. They kept agriculture running with intensified community farming and provided essential agriculture products to the cities. The groups also developed their own procedures in conducting activities such as strict adherence to physical distancing during ‘latshab’, a practice of labor exchange among households and avoided mass gatherings by adopting guidelines restricting the number of labors hired at a time. The CEP groups also actively engaged in information dissemination.
Sonam said, “The spread of false information and fake news became a major concern, causing confusion and worries. So, the need of communicating right information at the right time felt critical during the COVID-19 response.”
In this regard, the CEP groups played a vital role in providing accurate information using their information sharing modality through close consultation with the Gewog Administration. It has facilitated the gewog to put COVID-19 protocol, precautions and measures effectively in place. The CEP groups showed a strong sense of responsibility, collectiveness and ownership. Community members have volunteered to sensitize their community on various COVID-19 response measures like new normal ways to greet each other, how to wash hands and how to use a facemask properly.
Through the support of the SCLG project, a sense of independence was recognized in the community with less dependency on government support unless required.
“The encouraging mindset development is that the CEP groups delve into issues independently on areas wherever they can. Dependency on the government support is limited only to public-help activities requiring indispensable support”, concluded Sonam.
United Nations Bhutan, in partnership with UNFPA Bhutan, organizes Data Visualization training courses, which will provide a comprehensive understanding of storytelling with an innovative way of data visualization to communicate the analysis findings in a precise manner for better results.
The training programme will use data storytelling methodology for communicating information, tailored to a different group of audiences, with a compelling narrative for better decision making. Telling data stories using visualization can put a human perspective on the increasingly complex and rapidly changing world of the digital era. Using smart visualization in data storytelling will help to:
Based on the expertise, experiences, and role the prospected participants play in their respective organizations, participants have been categorized into three categories: 1) Data users, 2) Data producers and 3) Advocacy and Communications. The training is now open for registration: http://bhutan.datavizualizer.org/the-registration?usertype=Data%20User.
Please kindly register based on your preference and availability. The deadline for the registration is 15 October 2020 (Next Thursday).
We will accommodate a maximum of 80 participants for each group on a first-come, first-served basis.
For more information, please visit the platform: http://bhutan.datavizualizer.org/
|Group||Data users||Data producers||Advocacy and Communications|
|Target participants||Government officials with a role in decision-making based on evidences.||Those working either in government or other organizations and having statistics and monitoring and evaluation background.||Those whose role are to advocate and communicate messages using right data and its visualization.|
|Parliament||National Statistics Bureau||Journalists|
|CSOs, Development Partners and UN Staff||CSOs, Development Partners and UN Staff||CSOs, Development Partners and UN Staff|
|Schedule and structure||19 – 22 October 2020 10:30 – 13:00 (2.5 hr * 4 days)||2 – 4 November 2020 15:00 – 17:30 (2.5 hr * 4 days) 5 November 2020 10:30 – 13:00, and 15:00 – 17:30 (5 hr * 1 day)||27 – 30 October 2020 15:00 – 17:30 (2.5 hr * 4 days)|
Bhutan went into a 21-day nationwide lockdown on August 11 after a woman in Gelephu tested positive for COVID-19 and two days later, 12 positive cases were reported from the mini-dry port in Phuentsholing. Over subsequent weeks the country experienced sporadic transmission but the spread was largely controlled through strict contact tracing, enhanced testing, and the public’s adherence to lockdown guidelines. Beginning 1 September the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) started a phased approach to easing the lockdown. The RGoB is closely monitoring the coronavirus pandemic and while 281 cases have been confirmed no deaths have been reported. While the health impact has so far been limited as compared to many other countries, the impact on the economy has been significant.
The UN in Bhutan (FAO, IFAD, ITC, UNDP, UNESCAP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNODC, WFP, and WHO) moved quickly and pro-actively to respond to COVID-19. In particular, UN agencies developed a joint
response framework aligned with the “UN Framework for the Socio-Economic Response to COVID-19”, including both short-term measures to mitigate negative social and economic consequences along with medium- to long-term investments to strengthen the re-build and resilience to future crises.
For more information, please download UN Bhutan COVID-19 Sitrep #4 – 29 September 2020
We Care, We Share Mentoring programme
UN Bhutan – Royal Society for Senior Citizens are looking for 20 retirees to become mentors for students!
Voluntary basis (UN Bhutan will provide a data package for virtual meeting)
6 weeks (27 October – 4 December, 2020)
Once a week (Virtual meeting)
Positive youth development
Personal and professional growth
The programme is now open for the registration (click here).
We Care We Share
A joint initiative of UN and JICA Bhutan- resilience tools for COVID-19
Coming together in times of COVID-19: Revamping our future
Without a single tourist in the country, many of us would imagine popular hotspots such as the Tiger’s Nest perched on a distant cliff above the Paro valley, growing further away from the public eye as we continue to feel the effects of COVID-19. But if one were to visit the monastery, you would be surprised to find workers along the trail, with shovels, spades and rubber boots coated in mud. They come from a range of professions. From tour guides, tour drivers and cooks to hoteliers and handicraft shop staff- they represent the greatly impacted tourism industry.
Lam Chencho is 39 years old. He is a freelance trekking guide and one of the many Bhutanese who rely entirely on the tourism sector.
“Being part of the tourism family, we were all excited to welcome the year 2020, Bhutan was becoming the talk of the world. But then, the pandemic came. We lost all our guests, yet we were still so optimistic then. We kept hoping that the situation will die down after a month. But no. It only became worse. I couldn’t believe it,” said Lam.
The pandemic hit one of Bhutan’s biggest sources of revenue, shaking thousands of lives that depend solely on the tourism and travel sector. Around the world, vacations are now a fantasy and many dream of a post-COVID life. People may choose the comfort of their homes for the time being, surrounded by their families. The buzzwords stay safe, stay-at-home make their way into bulletins and global news headlines. Lam recalls how grateful he was when he received the Kidu.
“It helped me beyond words, it filled me with so much gratitude and I really wanted to give back. I volunteered to offer my help. It was then I became part of the Taktsang Project,” added Lam.
In a proactive response to COVID-19, the Taktsang Refurbishment Project took off in May. It is an initiative of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) implemented through the Committee of Tourism Associations (CTA) with a view to “facelift” the trail to Taktsang and re-engage and employ the newly unemployed under the broad tourism umbrella. Lam is currently the Project Manager of the initiative in Paro. The project was divided into two phases. The first phase consisted of widening the trail all the way up to the monastery, revamping and separating the trail used by both horses and people and also constructing small gazebos for brief pauses while hiking. They built make-shift camps and tents at the base of Taktsang monastery, complete with a kitchen. Phase one was completed towards the end of June 2020. Lam currently lives at the site.
“Reflecting on the visible impact of the pandemic, we see this as a rare opportunity to rethink and reform our past tourism strategies, structures and customs. There is finally a pause in our system, giving us a chance to look deeper and make significant changes. And there is no disturbance in our work too,” said Lam.
Phase two of the project started in late July. It is still underway. This phase includes building retaining walls along the path, constructing small restrooms and drinking water faucets and troughs for people and horses.
“After the lockdown, we were reassured that we will get to continue our work. It had benefitted us so much. Every day we learn and develop new skills. It has helped build and expand our capacities and abilities. We have gained vast amounts of knowledge, it was an unforgettable opportunity for all of us. We are beyond grateful to our country. In the near future, we will look back and remember how we triumphed over the disease,” said Lam.
“It is rare for tourists to miss the hike to Taktsang in their itinerary. For us guides, the Taktsang monastery is like our home, our pha-zhi. We feel blessed to rebuild the path. After the pandemic when the world has healed, the first tourist will enter the country and the trail to Taktsang will show our pride, resilience and unity,” continued Lam.