Monday, November 25, 2013

One year later, movin' on

One year has passed since the terrible incident that nearly killed my wife.  One year since I had to drive back from Kalikhola in the middle of the night towards Thimphu - not knowing if my wife was still alive or how my two little daughters were coping up with the shocking incident. We don’t have maids or anyone besides us at home.

As the vehicle negotiated the endless curves up the foothills of Southern Bhutan passing by the Kharbandi Gompa I made a deal with the Almighty – and with myself. If my wife comes out of this alive, I would dedicate myself to work towards mitigating the menace from this emerging youth issues so that no one goes through what I was going through.

My wife survived albeit with a permanent damage to her inner ears that still bothers her. Nevertheless, considering what could have happened, and also after learning of some people I knew who had been through similar cases, my wife and I are more than happy to be given back our normal lives. We have no grudges against the assailants. We claimed no damages. We would like to believe it was an accident. They were drunk after all.

On the rescueChithuen Phenday volunteers
carry out 2-3 such rescues every night. Some
follow a 6-month rehabilitation period.
As for my deal with the Almighty and above all, with myself, I started working for the troubled youth through Chithuen Phenday Association (CPA) – an NGO involved with recovering addicts and alcoholics. The group is self-contained in terms of expertise, commitment and in getting things done and runs a rehab centre in Paro and a drop-in centre in Thimphu. Their only shortcoming is, very often, not being able to penetrate the bureaucratic wall and an increasingly indifferent society. While we boast of ourselves as a compassionate nation, there seems to be a deep and life-long stereotyping of people who have erred in life. It is unfortunate and ironic that it should take someone with a “status” to back them up and stand for them every now and then. I am happy to do that but I wish people just opened their hearts and doors to them.


My Teacher: My World? - Teaching isn't 
easy and yet the profession is so neglected. 
No Bhutanese has stayed long enough to 
become a professor nor has anyone moved
from other professions to become one. 
My association with CPA has made me realise that the problem of youth is not so much with the youth themselves. We have families who don’t take back their kids even after they are clean. Some treat the alcoholics and drug addicts like pests. So the problem is actually with the "normal" adults and with the rest of the educated urban elite that is becoming selfish, apathetic and complacent and even hostile to the less fortunate. Such a trend could kill the very essence of our nation – our Bhutanese-ness. That would in turn put our country into a very uncertain future. We have lost some of ancient neighbours to greed and disharmony that resulted in treachery. If we want to avoid their fate, we need to maintain our values of harmony, compassion and patriotism and pass those qualities to our next generation.

However, while with the CPA we were doing the cure - and thus short-term, I needed to get to the preventive aspects of the problem - the long-term solution. In other words, work with our normal kids so that they grow up as responsible and responsive citizens. And that’s one of the reasons that brought me to Kanglung. Figures show that this college produces half of the country’s university graduates plus many leaders.

A Place in the Sun - With my first semester 
students out in the Sun. Classrooms are 
cold besides being worn-out.
My choice of the college and my decision were not bad. I have come across two classes of 77 students on whom I pour my words of “wisdom” to shape them, first and foremost, into good human beings. Then as required by the university, I deliver the curriculum that would make them media persons. I also don’t waste any opportunity to deliver guest lectures to other faculties and clubs. I speak, sometimes ad nauseum, on age-old values, respect for elders, reverence for the King and love and compassion for fellow-countrymen. I am sure if they have these qualities, skills and knowledge and success would just follow and our country’s future would be bright. They will be leaders and not losers. They will be more empathetic to their fellow citizens.

I have often said that not much is actually wrong with our education system but everything isn't right with the way we are nurturing our next generation. As a matter of fact, we are not even nurturing them. Most of us are busy pursuing our own dreams, desires and drayangsMany are just struggling to keep up with the growing demands of the society be it in economic terms or with social obligations. The net result is that we are leaving the next generation to Korean movies, ketamine tablets and cough syrups.  This is what we really need to understand.

Life's looking up - The third semester group is quite lively 
and some are turning out to be good photojournalists.
By the grace of the kencho-sum and thanks to our beloved monarchs who have tirelessly worked for us, I am, like many of my generation, doing fine. But the unprovoked assault on my wife made me realise that it is not enough to raise your family in an exemplary manner. Someone somewhere is not fortunate or wise enough to do the same. We then end up with unsafe streets in our own Capital city where actually everyone is supposed to know everybody. Those of us, who can, therefore, need to work extra hard towards fostering the children of our own fellow citizens. In other words, our future generation.

How long will I do this and where would I get? Honestly, I don’t know. I know I am just giving a far shot and I may even be wrong in the analysis of the whole issue. But then it is deal I made with myself and opportunities also came along. And for now, I am having a fulfilling time with energetic and motivated students in Sherubtse who are happy to have me and who are very optimistic about their future. And a group of helpless, directionless and broken kids in Thimphu and Paro who have lost everything life has to offer – including hope.

And as Stevie Wonder sings in A place in the Sun, I will keep movin' on.

  Like an old dusty road,
  I am weary from the load,
  Movin’ on, movin’ on.

  There's place in the Sun,

  Where there's hope for everyone. 

On the first anniversary of that life-changing incident I  offered 108 
butter lamps at Kanglung Zangthogpelri. I have prayed that everyone 
finds the light out of any darkness - just as I have done.
Addendum:
I am currently an adjunct professor for media studies in Sherubtse College (Kanglung in Eastern Bhutan) and a member of the Board of Chithuen Phenday Association.


6 comments:

  1. Sir,

    Thought Provoking Article. The problem of youth related must be solved by society. It is heartening to know that you are making differences in someone's life. I salute you. Please keep going la.

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  2. Thanks. I am just trying.

    What we (adults) don't realise is that one day we will be gone and these problematic youth will be in our place. We are going on as if we are going to live forever and they would continue be young

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  3. I vividly remember (through your last article) how shaken you were due to this unfortunate and unprovoked incident to your wife. But you and your family fought through wise and hard enough to survive this cruel fate. It is more heartening to know that you have realized and 'made that deal' with the God to help those neglected ones, who creates disharmony in the society. I hope your wife recovers to the fullest and wish you best for your endeavors in helping others and make the difference through your distinguished experience!

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  4. Madam Deki of Early Learning Centre wrote to me this beautiful letter after that incident, which I printed and is pasted near my desk in my house in Thimphu. I produce the letter here. The second paragraph about education being a long-term solution really inspired me.

    ###

    Dear Sir,

    Along with many others, my thoughts and prayers go out to your family as you try to reclaim your life of normalcy … which, clearly, is not going to be easy. Yet, the sense of purpose with which you write, of a need for action to stem the tide of this madness that seems to have gripped our youth, is truly inspiring. As a teacher, and trainer of teachers, I’m learning every day that conflicts, though often unpleasant and challenging by their very nature, actually open our eyes to the possibilities for positive change that we were blind to, content in the complacency of our comfort zone. You’re not alone in this…we’re all guilty of it.

    I believe there is no quick fix solution to this. Instead, I am convinced that the answer, truly, is in education. I use the term, generically, as in education and awareness of the greater good that humanity is capable of, over its inhumanity. At the risk of sounding superfluous, to those who‘ve heard me say this more than a few times, the way forward in educating, whether for GNH or universal happiness , is through empathic means. It’s about educating with our hearts now if we are to find happiness as our larger, end goal. And in order to do that, we need a paradigm shift in the way we educate. Competition …. success …. I now see as fundamentally flawed in that they evoke the ‘selfish’ aspect of our human nature. The more we encourage this, to be ”better than all the rest” means that someone has to be less good than you for you to shine, or outshine the rest. Instead, we need to promote the habit of collaboration and cooperation in our learning so that ALL can succeed and reach their potential in an uninhibited, caring, atmosphere of mutual assistance and partnership. The disenchantment, clearly, comes from failure, if we can only understand that. This means that we need to reorient our learning environment and standards of practice to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to succeed in more ways than those laid out for us from a different time, space and sensibility to the realities that confront us today.

    At our school, we’ve tried to chart our own course towards the realization of this great vision through our citizenship programmes which we’ve named ProH4, YAC and DFC – the last of which, a global initiative, we’ve been named as country partner for, in Bhutan. All of them have, as a common thread, the idea of partnerships with other schools and organizations within and outside the country so that the learning is embedded in real world contexts. Because this is only meant to be a ‘comment’ on your piece, I hope I can email you the details of these programmes, founded on the principle of social responsibility. At ELC, we’re trying to put in common practice, the common sense ideas of good habits, good intentions, random acts of kindness, service and the attitude of gratitude if only because we see them to be equally integral to our learning process as the subjects we teach in the classroom.

    As difficult as it must be for you and your family, I know that this adversity can only make you stronger and more energized to live your lives to the fullest. My heart goes out to your daughters as I have three of my own.

    Take care and wish Aum a speedy recovery!

    ###

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  5. we are indeed very fortunate to have you with us and receive your words of 'wisdom' la sir.

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