MAIN STORY: At the Swimming Pool Complex in Thimphu, a group of children between the ages of six and 15 are practising for the upcoming inter-school taekwondo competition that will be held this month.
It’s 5pm. The children are sweating and panting as they practice their kicks and punches. From time to time they shout.
In her white dress, looking like a character out of Karate Kid, Karma Wangmo has been practising taekwondo for the last four years. She is one of the many students in Thimphu who are engaged in one or more extracurricular activities after school.
Sweat running down her forehead, the 13 year-old said that she has been coming for the practice everyday.
“I have a first degree black belt, dan one. I hope to reach the next level after the competition,” Karma Wangmo said. She receives good support from her friends and family.
“My parents are very proud of me because I have been doing really well both in studies and sports,” she said. “I wish to continue with my taekwondo practice.” She goes right back to practise, kicking and moving around swiftly.
Head coach Pema Choki, 34, said increasing number of children are taking part in extracurricular activities. The most popular among them all is taekwondo.
“Most parents are of the view that just sending their children to school is not enough. They want to engage their children with different activities outside school,” said Pema Choki.
She added: “Taekwondo helps develop stronger self-esteem, a strong sense of discipline and concentration. It improves a child’s strength and balance because taekwondo is about kicking and balancing one’s weight. This helps one strengthen their muscles and improve coordination.”
Pema Choki thinks that engaging in sports is also a good way for children to use their free time. Otherwise, young people could choose to indulge in abusing drugs and alcohol.
Tenzin Choden, a mother, thinks the same way. “Instead of letting my son spend endless hours in front of television or playing with mobile phone, I thought it would be good for him if he is made to engage in some productive activities.”
Parents should learn the importance of scheduling their children’s time with regular classes at the school and also with extracurricular activities outside the classes, Tenzin Choden said
And just above the Swimming Pool Complex, at the Youth Harmony Village, is Kilu Music School. Formed by a group of parents in 2005, Kilu Music School is a non-profit organisation that is run by the volunteers and parents.
Desel Pek Dorji, 13, is learning classical piano. She loves music and had been coming to the school for the last eight years.
“Music teaches me how to be more patient and it helps me cope with different emotions,” she said. “We don’t learn how to cope with our emotions in schools.”
Desel, who is already a pro with Bach, Mozart and Beethoven pieces, said that her parents have been encouraging her to take music lessons because music keeps her engaged during her free time.
Kevin Hull, 20, who has been playing piano all his life, is a music tutor at the school. He said music transcends all languages and cultures.
“When children learn music at a young age, it helps their brain development and it helps them turn into a better adult,” Kevin Hull said. “I urge parents to send their children to study music and keep them meaningfully engaged.”
Thinley Namgyel, a parent, drops his daughter to the music school during weekends. “I have often wished that there were more after-school activities for children, especially during vacations,” Thinley Namgyel said. “I hope there will be more avenues for children to learn art, music, culture, literature, lifestyle and sports.”
New avenue are opening up, indeed. For parents and children who are interested in fashion, there is ramp walking and grooming sessions to help them become models. Started in 2012 by Project Bhutan, a modelling agency in Thimphu, ramp walking and grooming sessions has become a new favourite for many children.
Creative head of the agency, Sonam Dorji, said the grooming classes includes table etiquettes, public speaking, still shoot etiquettes, video shoot etiquettes, acting skills, talent run and ramp walk.
“More than a hundred students has participated in the sessions so far,” Sonam Dorji said.
Grooming classes are popular because it focuses on developing one’s personality and gaining confidence, Sonam Dorji said. “Most people have the notion that we are exploiting our culture and exposing children before time, but it is not that. Our ultimate focus is personality development and making them become a strong person.”
Grooming classes are held every year. The recent event held by Project Bhutan was Season 3, which included mothers to ramp walk with their children.
“This shows how supportive parents are and we are happy to provide such platforms,” he said. “I assume that parents are sending their children to us because they trust us.”
Karma Delma, 39, is a parent who sends her children to attend different extracurricular activities such as dance and grooming classes during the weekends and school holidays.
The benefits of sending children to attend extracurricular activities are many, Karma Delma said.
“There’s no doubt that children become confident. More than that, children develop different life skills and learn to work in team.”
Such activities help boost their studies and helps them achieve a balance in their lives, she added.
By Thinley Zangmo