Chimi Dema | Punakha

Pema Jamtsho from Laya usually spends his winter vacations looking after horses in vacant paddy fields and temporary camps in Punakha valley.

Like many other residents of Laya who migrate to low-altitude areas during winter, Pema Jamtsho spends about three months in Punakha every winter with his grandparents.

But this winter, the 14-year-old was engaged in a camp of a different sort.

The grade Vll student of Laya Central School attended lessons of arts and crafts, music, entrepreneurship and weather and climate forecasting, among others during a five-day winter camp organised by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Khuruthang, Punakha.

“I learnt about climate change and its impact on the Himalayan mountains that are closer to our homeland through this camp,” Pema Jamtsho said. “In fact, I have felt the impact of climate change as our region is becoming warmer over the years.”

The camp, he said, had also introduced him to a few climate actions and adaptation strategies.

“I have become familiar to some Japanese words as well as and made new friends,” he said.

For another participant from the same school, Karma Choki, it was an opportunity for her to visit Punakha after five years.

Aspiring to join the police force one day, she said she enjoyed listening to sessions on human rights, children community, and their protection more than other issues.

The winter camp, which is mainly for highland children, brought together 40 students from classes VI to IX of Laya Central School and 16 youths from Khuruthang Youth Center.

The programme coordinator from JICA Bhutan Office, Noriko Komikawa said that highland schools remain closed much longer for winter breaks due to snowfall and severely low temperature compared to the schools in the lower lands.

These long winter breaks, according to her,  may affect highland children in obtaining academic knowledge and skills, physical fitness, aesthetic sensitivity and creativity.

“Therefore, the JICA office wanted to support the highland children and conducting such programmes is one of the ways to support them,” she said.

Noriko Komikawa also said that she personally felt it was an opportunity for the students to interact with foreigners.

JICA Bhutan office hosted the same event for 32 students from Lunana Primary School, last year.

Unlike last year, the organiser brought multi-stakeholder partnerships, involving more Bhutanese individuals and institutions that include Green Road, Construction Development Corporation Limited, Royal Bhutan Police and Bhutan Fablab, among others.

Representatives from international non-governmental organisations including WFP, UNICEF and UNDP also gave talks during the event.

The participants attended sessions on health and physical education, arts and crafts, music, martial arts,  customised lectures on the sustainable farming system, waste management, machinery and construction.

Given that supporting highlanders was one of the priority areas of Bhutan, JICA representative Kota Wakabayashi said that he hopes to continue contributing to this agenda in the future.

He also said that such interactions with the highland schoolchildren helped them learn the ground realities in the lives of highlanders.

The camp ended on January 24.