Thursday, October 31, 2013

Farm Visit in Punakha and the Beautiful Host

I am currently in Lobesa with a group of guests from School of Wellbeing Studies and Research from Thailand. Their main interest is organic farming and they take Bhutan as an example where organic farming is widely practiced and believes that Bhutan’s aim of making the country a 100% organic country is possible. So in this connection, we visited a farm in Kabisa, a village on the way to Gasa. Our host and interviewee was a 74-year-old man named Kencho Tshering.

He practices integrated farming where he grows different types of fruits and vegetables. He also has three cattle. Though integrated farming is common in Bhutan and it is what we have been practicing traditionally, for people from other countries, it is something strikingly interesting. From my interaction, I learned that organic farming is a farming with knowledge and when they see integrated farming in our farms, they see that our farmers have already been practicing a kind of technique that is encouraged in organic farming. Anyway, my purpose for this blog post is not about organic farming but the experience of the short visit to the farm.

A very pretty young woman received us. In fact, on the first glance you won’t believe that she is 28 and a mother of a six years old son. I instantly started my conversation with her because I wanted to know why she dropped school. And when I learned that the child who was with her is her son, I felt compelled to ask her age because she looked very young. She is Ap Kencho’s daughter. He has four daughters, and they all dropped school after class 10. She said that in the beginning, she regretted having left school, but she is okay now. Her husband was her classmate in high school and he is currently pursuing bachelors in medicine in Chiangmai, Thailand. She had to leave school because her father divided the lands among the four siblings and they were told that it was up to them whether they wanted to leave them fallow, or tend to them and make a living from it. And whether out of choice or compulsion, all of them dropped school and stayed home, farming.

I felt sad. It is not that I see farming as an inferior way to earn a living. It has its charms, its hardships, and its gracefulness. But honestly, I know that hardships and difficulties in farming is both mental and physical, and it is much, much more than what we might suffer in doing an office work. I also know that when we farm, the pride we get as we harvest what we have sowed is huge. They also have a sense of food security and food sufficiency that office goers don’t. They do not have to worry what is happening to the import of food (mainly the vegetables and food grains like rice). But counting that too, when I ask myself whether I would choose to go back to being a farmer, I can’t get an straight, definite ‘yes’. Despite the farm mechanization, despite the improved seeds and methods of farming, I know life in the villages is still very hard. And it was a surprise for me to actually meet two young women who had dropped school after their father told them that they would have to live in the village, carrying out the tradition of farming. At least in the case of the elder daughter, it seems she will be going away from the house anyway when her husband gets in the job because there is no hospital in the village where he could ask for is placement. Considering this, I think, it would have been better if she pursued her studies. Though she was very humble and told me that she was not a bright student, I got a feeling that she must have been one of the toppers in her class.

As I go on meeting different people discussing organic farming and food security, I hear a lot of people saying that our young people do not want to go back to villages to be farmers after they finish their schools. I think expecting them to go back and farm is a little too much at the moment.  I know that would be a better choice than staying in Thimphu looking for a job that is never going to come, but still, it will be a difficult choice for many. And I must be honest that if I were to be the one to ask them to make that choice, I would feel it is unfair. Why should it be the ones occupying chairs in the office to tell them that going back to the village is their best option, when they have not done it themselves?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Finally a visit to Bajo School

I have been reading everything Passu ( writes, and knowing from his blog about the interesting initiatives that he took at his school (Bajo Higher Secondary School in Wangduephodrang), I have been eager to pay a visit. And today was the day!

In the last minute, because of the manpower shortage, I was assigned by my office to take care of the guests from School of Wellbeing (based in Thailand). And it is because of this work that I got to go to Bajo school today. There are seven of them: one from Mynmar, one from France, and five from Thailand. I have been with them since 24th of this month and I am increasingly feeling privileged to be with the group. I learn a lot, not just from them, but from the different people I am getting to meet, in coordinating their itinerary in Bhutan. For example, I got a chance to meet the Ex-prime Minister of Bhutan, about whom I have only heard what people were talking about and did not really know where he was after the election. And another worth noting is the meeting we had with Madam Kesang from National Organic Programme. She is a woman filled with energy.

And today, meeting Passang Tshering (popularly known as Passu among bloggers) brought a lot of positive energy to the whole purpose of our visit. We not only saw what he has done in his school, like making a Wifi Park, but we also got an insight into what the school does in incorporating GNH – by which I mean, how the whole idea of ‘educating for GNH’ is implemented. He shared that, for example, words such as ‘killing’ and ‘stealing’ are taken out from the textbooks, so that students are taught only positive values. Another interesting example he shared was that, in mathematic problem solving, if there was a question like, ‘if a farmer had five cows and one was killed, how many cows are left?’, it is now reframed as, ‘if a kind farmer had five cows and he gave one away, how many cows are left?’ It is truly interesting that teachers like him use such creative methods to incorporate humane values in the curriculum.

He introduces himself as a ‘happy teacher’ and says he wants to change the perception of people about teachers in Bhutan. He wants to make teaching a coveted profession, and he seems to be on his way to it. In the meeting this evening where we share the day’s reflection, all the members of the group shared that meeting him and going through the campus, showing us what the school does in a short span of time was a huge insight for them and how education in Bhutan works. (Thank you Passu. Salutes to you).