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.



Monkey business

I tried to avoid eye contact. And deliberately scanned the audience, desperately seeking the volunteer who would rescue me. But there was none. And, from the corner of my eye, I could see the emcee walking purposely towards me.

“We have a volunteer,” she announced, smiling yet staring firmly at me.

“Me?” I argued, and quickly looked left then right to my immediate neighbours, hopelessly expecting that she was addressing one of them.

But the emcee was already looming over me. “Yes,” she declared, and led me on to the stage. As I steadied my buckling knees, I scolded myself for getting into this fix.

The sticky situation had begun a week earlier, outside the Musk, when Xochitl Rodriguez, a volunteer with VAST, had asked me for a favour.

“It’ll depend, won’t it?” I had answered, pretending to be smart.

“It’s for the YDF foundation day,” Xochitl had implored, and started to describe the nature of her request. But I had cut her off, claiming that “If it’s for the YDF, I’ll do anything!”

When she eventually got to explain what the favour was, I had regretted that I’d been reckless. A group of young women and men calling themselves Happy Valley Entertainment were to stage a play during the YDF foundation day. The play would feature social messages. And in the tradition of forum theatre, the audience would be required to participate in the play as the plot unfolded.

Forum theatre, a form of drama developed and popularized in South America, requires members of the audience – referred to as “spect-actors” – to extemporaneously join an ongoing play, and change its plot to produce a favourable outcome, normally one that would mobilize the viewers to political and social action.

Xochitl wanted me to be a “spect-actor”! And I wanted otherwise. Not to worry, she had assured me, suddenly confident that the audience would produce many volunteers, and that I wouldn’t, after all, be needed. I felt sure that my services wouldn’t be needed too, convinced that a packed audience would produce at least one volunteer.

But a week later, in Nazhoen Pelri, on the night of the performance, no one volunteered. So Xochitl hauled me on to the stage, my heart pounding, and my mind in overdrive frantically seeking a new storyline for “Jabajasti Korean Monkey”, a play about material greed and misplaced values and priorities.

The revised rendition still had Jabajasti as a misguided young man. But after a brush with the police, he receives YDF’s help, turns over a new leaf, and becomes a role model for his family and friends.

The beginning of my impromptu performance was clumsy. But, after a while, a new story emerged, effortlessly and naturally. And I realized that I was not making anything up – I actually believed in the new storyline. I believed that our youth were brimming with potential, but were inflicted by a growing malaise, one caused by a lack of meaning and purpose in their lives. I believed that they were crying for help. And I believed that the YDF was responding.

From leadership to counseling, education to sponsorships, sports to music, training to employment, and rehabilitation to employment, the YDF provides a complete range of activities for youth throughout the country.

But what the YDF does is not enough. And what they do will never be enough as long as we, adults, choose to be spectators – seeing the unemployment, the drug abuse, the suicides, the prostitution, the burglary, the gang fights, and the desperation, but deliberately not acting on what we see.

And that night, as we celebrated YDF’s eleventh anniversary, I realized that like the powerful forum theatre, the YDF also needed “spect-actors” – leaders who would stand up and join the YDF in its mission of providing “a better today, a brighter tomorrow for the youth of Bhutan.”

Photo credit: Xochitl Rodriguez

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.

Happy birthday YDF

Cause to dance

Cause to dance

About ten years ago, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo commanded the establishment of a sustainable funding mechanism for the development of our youth. So Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck, started the Youth Development Fund to realize the vision of our beloved monarch. During the last decade, Her Majesty has worked tirelessly to build this important institution, which has already benefited countless thousands of our youth.

So on 16 June, when friends and supporters of YDF gathered at the Taj to celebrate its 10th anniversary, I respectfully offer tashi delek to Her Majesty and the staff of YDF for serving our youth with complete dedication and for giving them hope…a worthy cause, indeed.

Golden youth

For more than three decades, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo traveled to every part and every corner of our country to meet the children of Bhutan. And everywhere our king went, from community schools to Sherbutse, our nation’s “peak of learning”, He commanded: “The future of our country lies in the hands of our youth.”

To honour and to celebrate our fourth king’s boundless love for and confidence in our youth, the Youth Development Fund started the Golden Youth Award a few years ago. This annual award essentially recognizes children who excel at school – in both, the classroom and playground – and the community.

The day before yesterday, in Phuentsholing, Her Majesty Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck, recognized our first batch of “golden youth”. They are:

Tshering Dhendup, Class VI, Samdrup Jonkhar MSS
Meghna Upreti, Class VI, Khuruthanng MSS
Phub Dorji, Class VIII, Yangchenphug HSS
Tsheyang Choden, Class VIII, Shari HSS
Tshewang Gyeltshen, Class X, Yangchenphug HSS
Nikey Subba, Class X, Khuruthang MSS
Dawa Gyeltshen, Class XII, Samtse HSS
Ugyen Lhamo, Class XII, Yangchenphug HSS

I congratulate each and every one of them for being “golden youth”, and for making their classmates, their schools, their parents, and, most importantly, their kings, proud of them.

Well done. Keep it up. Tashi Delek!