As part of the outreach service program in Kabisa community conducted by Khasadrapchu Youth Center in Thimphu yesterday, the officials from Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency (BNCA) interacted with over 50 youth and sensitized them on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, and the associated drug laws in Bhutan. The rising trend of drug abuse and smuggling cases in the country over the years seriously call for aggressive public awareness campaigns so that young people can stay safe from drugs. It has been found that many youth are committing drug-related crimes simply because they don’t have adequate knowledge of the legal provisions in the Narcotic Drug, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2015. So most of the time, they are found unaware of what they are doing. It has been reported that a young graduate has been recently caught in Eastern Bhutan with 90 pieces of N10 in a parcel he was carrying for his friend from another person. If he had known that carrying N10 which is a Schedule III drug more than two times the permissible quantity of ten pieces would send him to jail for 5-9 years (3rd degree felony), perhaps he would have double-checked the parcel he had received for his friend. So for the benefit of all the youth of Bhutan, I would like to share some of the most important highlights from the sensitization program held in Kabisa.
With the ongoing road-widening activities in full swing and the early arrival of Monsoon this year, it is becoming increasingly risky for people to travel along the national highways today. Over the past couple of months, we have seen a number of tragic accidents along the West-East National Highway that have killed both foreign tourists and Bhutanese nationals. As a mountainous country, the topography of Bhutan itself is not friendly for road travelers but during the Monsoon season, the highways become even worse. The road blockages due to landslides and shooting boulders along the national highways are once again becoming a common phenomenon. As a result, it is very important to take extra caution while driving nowadays. We have already lost many precious lives due to reckless driving. Only the affected families would be able to feel the real pain of having to lose somebody like this. The heaps of sands and lose soil alongside the roads, and the overhanging boulders due to the road-widening activities are some of the most dangerous risk factors for road mishaps. As a driver, one should drive slowly and cautiously so that everybody would be safe. Travelling along the national highways today is like travelling between life and death. One has to be always alert and vigilant because anything can happen any time.
After seven long years, I am back in Gelephu. The last time I was here was in January 2010 when I was invited to attend the basic ICT workshop for the visually impaired civil servants organized by the Special Education Division of the Ministry of Education. This time, I am here with two other colleagues to organize a 3-day consultative workshop for the Youth Center Managers. We started our journey from Thimphu on Sunday, 23rd April. I had a comfortable journey with enough space in the car to relax and sleep since I was the only passenger at the rear seat. We reached here at around 7:30 pm in the evening since we had started our journey from Thimphu late. As soon as we got here, we were greeted with cool showers that made the climate quite bearable for us. The Manager of Gelephu Youth Center had arranged tea and dinner for us at the cafeteria attached to the Youth Center. After the dinner, we went to Degu Yangkhil Guest House where we had our rooms booked. We had a sound sleep after a long day.
When I was first invited by Bhutan Foundation for a consultative meeting on the production of a documentary to raise public awareness on the needs and rights of persons with disabilities in Bhutan, I had not thought that I would be the central character in the film. When I was later approached with a request to lead the story in the documentary, I was humbled with the offer but also anxious at the same time because I was not sure how well I would be able to present myself in the lead role. However, I finally accepted the offer with a strong conviction that I might be able to inspire and motivate other persons with disabilities and raise public awareness on disability-related issues through the story of my personal life.
Due to the lack of commitment on the part of the concerned agencies to produce reading materials in accessible formats, the visually impaired people in Bhutan still do not have access to public libraries and other resources. As of now, we are able to access only the free materials published online such as news articles and stories. The major publications such as books, magazines and research articles are beyond our reach. Forget about having the library books and other publications in accessible formats, we don’t even have enough textbooks that are accessible for the students especially those studying in higher secondary schools and university colleges. The publishers are too concerned about the copyrights that they are not willing to share the electronic version of their publications with the visually impaired readers. A library is the most popular source of information and knowledge but without accessible materials available, there is no way a visually impaired person can access it.
In order to celebrate the auspicious Dawa Dangpai Losar, I and some of my visually impaired friends got together and went to Paro with our families for a dry picnic today. It was a great occasion for all of us to have quality time together because in the hassle and bustle of busy urban life, social gatherings are becoming rare nowadays. It was also a wonderful opportunity for our kids to have outdoor fun together despite enjoying delicious foods brought by different people. We had planned this event since a couple of months ago and we had been looking forward to this big day for months. But the bad weather over the past couple of days caused some worries in us that we may not be able to execute our plans. However when the sun came up this morning, I knew we were finally on our way to Paro. My children were equally excited about it.
As a child, I was very active and agile. Climbing rocks and cliffs used to be my favorite adventure although the elder people in the family wouldn’t let me do it fearing I might fall down. I know I was not good at climbing trees but when it came to cliffs and rocks, I could climb them without much difficulty. Even the smallest crack lines on the rock’s surface would be enough for my hands to get a grip and I could balance my body quite easily as I pulled myself up. I often used to compete with myself on climbing some of the small cliffs and rocks in the village whenever elders were not at home. Probably because of being blind, I was not afraid of heights.
We have been lately talking about inclusive education in Bhutan and some of the schools have already been modified to accommodate children with varying abilities in the same learning environment. But no matter how accessible the general infrastructures of the school might be, or how well trained are the teachers dealing with students with special needs, I think the goal of inclusive education cannot be achieved if the school curriculum is not inclusive. When we talk about inclusive education, people mostly think about only accessible physical infrastructures within the school campus and disabled-friendly facilities and services. But we have never thought of the curriculum which is the backbone of formal education system in the country. I feel that our school curriculum is very rigid at the moment. We are expected to learn what is prescribed in the textbooks and not what we are good at or what we love doing. When the curriculum is developed, the needs of persons with disabilities especially the visually impaired children are never considered. As a result, the curriculum is largely visual-based and hence, the visually impaired children are deprived of the opportunity to participate equally in the classroom.
As the Capital City of Bhutan, Thimphu has been undergoing a major transformation over the years with numerous developmental activities coming up in all corners. With various modern facilities and infrastructures in place, the city has been considered a safe haven for thousands of Bhutanese people who come here for education, employment and business. However, with the rising cases of senseless murder, burglary and robbery over the recent years, I think Thimphu is now losing the glory of its past. There are many people who no longer feel safe here today.
On a hot July day in 2003, Dhan Bahadur Subba and his friends were felling trees in the jungle of Gedu under Chukha Dzongkhag. They had got the contract work to supply timber. The 18-year-old Dhan Bahadur was cutting the trunk of a huge tree with a chainsaw while his friends were working on other trees nearby. However, what he did not realize at the time was that the vibration from his chainsaw was causing a half-dried branch straight above him to slowly break away. Then at the flash of a second, he heard a crashing sound as the branch snapped off and came down straight on him. The branch hit his head and knocked him unconscious.
Bhutan is largely an agrarian society with the majority of people depending on agricultural farming for livelihood. Keeping this in view, we can safely say how our farmers play an important part in deciding the future of our economy. They are the key segment of our population. Without them, the country’s economy cannot prosper. We constantly talk about food security and economic independence, but we often fail to recognize how much our farmers in the villages toil in their fields every day to help us realize these national goals. I feel they would be the only consolation for the nation in times of global crises or famine. If they do not do their job well, I think more than half the population of this country would go hungry. Those of us who live in the towns and cities may earn money from employment or business, but in times of economic crises, we cannot eat the money raw. Only during such times we would realize how our farmers can become our real saviors. The point I am trying to drive home is that what they do in their fields throughout the year is directly proportional to the economic prosperity of the country. Hence, every farmer in the village who toils in the sun and the rain round the clock deserves to be treated with equal dignity and respect like anybody else, if not more.
With the advent of television and internet in Bhutan in 1999, the digital contents and audio-visual media have been providing an efficient way for the general public to access news, information and entertainment in the country. The publishing sector delivers most of its contents through their websites while the audio-visual contents are delivered mostly through the national television. Although the emergence of new technologies and innovative practices have revolutionized Bhutanese media over the years, the issue of media accessibility for persons with disabilities especially the visually impaired people still remains. Prior to the era of television and internet in Bhutan, the BBS Radio was the most popular source of information and since it delivered audio contents, accessibility was never an issue for us. However, with the advent of television and internet services, people began to give more importance to graphic contents and as a result, we the visually impaired people began to fall aside. Today, with some information delivered only in graphics and without audio description, we feel we are deprived of our right to access information and entertainment on mainstream media. However, the lack of media accessibility is no longer a technical issue today. We have all the appropriate technologies in place that have the potential to make our mainstream media fully accessible and inclusive. Now the issue lies only with those people who have those technologies in hand. If they have the will, they have all the resources to make their contents fully accessible for persons with disabilities without compromising the quality.
As Bhutan celebrated the 109th National Day in Trongsa today, it was once again time for all of us to collectively reflect on what the country has done for us and what we can do for the country. The entire nation felt blest as we witnessed the three generations of monarchs: the past, present and the future kings gracing the historic occasion today with their presence. I unfortunately missed His Majesty the King’s live address to the nation on television, but I remained conscious enough not to miss the re-telecast of the address in the evening. As an ordinary Bhutanese citizen, I got deeply touched by His Majesty the King’s concerns for the country and its people. I even became emotional when His Majesty shared his noble dreams for Bhutan. Among so many important issues His Majesty highlighted in his address, here are two key messages that touched me the most.
On 3rd December 2016, Bhutan joined the global community to observe the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on the theme “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want”. This theme recognizes the role of these recently adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals in building a more inclusive society for persons with disabilities around the world. Unlike the past years when all the relevant agencies used to come together to celebrate the day, this year’s celebration stretched out to reach larger audience in different places as different agencies came up with their own programs and activities to observe the event. For instance, the Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB) and the Special Education Division of the Ministry of Education went to celebrate the day at Tendruk Central School in Sibsoo under Samtse Dzongkhag while the other Disabled Persons’ Organizations like the Ability Bhutan Society and Draktsho Vocational Training Center had a grand celebration in Tashi Taj Hotel in Thimphu. Likewise, the relevant institutes such as the Wangsel Institute for the Deaf in Paro, Muenselling Institute of Khaling and other inclusive schools around the country celebrated the day in their own locality with various exciting activities.