Nima Dorji

One of the Youth Development Fund’s most active programs is its young volunteers in action, better known as Y-VIA. The volunteers are typically young students still going to high school.

Last week, in Changjiji, Y-VIA put on a delightful show to launch UNICEF’s state of the world’s children report. They sang, danced, acted and joked for their President, Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck, and other guests from the civil service, education system, international organizations, and the local community.

But the Y-VIA volunteers also used the occasion to launch their own report, based on three case studies they had done on extreme poverty among urban youth. The stories are painful, but they must be heard. So I’m reproducing below, in their original, their case study about Nima Dorji, a trash collector who lives in Thimphu’s landfill …

Nima Dorji is a 14 years old boy who works and earns his own livelihood by collecting trash and selling to the scrap dealer in Phuntsholing. Nima is from Samdhingkha in Punakha. Both his parents are working. In fact his mother is in the civil service while his father is a carpenter. Nima left home at the age of 11. He has two younger sisters. He was a student of Babesa Primary school and then later he became a monk out of his own interest. His journey from a monk to a trash collector motivated us to look deeper into his life.

We found Nima, when out of curiosity to see if we could find children in the land fill of Memelakha.  We saw this thin and filthy looking boy rummaging through the piles of dirt along with the dogs. He ran away when he saw us for the first time. We made contact with him by giving him a set of clean clothes and some food. His story unfolds with him living with his parents in olakha. Both his parents work so there is some income in the family. He never enjoyed school. He refused to do his school work and this annoyed his mother. He wanted to be a monk instead. After failing in class two for two consecutive years, Nima‘s mother finally put him in a monastery in Samdrupjonkar. The same year, a lama advised the parents to send Nima to Trongsa dratshang. However, Nima was greatly disappointed when he saw the bad behavior of his monk friends and senior monks. He was bullied and beaten often. His learning according to him did not progress much. With great disappointment and despair he ran away to Thimphu. He found a friend in Thimphu who did trash business. Afraid to go home, he decided to become a trash collector and found a home with ten other young trash collectors. The two room house became Nima’s home and his friend, his new family.

We found his parents living in a hut in olakha. Ten members of the family live all together in this little hut. According to his mother, she is waiting to get him registered in a shedra. We took Nima to meet his mother to see their reaction. While Nima remained quiet, the mother was indifferent. It was difficult to see love or any family bond between Nima and his mother. We also visited his school and the teachers couldn’t recognize him as he had changed and aged drastically.  Nima did not draw too much attention from his teachers. He was just an average student who did not enjoy school. His friends were in class 5 and they too did not recognize him. They do remember one thing about him. He was passionate about becoming a monk.

Nima never got into drugs or any criminal activities. He was never a naughty boy when he was little. He hardly gave any problems. His only problem was not taking interest in his school studies.

As a trash collector he earns Nu 1900 a month. Nima is known to be a hardworking trash collector who also sends money to his mother. He still hopes that a day will come when he can have another opportunity to go back to school.

Nima along with his ten friends, live in the filthiest environment that we can ever imagine. They live with the trash of the entire Thimphu city. They work bare hands with no masks and their clothes are filthy. They work is hazardous to their health and they are prone to communicable diseases as they often rummage through wastes from the hospitals. Their hands often get cut and poked by syringes that are thrown in the rubbish.

Their diet consists mainly of potatoes and rice. Their day begins at 7 in the morning with the leftover of their dinner. Lunch is around 3 or 4 in the evening. The wife of one of his friends and her sister cook for the boys. Living with are two little toddlers whose playground is the land fill.

They do not have access to clean drinking water and electricity. They use a solar light in the night. They often get sick with diarrhea, cough and cold, headaches and other ailments brought about by poor hygiene and sanitation.

Nima often feels depressed with what he has become. He regrets leaving school and wishes he got sound and adequate guidance from his parents and teachers. He looks furlong and hopeless. He feels he brought this situation upon himself. This is just a story of Nima but the eyes of his friends told their own pathetic sad stories.


“Khandu-Om” is right

“Youth Unemployment – A serious concern for Bhutan?” That’s what BBS asked yesterday, on People’s Voice, a popular Sunday show. The debate was timely, given that thousands of students are now entering the workforce. But public opinion on this important topic was overwhelmingly one-sided: 733 of the people who took part in the vote said that youth unemployment is a serious concern; only 87 said that it isn’t.

My blog post earlier this month, when the Class 12 results were announced, drew similar responses. But one of them, by a “Khandu-Om”, put the blame squarely on me. Here’s what she wrote:

Dear OL,

Yes indeed it is worrying. To understand that the mentality and present perception of our present youth on jobs is a disgrace. A class X is willing to stay at home and earn “no income” for a year rather than to take up a free training in Culinary provided by the government and get a job in one of the hotels as sue chef which can get a pay of at least between Nu. 8,000-15,000 a month.

This type of behavior change should have happened years ago. This urgency of jobs and projected youth unemployment was known 10 to 20 years back.

So my Honourble OL where where you and what were you doing then as a “Director” in the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources. Why were there no strong efforts that time to deal with the known fact that 50% of our population being youth were going to enter the job market?

Did it have to take democracy to come in for you to wake up?

“Khandu-Om” is right. Before joining active politics, I served in the Department of Human Resources in the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources. The main responsibility of that department was to plan and coordinate vocational education and training in the country.

Before that, I served in the then National Technical Training Authority which was also responsible for planning and coordinating vocational education and training. And before that, I served in then Technical and Vocational Education Division again mainly responsible for vocational education and training.

So throughout my career in the civil service I’ve been involved, in one way or another, in vocational education and training. In fact, the three agencies I served in were essentially the same institution – the Technical and Vocational Division which was under the then Department of Education evolved into the National Technical Training Authority, an autonomous agency, which, in turn, grew to become the Department of Human Resources in the then newly established Ministry of Labour and Human Resources.

“Khandu-Om” is right. Youth unemployment was already an issue more than a decade ago. School enrollment was expanding exponentially, and every year, increasingly larger numbers of students were entering the workforce.

To prepare them for the world of work, we increased the number of vocational training institutes. We expanded the polytechnic in Deothang, and upgraded the Kharbandi campus to an engineering college, while the original institute at Kharbandi was established as separate training institutes in Rangjung, Chumey, Khuruthang, Thimphu and Sarpang. We relocated the Phuentsholing driving institute to Samthang, expanded the institute and diversified its courses.

We expanded the painting school in Kawajangsa and upgraded it to offer training in the thirteen traditional arts and crafts. And we started a second institute for traditional arts and crafts in Trashiyangtse.

Within a few years, we expanded vocational education and training significantly. And many people worked very hard to make this possible. They include colleagues, superiors, donors and, most importantly, the many instructors who had to take on additional and multiple responsibilities as their institutes were being relocated, expanded and upgraded.

But we also understood that vocational training does not and cannot create jobs. That’s why we consistently maintained that only a strong economy with a vibrant private sector could provide the gainful employment that the increasing number of school leavers would need.

“Khandu-Om” is right. Youth do not readily accept the jobs that are available. But that’s mostly because our youth have not been prepared for the real world of work. And because working conditions in the jobs that are available are not attractive. To give students the opportunities to work with their hands, we started vocational clubs in many schools. To allow school leavers to transition into the workplace, we started an apprenticeship training program. And to improve working conditions in the construction sector, we started the construction training centre.

But that wasn’t enough. So in 2001, we went on a career counseling tour. The tour was conceived, organised and led by Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup who, at that time, was the minister for health and education, the chairman of the Department of Employment and Labour, and the chairman of the National Technical Training Authority. The career counseling tour took more than four months. During that time a multi-sectoral team visited more than 30 schools across the length and breadth of the country. The team spent a whole day at each school, talking to the students about job opportunities and career options, and cautioning them about looming unemployment. My message to the students had been “Be Somebody!”

“Khandu-Om” is right. We could have worked harder. I could have put in more effort. Even so, I’m not sure it would have helped. The government, after all, has not demonstrated the will or the ability to improve on the vocational education and training system that they inherited when they took over four years ago.

“Khandu-Om” is right. Democracy has indeed woken me up. And I’m glad that she thinks so. But what about the members of the ruling party? What about the government? Has democracy woken them up to the realities of youth unemployment?

Unchained fun

While jogging today, in Pamtsho, I met Ugyen Penjore, aged 9, “going-to” class 4, Rinchen Kuenphen School, having a wonderful time with his friends on this bike, lent to him by another friend, Kinley Tenzin.

Check out the tires on that bike
Check out the seat
Check out that smile!



“Tick tock KABOOM”

Our hope

Youth crime is a growing problem in our kingdom. And according to the prime minister, “the answer lies in GNH.”

I’m happy that the prime minister has acknowledged the problem: that youth crime is real and that it is growing.

And I’m happy that he has an answer to that problem: GNH.

A good segment of our youth, especially those living in Thimphu, are in trouble. They are scared. They are anxious. And they are desperate.

So if GNH is the answer, let’s use it.

But if GNH isn’t the answer, let’s admit it, let’s look for solutions that could work, and let’s get cracking.

Reports of youth violence, vandalism, theft, drug abuse, rape, gang fights, prostitution, murder and suicides are on the increase. But what we know from the media may only be the tip of the iceberg. The reality, as Xochitl Rodriguez found out, could actually be worse.

Xochitl spent some time in Changjiji last year. And she blogged about what she saw – the suffering and desperation of our children. I’m reproducing her entire article here for our collective reference, and as a reminder of the magnitude and urgency of the work at hand.

[Continue Reading…]

Yes we can!

Our youth can

The Eighth Asian Youth Congress concluded in Thimphu last Thursday. The congress, made up of youth leaders from the Asia and Pacific regions, aims to build a global network to fight drug abuse.

About 130 youth participants from 14 countries attended this year’s congress. 100 of them were from Bhutan.

At the end of the 4-day congress, two participants were jointly awarded the International Youth Award. The winners were Azmeel Mohamed from the Maldives; and our own Yangchen Dolkar.

Yangchen is a student at Dr Tobgyel School and, at 14 years, was one of the youngest participants. Still, the congress, which included several international university students, decided that the feisty Yangchen Dolkar showed enough communication, decision-making and leadership skills to merit winning the gathering’s highest honour. Well done.

But it was not just Yangchen Dolkar who did well at the congress. All our youth reportedly performed well, and impressed their international fellow-participants with their warmth and friendliness, and their readiness to participate in all the activities. In fact, that’s why the first runner also went to a Bhutanese – Jigme Choeda of Gedu HSS. Good job.

This year’s theme was “Together we can!” So I asked Yangchen Dolkar, who happens to be my niece, “Are you sure you can?”

“Yes we can!” came her immediate answer, “… together we can make this world a better place.”

Is Thimphu fine?

My son is fine. But I’m concerned that Thimphu is not.

Today, from Bhutan Today:


Tashi Penjore

Thirty two people were cremated today. 18 of them were pilgrims who died in the recent plane crash in Nepal. The rest were from other parts of the country – they were bought to Thimphu when their families learnt that that His Majesty the King was personally supporting the cremations, and that His Holiness the Je Khenpo was presiding over the final rites.

Most of us know about the recent tragedy in Nepal. And some of us have heard heart-wrenching stories about the victims and their families.

But what about the rest? What about the other 14 who were cremated today? Most of them were old. And some of them had been quite ill. One of them, however, was young, and he’d been healthy.

Tashi Penjore, 14 years old, committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree. He killed himself because he had failed his exams. He was in Class 7.

Letter to graduates

Bhutanese Blogger

“Bhutanese Blogger” left a comment on “Leadership of the Self”, a post targeted at this year’s graduates.  In his comment (don’t ask how I know his gender) – which happens to be a letter he’d posted on his blog last year – he talks about career choices, the need to develop a strong resume, the importance of cultivating useful networks, entrepreneurship and further studies.

These are, indeed, some important issues that our graduates should ponder. So I’m reproducing his comment here to allow graduates to access it easily.


This was written in 2009. Some figures have changed since then.

Dear Graduates

An unemployment level of 4%, prospects of a smaller civil service and the layoffs in the private sector aren’t good news for you all. Our job market has become more challenging in recent times.

All of you sound incredibly talented and well grounded, and I am sure that your expectations are realistic. You don’t normally graduate again. So take some time to assess where you want to go on from here but be ready to be disappointed in your search.

For many reasons, everybody aspires to work in the civil service. Yes – it provides wide ranging opportunities – from attending to the public to working on a national policy – but you can also become a clone (a typical civil servant who is satisfied with life). So be sure that you have good networking skills – they are useful at all stages and places. You should also have a huge supply of tolerance and patience to see you through long meetings, demanding bosses and people who complain how inefficient civil servants are. If you have good ideas – better. If you don’t have any – be open and willing to explore. Work hard, voice your thoughts and take initiatives (although these may not be demanded of you). Avoid the temptation of being a ‘YES’ man and develop a reputation for delivering results.

But if you are entrepreneurial and enjoy working really hard, consider working for a private company or starting something new. All you need is a good idea and a lot of passion. You will develop commercial skills that will place you well to take advantage of our economy which is being liberalised. And Bhutan needs more entrepreneurs. With our Government committed to developing the sector, the opportunities will only increase.

Another option is to go for higher studies but personally, I think, a few years of working experience makes pursuing a post-graduate degree more enriching. And you could still be looking for work after three years.

But if you aren’t interested in any of these, there is yet another career path you could choose –

You have a degree and qualify to to represent your people in the national assembly. Network and develop your political capital. Go home and establish your credentials. I hear that being an MP isn’t a difficult job. My convictions come from desiring to see or hear of something substantial done by the MPs. I could be wrong. But you have a good opportunity to prove that MPs need more talents than just the ability to be either garrulous in their arguments or subservient in their conduct.

Finally as you start looking for jobs, enhance your CV either by volunteering your time or learning something new. Now is the time to meet people, question and learn as much as you can. As you mature – you are expected to know something and lose that liberty to ask questions.

And maintain lots of positivity and modest levels of overconfidence (overconfidence does help).

All the best.

Jobless in Bhutan

Great expectations

Great expectations

The results of the Labour Force Survey, 2009 has me worried: unemployment has jumped to 4%; and more than 80% of them are youth between the ages of 15 and 25. In absolute terms, 13,000 of the 325,700 economically active people are unemployed. And of them, 10,500 are youth. Youth between the ages of 15 and 19 are hit the hardest – 20.1% of them are unemployed.

So last week’s job fair was a good idea. It sought to boost employment by bringing employers and jobseekers together.

But, our labour minister’s statement at the job fair has me even more worried: He was quoted as saying that unemployment is not a real problem in Bhutan, rather it is the mismatch of available jobs and aspirations of the jobseekers.

I’d like to remind our labour minister that, mismatch or not, unemployment is already a real problem for many of our youth. Unemployment must be real problem if young men and women trek to the labour ministry everyday in search of jobs, and mostly return home disappointed. Unemployment must be a real problem if qualified engineers can’t find work. Unemployment must be a real problem if we expect our graduates to work abroad. And, unemployment must be a real problem if the very job fair that the labour minister addressed had about 9,000 jobseekers but only 287 jobs on offer.

Our government’s promise to reduce unemployment to 2.5% by 2013 is commendable. And it can be done. But not if we don’t accept that we already have a problem – a problem that is growing rapidly by the day.

Food for thought

The future

The future

I’m still reeling from the announcement in the Annual Health Bulletin that 37% of our children are stunting, that 4.6% of them are wasting, and that 11.1% are underweight. That means that 52.7% of our children are under nourished. In other words, more than half our children do not have enough to eat.

Wasting, also called acute malnutrition, causes body fat and tissue to “waste” away, or to degenerate. And it is generally caused by extreme hunger, i.e., famine. So, even as I write this entry, one in every twenty children may be coping with famine.

Stunting or chronic malnutrition is caused by nutritional deficiencies over a long period of time. The bodies, organs and brains of children affected by stunting do not, and will never, develop fully. The effects of stunting are permanent, and many of those afflicted with it will die early. 37% of our children are stunting. That is, more than one in every three children is stunting.

We may lecture about GNH. And our HDI ranking may be improving. But the reality is that poverty is rife and that most of our children are hungry. The reality is that more than one third of our children have already been permanently robbed of their full potential. The reality is that, at this rate, we risk losing a whole generation of Bhutanese.  Left unchecked, the future of Bhutan cannot be bright.

Our government should be alarmed.