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Making a GNH country

Lhomon society was founded in 2010 in an effort to put Gross National Happiness development into action through community-based projects.

The society is based in Samdrupjongkhar and focuses on its project, Samdrupjongkhar Initiative (SJI).

The society was founded by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche and was formally registered with Civil Society Organization Authority on February 27, 2012.

Project director Cheku Dorji said that the work was started and continue to exist based on belief, value and enhancement of the local people’s potential.

“Since its inception, SJI designed its work plans considering partnerships, aiming at value addition and not competition,” he said. “We emphasize on education, integration and well-being at the household level, acknowledging local wisdom and traditional knowledge systems.”

Cheku Dorji said that the society exists to motivate local and community groups to take the initiatives and to take full ownership of their actions. “To this end, SJI keeps local authorities and partners fully informed about all its activities.”

Lhomon has initiated organic agriculture in the dzongkhag to enhance food security, self-sufficiency, and income generation opportunities in a sustainable way through the implementation of climate smart farming practices.

In order to achieve goals to revive and promote traditional methods, to create model farms and lead farmers, to promote local produce, and to establish community seed banks, the society is working towards preserving traditional practices and enhancing the organic agriculture practices through training, awareness, and providing expert support to the local community.

To reduce waste at the source and to increase income generation opportunities through responsible and sustainable waste management practices, the society has initiated projects such as zero waste model villages, zero waste festivals, and zero waste craft groups.

Skills such as shoe repairing, tailoring, zero-waste crafts and other skills based activities, Cheku Dorji said, would provide livelihood opportunities as well as promote the understanding of the value of such activities for a self-reliant community.

Under Lhomon education project, founded on the recognition that all posses basic goodness, the society aims to develop GNH-based education programmes that can inspire the evolution of education, and which engenders confidence in the country’s cultural heritage.

Cheku Dorji said that the society is developing a full GNH curriculum at Chokyi Gyatso Institute which can be replicated in other dzongkhags. “We work for an education that empowers and reverences contemporary knowledge and traditional wisdom by embedding self-reflexive education components in our initiatives.”

The society also conducts mindfulness camp for teachers, local leaders, and youth.

The society is working on a pilot village to build genuine GNH villages by implementing the holistic and sustainable core of SJI practices in Menchari village.

The pilot village aims at achieving holistic development, integrating a wide range of social, economic, environmental, and human dimensions to improve the well-being of the people. It also aims to encourage the locals to participate in decision-making, establish food security and self-sufficiency, promote culture and traditional knowledge, foster a cooperative, productive, entrepreneurial and self-reliant spirit, and to stem the rural-urban migration by providing opportunities for youth.

The society provides training and opportunities to youth by providing support for initiatives that enhance self-confidence and entrepreneurship, to empower the new generations to find purpose and dignity of labour.

The society, however, faces challenges like global consumerist culture, food security, changing perverse job values, limited organisational capacity, and lack of stable and diverse funding base.

Cheku Dorji said that the global consumerist age poses serious challenges to SJI’s work as it runs contrary to SJI’s ethos.

“Bhutanese are not immune to the individualist and materialist values that increasingly dominate societies worldwide, and that are continuously fueled by access to television and the internet,” he said. “The adoptions of seemingly convenient and easy food choices are leading to a lifestyle and value system change.”

The dominant civil service desk job ethos in Bhutan, he said, is leading to  shortage of skilled blue-collar workers such as plumbers, electricians, and tradesmen. “In Samdrupjongkhar, communities search for these services across the border, and rural-urban migration is seen as a solution for a ‘good job’ in the capital.”

Cheku Dorji said that this makes it difficult for SJI to attract educated, skilled, and experienced staff to rural Dewathang to train the community members.

He said that GNH means greater self-reliance, with communities taking responsible initiatives to improve their well-being, standing confidently on their own feet, and reducing dependence on government and foreign aid. “This is core to the “good governance” pillar of Gross National Happiness, and in addition, it furthers the building of democratic culture in Bhutan. SJI transmits the message that democracy means more than just voting once every few years.”

Karma Cheki

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