Registering CSOs

Commenting on my last post, several readers reiterated that the Tarayana Foundation is doing some wonderful work. I agree.

But did you know that Tarayana Foundation, established seven years ago, is not a registered CSO? Similarly, the Youth Development Fund, established 11 years ago, and RSPN, established 24 years ago, are not registered CSOs.

We know that Tarayana, YDF and RSPN are doing a good job alleviating rural poverty, developing our youth and protecting our natural heritage respectively. They’ve proven it. We also know that many other NGOs have made significant contributions to the development of our country and people.

So I was surprised to read that the CSO Authority has awarded the CSO status to only four organizations: RENEW, Loden Foundation, Centre for Media and Democracy and Bhutanese Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAOWE).

RENEW is doing a lot of good work empowering our women. So it’s good to see that they’ve been recognized as a registered CSO. And though the Loden Foundation is relatively new, they’ve been quite active.

The Centre for Media and Democracy, established two years ago, sounds promising. And they’ve already conducted several seminars and workshops. Still, I’m not sure how they would qualify for official registration if the likes of Tarayana, YDF and RSPN are left out.

And then there’s BAOWE. They’re also a registered CSO. But who is BAOWE? When were they established? And what have they done to merit recognition ahead of Tarayana, YDF and RSPN.

Fighting poverty

Very low income housing

A popular attraction at the recent Tarayana Fair was the Lhop house. The house, which barely measures 8 feet by 9 feet, had belonged to Ap Pen Tshering, and in it, he and his wife, Aum Gagay Lham, had raised their four children.

75 year-old Pen Tshering’s house had been dismantled and transported to Thimphu, where it was carefully reassembled to showcase the lifestyle of the Lhops, Bhutan’s first inhabitants. And Pen Tshering had been more than happy to abandon his house. After all, he had no need for it.

Ap Pen Tshering, you see, had built a bigger, better and stronger house – one that has four rooms, a separate kitchen and a CGI roof. He’d built his new house with help from Tarayana Foundation.

But his is not the only house that Tarayana has built in Lotukuchu, easily the poorest and the most neglected part of our country. In fact, Tarayana has helped almost every household in the three villages that make up Lotukuchu build better homes. At last count, 73 families have already moved into new dwellings. And houses for the remaining 10-odd families are already being constructed.

And it’s not just housing. Tarayana has helped the Lhops – in Lotukuchu and elsewhere – acquire the resources and skills needed to increase farm productivity and improve income generation. That’s why today’s Lhops are no longer living in abject poverty, completely cut off from the rest of the country. Today’s Lhops boast decent housing, piped water, proper sanitation, an oil expeller, a maize grinder, a cornflake making machine, a power tiller, a traditional paper factory, and a cooperative shop.

And it’s not just in Lotukuchu. Since its establishment, seven years ago, Tarayana has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of our poorest people – simple subsistence farmers who live in some of the remotest corners of Bhutan. Before Tarayana, very few officials had visited them. And no one cared about them. They had been forgotten.

Not any longer. Today, Tarayana is intimately involved in 36 villages across 5 dzongkhags reducing poverty levels, improving the quality of lives, and giving hope to entire communities.

How do they do it? Raw determination. And the support of donors, volunteers and well-wishers. But also by making every ngultrum count.

It’s taken a lot of hard work and dedication to transform the lives of our Lhops. But Tarayana’s war against poverty in Lotukuchu cost them only US$ 100,000. That’s about the price of a new Toyota Prado. And that’s nothing short of miraculous.

Imagine what we could have done with US$ 9.2 million!

Women warriors

Fourteen villages in my constituency, most of them in Gakiling gewog, do not have electricity. Every night, women in these villages turn their rangthang, a traditional stone mill, grinding buckwheat, maize and millet for several hours in virtual darkness. Working the rangthang is hard work in the best of conditions. But in the dark, by a hearth that offers more smoke than light, grinding food is a lonely and backbreaking exercise. Yet is must be done, for they must feed their families the next day.

So yesterday, when 35 women from similar villages across Bhutan announced that, in three months, they had fitted 504 families in 48 villages from 13 dzongkhags with solar lanterns I was overcome with joy.

These women are not ordinary people. They come from some of the remotest and poorest parts of our country. And almost all of them have never been to school. That’s why they now call themselves “barefoot solar engineers.”

And these women use solar power to fight the darkness that breeds poverty in distant villages. So they are already being called the “solar warriors of Bhutan”.

Yesterday, these women showed off their skills. They showed us how to install, maintain and repair solar lanterns. And they taught us that, with solar lanterns, they won’t have to work in the dark; that their children will be able to study at night; and that they will be better equipped to protect their crops from wild animals. They also taught us that they will no longer have to strain their eyes, or breathe in smoke, or travel long distances to buy kerosene, batteries and candles.

These “warriors” showed off their expertise with obvious pride and joy.

But one warrior, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, easily showed even more pride and even more joy. After all, it was Her Majesty’s Tarayana Foundation that permanently transformed the lives of these women from simple villagers to community leaders. During the last two years, Tarayana, along with Barefoot College, a leading Indian NGO, had carefully selected, supported and trained these women to become confident and competent engineers.

Some of these women will be employed by Tarayana to train even more barefoot solar engineers. Some will soon leave for Ladakh in India to train solar engineers there. But all of them will help illuminate dark villages. And fight poverty.

What I saw yesterday is not just about women empowerment as some observers noted. Or about reducing poverty, as proclaimed by others. It’s much, much more. It’s about putting GNH into action.

And it’s about the distinct possibility that women in my constituency will, in the near future, be able to work their stone mills in the comfort of the light from a solar lantern.

Jewel of books


Twenty months ago the Tarayana Foundation invited Bhutanese to compose poems celebrating His Majesty the Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Of the more than two hundred entries, 25 poems were selected and compiled into the book “Jewel of Men”. These poems express the deep feelings – of love, affection and reverence – that all Bhutanese hold for our beloved monarch.

“Jewel of Men” was launched yesterday by Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, in a warm ceremony commemorating our Fourth King. Present were HRH Ashi Sonam Dechen Wangchuck, who delivered an eloquent welcome, and HRH Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, who gave us a poignant documentary about his relationship with his father and his monarch.

“This book of poems”, Her Majesty revealed to an audience full of emotion, “I hold dear to my heart, for it is a reflection of the sentiments of love and gratitude to His Majesty, who has given this country so much, in particular, a King in His Image, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck”

I thank Her Majesty and Tarayana for voicing my innermost feelings on the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, a giant among men, a king without equal, a jewel.