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America pivots south, to India. Could Bhutan be next?

Bhutan might not yet be on a U.S. president’s agenda but a much anticipated return visit to India earlier this week by U.S. President Barack Obama may signify that South Asia is, like Southeast Asia, finally getting some well-deserved U.S. attention as part of the so-called American rebalance – or what was once known as the “pivot” – to Asia. Who knows? Bhutan might be next.

That’s a welcome change as America and America’s policymakers wake up to the obvious, namely that there is more to Asia than China, and that an Asia strategy is more than a grab bag of programs seeking to match China’s efforts.

Yet, in his State of the Union address to the American public last week, Obama gave short shrift to Asia, while proclaiming past successes and outlining an agenda for further improving the U.S. economy.  “The shadow of crisis has passed,” he declared, “and the state of the union is strong.”

Pointedly, the U.S. president chose not to use his 70-minute, annual address, to explain what can be a critical part of his economic agenda. That is, increased engagement and strengthened trade relations with the entire Asia-Pacific region, including nations, such as India, that rarely make the U.S. headlines.  Too often, East Asia alone has seemed the predominant focus of the U.S. policy pivot eastward. Understandably, there might have been no mention of Bhutan, but there also was no mention even of his then upcoming visit to India.  Americans may well have wondered where their president had gone so soon after concluding his State of the Union address.

Now, fresh from India — the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited that nation twice — Obama has some easy explaining to do when he lands back in Washington.  Indeed, a real opportunity for expanded engagement is at hand, as ties improve between the United States, the world’s oldest democracy, and India, the world’s largest democracy.

U.S. State Department statistics about the benefits of U.S.-India trade provide a rationale and a context for why Obama was back in Asia, and in India in particular:

-U.S.-India bilateral trade expanded from $19B in 2000 to $95B in 2013, with U.S. goods exports to India totaling $35B, supporting an estimated 168,000 U.S. jobs.

-Cumulative Indian investment in the United States totaled US$9B in 2012, supporting 100,000 jobs.

-More than 850,000 Indians visited the United States in 2013, and more than one million Americans visited India, the largest group of international tourists.

-Approximately 100,000 Indian students, the second-largest group of foreign students, studied in the United States for the 2012-13 academic year, contributing more than US$3B to the U.S. economy.

With the International Monetary Fund expecting India’s economy to grow by 6.3 percent in 2015 and by 6.5 percent in 2016, outpacing that of China, there is good reason for the U.S. pivot to head southward, to India. These figures will grow if reforms take hold in India. And, Bhutan could well provide a gateway for some enterprises to India.

But, India should be only one part of comprehensive U.S. engagement with an Asia-Pacific region that is wary of China’s growing assertiveness, particularly in the South China Sea.  China is already engaged across the region, economically of course, but also through development assistance, cultural exchanges, and educational programs.

What might an expanded U.S. pivot to all Asia – a rebalance of the rebalance if you will – include?

First, the United States must embrace a “business pivot” that goes beyond the large China marketplace, and that looks to opportunities that exist in South Asia and Southeast Asia.  Already, U.S. investment in Southeast Asia surpasses that in all four BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China – and can be built upon. This would entail a concerted effort to “geographically rebalance” U.S. efforts across the region, with a particular emphasis on strengthening economic ties with India and Indonesia among others.  Longtime allies with which the United States has defense ties, including Japan, the Philippines and South Korea, must also be reassured that the United States is here to stay.

Second, the Obama administration and U.S. Congress must work to advance trade and commercial efforts that work for all involved.  A bipartisan effort is needed to ensure adequate resources for a trade policy and a U.S. Foreign Commercial Service that benefits small businesses, not just big multinationals.  Additionally, Washington must also set an example for the rest of the world by ensuring that intellectual property rights are protected, and that tax policies do not discourage business success by its own citizens, particularly American entrepreneurs, whether working directly in Asia or exporting product from America.

Third, U.S. companies must also do their part by acting responsibly in every market they operate.  This may well entail going beyond the letter of the law in such emerging markets in Southeast and South Asia as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, where regulatory deficiencies make it challenging to operate, but where U.S. investment and good practices can have a significant impact.

A central benefit of peace and stability in Asia—a stated goal of the U.S. rebalance to the region—is greater commercial opportunities throughout Asia. Trade and economic ties can be part of the means to a strategic solution in the region, and not just the ends.

State visits to India, State of the Union addresses, and participation in Asia’s annual array of summits may provide for beautiful photos, but what really matters is the hard work that follows.  America certainly matters to Asia, but building the support of the American people and U.S. Congress for strengthened economic and trade ties with not just India but the entire Asia-Pacific region — including the smaller nations of South Asia such as Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal – will also require U.S. leaders who are serious about also explaining and showing that Asia matters to America.


 Contributed by 

Curtis S. Chin and Jose B. Collazo


Curtis S. Chin, a former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, is a managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group. Jose B. Collazo is a Southeast Asia analyst and an associate of River Peak Group. 

18-man national squad selected

A monthly salary of Nu 10,000 a month will be paid only to those not on federation scholarships

Football: The Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) has selected an 18-man new national football squad, some of who will be paid a monthly salary of Nu 10,000.

The technical director, Chokey Nima, read the names of the players yesterday morning, in the presence of the players and BFF officials.  However, BFF didn’t want to share the team list.

The media spokesperson, who chose not to be named, said the new salary system  will bring more professionalism to the game.  Players were selected from football clubs in the capital, considering their technical, tactical, physical and mental skills.  The selection committee included international and senior coaches, and officials from the federation.

Five names are on standby.  Officials said those on standby are currently in colleges outside the country, but were on standby as they are good footballers.

Players, who are on scholarship from the federation, and who are kept at the federation’s academy, will not be eligible for the monthly salary.

Ugyen Tsheten, a Royal Thimphu college graduate, is a defender with the national team. “I’m very happy with the new system (salary),” he said.  “With such provisions, more will develop interest in the game.”  Ugyen added that, with a salary, footballers could make a living out of football. “Most parents didn’t support their children as there was no money in it.”

The media spokesperson said that they were looking for sponsors in countries like Japan and the United Kingdom to provide the players with better equipment and gear.  At present, BFF is funding everything. “The standard of football has improved, both in terms of skills and facilities. Today, people have started investing in the game, which is a positive sign for the future development of the game in the country,” he said.

The squad will start their first training as the national team today at the Chang Jiji football ground.   The team will be coached by the technical director of the federation, Chokey Nima.  He said that the team has been coached by several international coaches in the past. “I’m afraid whether I could train you all, but with team work and dedication, we can work miracles,” Chokey Nima told the new national team. “We can create history in Bhutanese football if we work together.”

The team’s primary focus at the moment is to prepare for the World Cup qualifying matches.  As of January 2015, Bhutan is placed at 209 in the FIFA ranking.

Younten Tshedup


Picture story

The Bhutan Archery Federation trained 19 sports and physical education instructors in Olympic style archery from different schools in Trashigang. The program is aimed at training youth for international competition.


Rehab first, detox later

The fight against substance abuse begins with prioritising between the two facilities

Drug: The absence of a national detoxification centre may weaken Bhutan’s fight against the growing issue of substance abuse, but without a rehabilitation centre, the country is unarmed to even begin the fight.

To address the increasing cases of relapse among drugs users and the number of people waiting for rehabilitation services after detox, the country needs a rehabilitation centre more than a detoxification centre, health officials said.

The issue of prioritising between two critical facilities has come at a time when the country, led by the Youth Development Fund, has just renewed its efforts to aggressively address the growing number of substance abuse cases.

“The main issue is a lack of a rehabilitation centre that has a capacity to take in more clients,” health ministry officials said.

Following a detox, which lasts for about 10 days, the hospital has to refer clients to a rehabilitation program, where they spend at least three months.  However, since the existing rehab centre doesn’t have the capacity to take all clients that are detoxed, the clients go home.

“Sending them home increases the chances of relapse, which is why we aren’t doing detox aggressively,” health officials said. “If we want to we can, but it’s not benefitting anyone.”

The need for a detox centre came up last week during a meeting among officials from YDF, health, police and narcotics.

It was learnt during the meeting that the health ministry had diverted the budget for the planned 50-bed detox centre in Gidakom to build the mother and child hospital.

The health ministry had given a Nu 80M budget to YDF to build the rehabilitation centre.

Why and how the health ministry decided to share its budget with a civil society organisation is not known, but the plan initially was to spend Nu 50M on the rehab centre in Tshaluna, and the remaining Nu 30M for another rehab in Kanglung, Trashigang to cater to the increasing number of alcohol dependents in the east.

The health ministry had prioritised a mother and child hospital over a detox centre, given the country’s high rate of infant and under five-child mortality. “We’re yet to achieve the MDG target in these areas, which was why we gave more attention to mother and child hospital,” health officials said.

According to them, the plan was to increase the existing 10-bed detox ward to 20 in the hospital, after shifting the mother and child services to the new hospital.  Also, since detox services were available in regional and district hospitals, and even in some basic health units, health officials said they decided to hold the detox center’s construction.

There are today five clients, including a female, who are undergoing detox at the hospital, while five females and 15 males are currently undergoing treatment and rehabilitation program at Serbithang.  Another 17 are also undergoing treatment at Samzang retreat centre in Paro, which is managed by Chithuen Phendhey association

Serbithang’s rehab manager, Loday Zangpo, said none of the 15 male clients undergoing rehabilitation are relapse cases but three, he said, are “judiciary cases,” referred by the courts.  Five of the male clients are referred from the three regional referral hospitals.

“Since we have limited beds, we can’t take in relapse cases,” he said. “Every month, we have about five to six clients on the waiting list.”

The rehab has 16 beds for males and eight for females.  When unable to take in clients, and if families can afford, the rehab refers them to India.  Most are sent to Siliguri, while some go to as far as Chennai for rehabilitation programs.

“In case of female clients, the turnover among youth is less and most of them are in their 30s,” he said, adding that most female clients are alcohol dependents.

Since its establishment in 2009 until last year, 216 male clients, 64 between 15-24 years, have completed treatment and rehabilitation program at Serbithang rehab centre.

From 2010 until last year, 71 female clients, including 19 who were between 15-24 years, have completed their treatment at the rehab.

Health ministry and hospital authorities agree that ideally there should be both detox and rehab services in place to address the problem better.

Psychiatrist at Thimphu referral hospital, Dr DK Nirola, said all hospitals should provide detox services to give quick intervention to patients, and then either refer them to a rehab or put them on medication.

“What we need to have in place depends on the demand,” he said. “One way to go forward is to allow YDF to have a detox centre, which can be run by health personnel.”

If the Gidakom detox centre had come through, there were plans to replicate the 28 days rehab program that is offered in one of Chennai’s rehab centres.  With 10 days detox and good counselling, the rate of relapse would drastically drop, he said. “But the problem is we don’t even have one qualified counsellor today.”

Sonam Pelden


Haa judge to preside over lhakhang Karpo corruption trial

UntitledLhakhang Karpo construction site (File photo)

No conflict of interest says Supreme Court

Judiciary: The Haa district court judge will preside over the lhakhang Karpo case after the Supreme Court Chief Justice gave the green signal in an order that will be dispatched today.

Chief Justice Tshering Wangchuk in his order said that there is no need for the judge to recuse himself from the case after a thorough study of his submission.

Conflict of interest cases should involve matters directly related to money or a family member.

“Further, the parties in the case have not raised any conflict of interest issue in the court,” the Supreme Court order said.

On the other hand, sending a judge from a neighbouring district to decide the case could incur huge expenses to the government as the litigants can’t be referred to other district courts.

The Chief Justice also said that the Haa district court being a trial  court could decide over the case meaning even if the parties are not content with its decision they could still appeal.

The Haa district judge, Duba Drukpa, verbally submitted to the Chief Justice that it would not make a difference for him and that there would not be conflict of interest personally.

The Haa drangpon asked for the guidance of the Chief Justice after the Office of the Attorney General filed criminal cases against seven individuals including the foreign minister, Rinzin Dorje, in connection with the lhakhang Karpo corruption case at the Haa district court.

In a letter dated January 26, ee asked whether him being dorji puen (religious sibling) of the minister would contravene sections 73 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code 2001, and section 111 of the Judicial Service Act 2007.

Section 73 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code 2001 on conflict of interest states that a case shall not be assigned to a drangpon who may have or be reasonably construed to have conflict of interests in the matter at hand.

“A Drangpon shall disqualify himself from participating in any proceedings in which he is unable to decide the matter impartially or in which he has conflict of interest,” section 111 of the Judicial Service Act 2007 states.

The Anti-Corruption Commission, earlier this month, said the conflict of interest issue while important to be addressed to dispense justice, could also be an impediment in the judicial system.

“It is possible that some judges might make some conflict of interest excuses and push the difficult cases on to other judges which would not be fair,” a judge said.

Judges also said besides there are higher courts to keep check and balance on the judges and their judgments, when appealed. If found, there could be consequences.

“Besides, parties to the case would point out should there be any conflict of interest for the judge in the case,” a judge said.

Tshering Palden

Youth head for bars …. not for a drink but for a cause

IMG_1148A youth volunteer speaks to a bar owner on responsible alcohol business and consumption

Advocacy: At a time when youth are being blamed for alcohol-related problems, seven youth have initiated an awareness programme targeting the source of alcohol.

Go Youth Go is on, what they call, a pleading campaign, where they visit bars in the capital city and advocate responsible alcohol business and consumption. “Youth are branded as alcoholics and drug abusers in our country, so we want to change this mindset and let them know we’re here for good,” Sangay Thinley, who initiated the programme, said.

The advocacy program is themed “We sell, serve and supply alcohol responsibly”.  The volunteers plead with all bar owners to strictly adhere to the 5-point alcohol service policy to create a harmonious twofold culture of responsible alcohol sale and civilised alcohol transactions between sellers and consumers.

“So far, we’ve been to about 250 bars, and the respondents were receptive and they respect our initiative,” Sangay said.  He added that the programme, being a youth initiative, got support, due to the amicability and friendliness in style of approaching the bar owners. “Had it been some officials from the government offices, I think the response would have been a different one because of the feeling of a possible raid.”

Migma Dorji, a bar owner in central Thimphu town, said that the programme was a good initiative and helpful for the sellers, as it reminded them of the alcohol service policy, which helps them refrain from any illegal business.

While carrying out the programme, volunteers also found out that several general shops and retailers sell alcohol illegally. “The shopkeepers don’t display wine bottles on their shelves, but they do sell alcohol secretly,” Ugyen Tshering, one of the volunteers said. “This hampers the business of licensed bar owners, because they can sell without having to pay tax.”

The volunteers are aiming to make the programme an annual event. “This might be a small initiative, but we believe that we’re doing something to help the society at large” a volunteer, Ugyen said.

The Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy, the health ministry and the World Health Organisation supported the advocacy programme.


Marginal food loss due to storage, say officials

The damage, counter to what agriculture officers claim, is around one percent

FCB: Despite storing food in warehouses that were built decades ago, and contrary to what agriculture officials said, food loss due to storage issues is insignificant, according to Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) officials.

For instance, FCB officials said, of the total 1,991.70 metric tonnes (MT) of food purchased last year, loss due to storage was one percent, which is 19.917MT. “The causes of loss are handling, storage and transportation,” an FCB official said.

All food commodities, FCB officials said, are susceptible to quality deterioration during handling and storage.  Food cereals are susceptible to infestation and damage by various storage pests.  Some food commodities have short shelf life and, if storage conditions are not appropriate, they are prone to fungal infestation.

“Prolonged storage of cereals and other processed foods also undergo chemical changes, like rancidity, and become unfit for human consumption,” officials said.

What the corporation lacks are modern storage facilities to prevent food commodities from being exposed to high temperature, humidity and high moisture.

The oldest warehouses could be roughly 35-38 years old. “The storage facilities are good enough, even if the structures are old; but they need to be improved,”FCB’s quality control officer, Dinesh Subba, said.

FCB has 22 depots across the country, ranging from limited to sufficient storage capacity, with a total capacity of 15,763MT.  The warehouse in-charges, according to FCB officials, are also well trained.

During a recent climate change conference in Thimphu, agriculture officials had said that the country’s food storage facilities needed fixing, since most of FCB storage facilities are old, causing a large portion of food loss during storage.

“But the country doesn’t have storage facilities for other food crops or of small capacities,” agriculture department’s deputy chief, Tenzin Drugyel, had said last week at the conference. “Or even if they’re being built, they’re small.”

Although not immediately, FCB officials said, they would construct more warehouses, since the corporation had begun supplying non-perishable food items as part of the central procurement system in schools. “We’re planning to build scientific storage facilities when we start construction of additional warehouses in future,” Dinesh Subba said.

By 2018, until WFP completely phases out, FCB will be supplying food supplies to schools across the country.  As of this academic session, officials said they have to cover 109 schools and expect about 5,000 to 6,000 students more under the feeding programme annually.

Besides the required items that FCB retail outlets are mandated to sell at a comparatively lower price, the corporation also maintains the national emergency food reserve and SAARC food reserve.

FCB officials said, as national emergency food security reserves, they maintain 1,400MT of rice, 200MT of sugar and 58MT of vegetable oil in strategically located depots.  For the SAARC food reserve, FCB maintains about 1,600MT of rice.

Emergency food reserves are stored in warehouses in Trongsa, Mongar, Samdrupjongkhar, Phuentsholing,  Khangma and Trashigang that has a storage capacity of about 300 to 400MT.  The SAARC food reserve is spread across FCB warehouses located in Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar and Gelephu.

By Kinga Dema, Phuentsholing

Too much chop and change

I’s an expressway!  No, it’s an urban road network.  Wait, It was a road link, but now it will be an expressway.

Confusing?  Yes.  But more confusing are the decisions authorities take to ensure the 6.2-kilometre long double lane Babesa-Thimphu road is safe for motorists and pedestrians.

In the latest development, at least in planning and not actually on the road, the Thimphu thromde has decided to remove the 11 speed bumps that also serve as zebra crossings.  Underpasses will replace them.  To start with, they will construct four.

The road, whatever name it may be called by, is becoming an epitome of planning mix-ups in the capital.  In the late 1990s, the government came up with a plan to build a double lane road that would give a grand entry into the capital city. The Thimphu-Babesa road link was born.  It took more than a decade to complete the road.  There was no official opening, probably to spare the blushes.

More than a decade later, we are still technically building the road.  Officials may call it improvement, but if every other year there is something being done to the road, it shows it is still not complete.  The latest development comes soon after the thromde, already cash strapped, spent about Nu 2 million in building the 11 speed breakers cum zebra crossings.

The bumps and the zebra crossings were a mess even before being built.  The road safety authority announced that pedestrians crossing the road anywhere but from the zebra crossings would be penalised.  That was before the road was marked.  Some un-pleasantries were exchanged between the authorities.  The marking of zebra crossings and speed breakers was not done first before notifying people.

With Nu 2M, we could have bought a waste incinerator to get rid of another problem the thromde is choked with.  The construction company that built the speed breakers will have the last laugh if they get the contract to build the underpasses.

Hopefully, the decision to build the underpasses will be the final decision and solve the problem.  The thromde cannot be blamed for the mess.  They took charge of the road from the roads department only in 2011.  By then, it was already a minor disaster.

It is wiser to leave the planning part to experts, but what is clear is there should be one lasting solution.  We cannot keep on breaking down wire meshes to be replaced by concrete structures and bring them down again.  The priority is smooth flow of traffic and safety for pedestrians.  It is not rocket science and our planners and engineers are well exposed to learn all the experiences in making a 6-km road safe and smooth.

It has almost become a cliché to say that, as a late developer, we learn from other’s mistakes.  What do we make of ourselves when we make worse mistakes?  The priority today is to make the traffic smooth and safe.  Hopefully we will not have to close the underpasses and build overhead bridges next.

Babesa road to revert to expressway

IMG_20150129_164216Pedestrians wait for vehicles to pass before walking over a zebra crossing below the Throwa theatre

The speed bumps/zebra crossings will give way to pedestrian underpasses

Thromde: In a move that may surprise many, Thimphu thromde will reconvert the Babesa road into an expressway, by removing the recently constructed speed bumps, which also served as zebra crossings, and replacing them with pedestrian underpasses.

The thromde plans to initially construct four pedestrian underpasses, costing Nu 10M each, on the Babesa road.  The underpasses are being funded by the Indian government.

They are expected to be completed by next year.

The move comes five months after 11 speed bumps were constructed on the road at a cost of around Nu 2M.  All 11 of these speed bumps will now be removed, but in a phased manner, as the underpasses are constructed.

While the thromde is still studying where these underpasses will be located, the Thimphu thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that the most likely locations might be under the flyover bridge, and in front of the Sharee Square mall, the office of the election commission, and the Tata vehicle showroom.

However, he added that thromde officials are still determining where pedestrian traffic is frequent. The underpasses will be constructed in areas, where more than one hundred pedestrians cross the road an hour.

Thimphu currently has two underpasses, one in front of the swimming pool complex and the other below Changangkha school, which are hardly used by pedestrians.  Despite renovations, pedestrians continue to prefer crossing the road instead of using the underpasses.

Given this experience, the thromde will pursue two measures to encourage pedestrians to use the underpasses on the Babesa expressway.

One will be a higher road divider than the green coloured fence that was removed just prior to the Indian prime minister’s visit to Bhutan in June, last year.  Work on the divider has already begun, as can be observed below the Lungtenzampa bridge.

The divider will also consist of a hedge of different kinds of plant species, and will be the height of an average person. However, thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said it would take a few years for the hedge to develop.

The thrompon also pointed out that a hedge divider would prevent headlights of vehicles from hitting the eyes of drivers coming from the opposite direction.

The second measure would be to make the underpasses more “people friendly”, the thrompon said.

He acknowledged that the two existing underpasses are not up to acceptable standards. “Like dungeons, dark, dirty and low,” he said, referring to the two underpasses.

The thrompon said that the underpasses, being planned for the expressway, would be larger, well-lit, have steps, and even ramps for the physically challenged.

On why overhead pedestrian bridges were not chosen instead, the thrompon attributed significantly higher costs, and technological challenges, given the longer width of the four-lane road.  He also said that overhead bridges would have been as high as five metres, which would have discouraged pedestrians from using them. “So underpasses were a better option,” he said.

With only four underpasses planned in the first phase, and a divider being erected, the question remains whether pedestrians wanting to cross the road in locations away from the underpasses will have to walk to the closest underpass or can still cross the road.

Thrompon Kinlay said that the removal of the speed bumps, also serving as zebra crossings, would be removed in a phased manner, so that pedestrian safety was not compromised.  He also said that that the distance people would have to walk to get to a underpass was being looked into.

He added that more underpasses could be added later, depending on utilisation and budget.

The thrompon also pointed out that, for the next few years, the thromde will be focusing on making Thimphu pedestrian friendly.  He said that the construction of footpaths, and even a few overhead pedestrian bridges, were being planned on a priority basis.

While the speed bumps received mixed reactions from the public, the traffic police recorded a significantly lower number of accidents on the road.

The 6.2km Lungtenzampa to Babesa road, formerly called the expressway, was approved by the council of ministers in 1999.  It was completed only in 2005.

By Gyalsten K. Dorji

From impaired to instructor

DSC00547Dorji Nedup

An inspiring story of a young boy coming up trumps despite being given a bad deal

Profile: Dorji Nedup is an instructor at Draktsho Vocational Training Centre for Special Children and Youth in Thimphu.  From Goshing in Zhemgang, the thirty-five-year-old is visually impaired.

Dorji lost his vision when he was 14.  He woke up one morning and could not see things clearly.  He was in the 6th grade.  His mother consulted lamas and performed rituals.  But nothing helped.  He had gone blind.

And then life took a different turn.  Dorji left school and stayed home, looking after cattle.  Relatives began mistreating him.  He never got a proper meal at home.  A lama in his village took Dorji in and taught him some things about religion, hope and patience.

Like Dorji, there are many who have worked their way through obstacles and landed a job somewhere to lead independent life.

Dorji had just come out of retreat and was listening to BBS radio.  There was announcement about admission at the National Institute for the Disabled in Khaling, Trashigang.  From Gelephu he went to Khaling, where he studied for six years.  Financial problems got him back to the village.

But Dorji wanted to make something out of his life.  He went to Panbang in Zhemgang to learn how to tshazo (bamboo work) and headed straight to Thimphu to make a living with whatever skills he had.  That was in 2006.

“Life in Thimphu wasn’t what I thought it would be like,” says Dorji.  He put up with a friend.  And then he learnt about Draktsho Vocational Training Centre for Special Children and Youth.  Jigme Wangmo, the founder and director of the centre, took Dorji in as an instructor.  Since then, he has been teaching both academic subjects and vocational skills at the centre.

Draktsho helps children with disabilities to be independent.  It was established on October 2, 2001.

“Now this is where I belong. I’ve always wanted this kind of life,” said Dorji.  He is always with his 18 students at the centre.

In the mornings, Dorji teaches academic subjects – English, Mathematics, and Dzongkha.  In the afternoons he teaches vocational skills like weaving.  He uses Braille and takes out a copy each for 18 students.

“We all have difficulties here. That’s why we can connect to each other,” says Dorji. “It’s challenging. But challenges are what drive people to move ahead.”

Dorji Nedup said that the special children at the centre were intelligent and hard working.  That makes his job a lot easier.  Dorji thanks his supportive colleagues, who help him with whatever he needs to do at the centre.

“I enjoy my profession. I must thank my wife for this,” says Dorji.  His wife, who worries about Dorji every second of her life, drops him at the centre and comes to pick him up in the evening.

Says Dorji: “Being a father of two daughters, I sometime feel really sad. I’m not able to do to my daughters what other fathers normally do to their children. But I want to give them the best of education. Only then will I be satisfied.”

Shifting with unfocused look, Dorji says that all the schools in the country should teach Braille, at least in the initial years. “This will not only help normal children understand more about special children, but also help them deal with future.”

Tshering Dema