Nervous and scared

Full of promise

The Class XII results are out. 8,576 students took the exams last year. And a good 86% of them passed.

They’ve completed school. Some of them will go to college. Some will undergo training. And the rest will enter the world of work. They’ve begun a brand new chapter in their lives, a chapter that should be full of promise and excitement. So we should be happy for them. And we should be excited for them.

But I’m not. I’m not happy. And I’m not excited. Instead, I’m nervous. And I’m scared.

More than 7,300 students passed the Class XII exams. The Royal University of Bhutan’s 10 colleges have room for only 2,000 students. And fewer than 250 students will receive scholarships to study abroad.

The rest of them – about 5,000 students – will have to fend for themselves. They’ll have to look for money to continue their studies. Or they’ll have to look for jobs.

Youth unemployment is already high. So securing jobs won’t be easy. That means that many parents will be forced to take out loans to send their children to study in India. And that means that the remaining thousands of students face the dreadful prospect of unemployment.

The government has promised full employment, especially for educated youth, by creating 75,000 jobs during the Tenth Plan. And most of those jobs were to be generated by the accelerating Bhutan’s socio-economic development (ABSD) program for which McKinsey was employed.

McKinsey’s consultants have come and gone. The Tenth Plan will be over by June next year. Youth unemployment is already high. And thousands of Class XII students will now need jobs.

So it’s time for the government to make good on their promise. It’s time to show us the jobs. Otherwise, it’s time for us, all of us, to get nervous. It’s time to get scared.

“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…]

Students’ Digest

Good to digest

Finally! A magazine just for students! And about time too. After all, one in every three Bhutanese is a student. The magazine, Students’ Digest, a quarterly, was launched last month, befittingly on Children’s Day, the 11th of November.

Students’ Digest is a rich compilation of educational material for students, and their teachers and parents. From news, views and interviews to scholarships, jobs and study tips the magazine offers knowledge, entertainment and counsel to its readers.

I wish the Students’ Digest team well. Their success will be our students’ success.

Good job

The prime minister, in his State of the Nation address, on employment:

I am pleased to report to the Hon’ble Members that a total of 320,900 are now employed. This shows that 96.69% of our workforce is employed leaving an unemployment rate of 3.3%, marking a downward movement for the first time in recent years. This indicates very clearly that this government is well on track to achieve its ambitious target of 2.5% unemployment rate in the next three years with a huge labour market in the making.

This is good news. After all, unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is one of our biggest concerns.


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

Unemployment: a big problem?

Somehow, during the last few weeks I’ve bumped into several young unemployed people. All of them complained that they tried hard, but couldn’t get jobs. Some of them were continuing to aggressively seek work. But some had given up.

I’ve also bumped into two groups of youth who are themselves employed, but are thinking about starting something that would help other young people get jobs. These two groups are unrelated. They don’t know each other. But both groups are so convinced that unemployment is already a major problem that they have decided that they may have to take matters into their own hands.

So is unemployment already a big problem? You tell me. I launched this week’s poll, on unemployment, yesterday.

National Zorig Day

zorig-day2About eight years ago, representatives from the National Technical Training Authority petitioned His Holiness the Je Khenpo to identify a deity to watch over skilled workers. His Holiness recognized Pel Dueki Khorlo (in Sanskrit, Kalachakra) as the Zorig Deity. His Holiness also declared the 15th day of the 3rd month as Zorig Day, and composed a 12-stanza moenlam to worship Dueki Khorlo and to advance vocational skills in our country.

Yesterday, on the 15th day of the 3rd month, Zorig Day was celebrated across the country, especially in our vocational training institutes, but also in some business establishments that employ skilled workers.

In Thimphu, the day was observed in the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, which has put on an exhibition on Bhutan’s traditional art and craft. The exhibition runs for three days, till tomorrow.

Visit the institute in Kawajangsa to celebrate our traditional art and craft, and to honour our skilled workers.

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!

Lucky Sonam

Sonam Tshering beat 135 participants to win the India House Golf Tournament on 30 November. For his efforts, he received the keys to a brand new Maruti Zen Estilo during the tournament’s prize distribution ceremony this evening.

Not bad considering that Sonam, who is only 17 years and in Class VIII in Zilukha LSS, is currently doing his Common Examinations.

Coach Karma Lam introduced him to golf barely four years ago. While he enjoyed playing the game, he quickly discovered that there was pocket money to be made by working as a caddy. (Incidentally, last year’s winner was Karma Wangchuk, 20 years, also a caddy.)

Sonam made about Nu 300 a day carrying golf clubs during the weekends. This weekend his earnings increased a thousand fold! “I’ll sell my car”, he told me, “and save the money in the bank to pay for my further studies.”

With this sort of attitude, he can expect to continue to get lucky.

An overqualified sweeper?

Meet Sonam Choden. She’s 20 years old.

She completed Class X from Motithang High School in 2005. A year later, she did a six month certificate course in IT at RIIT.

She’s employed as a sweeper in the National Assembly.

Unemployment is real. It’s serious. And it’s growing.