Wednesday, March 14, The Avenues mall in Kuwait, the largest shopping mall in the country is bustling with shopaholics from across the world.

Of the total 800 stores, Starbucks and H&M are some of the busiest joints at the mall. Here at these stores many Bhutanese have made their mark by gaining much appreciation for their professionalism and friendly personality.

Tshewang Penden is one of the Bhutanese working at the mall. The 27-year-old is a shift supervisor at the Starbucks outlet at the mall. Caught between endless orders, Tshewang Penden still manages to get all the orders right and at the same time promote the new products at the outlet.

Language, he said was one of the biggest challenges faced by Bhutanese working in Kuwait. “However, since most of the customers speak English there aren’t much issues.”

As a microbiologist student, Tshewang Penden said the theoretical knowledge on sanitation and hygiene he learned during college comes in handy at work. “My work is all about dealing with food so my degree comes as an advantage,” he said.

Another Bhutanese, Tshering Dema, has been working in Kuwait for more than two years now. After failing to find a job in Bhutan, the 28-year-old found a glimmer of hope when the labour ministry decided to send Bhutanese jobseekers overseas to work.

Tshering Dema was among the first batch of Bhutanese to be recruited under the overseas employment programme of the labour ministry in 2015. She began her career as a sales associate with M.H. Alshaya, a multinational retail franchise based in Kuwait.

Today Tshering Dema works as an assistant store manager at Bath and Body Works, one of the 800 stores at the mall. “The experience so far has been enriching and rewarding,” she said. “It’s been three years already. I think I’ll stick around for some more years now that I’ve got the hang of this place and work.”

Kuensel met with five Bhutanese all working under M.H. Alshaya at The Avenues mall. Apart from occasional work pressure, all of them shared that it was an opportunity filled with learning, exploring new lifestyle, culture.

Twenty-four-year-old Ugyen Lhamo who joined the franchise with the American Eagle brand in 2017 said that the post of a sales associate was not what she had in mind when she graduated from Gaeddu College of Business Studies.

“But with no job opportunities in our country I decided to take up this opportunity to explore new culture, make new friends and have a new experience altogether,” said Ugyen Lhamo. “Although I don’t have any complaints, it is discouraging at times when customers look down upon us since we are sales associates.”

She said that there are workers with qualification lower then them (degree) but placed at a higher position than them at the work. “However, this only means that there is only one way to success and that is by working sincerely,” she said. “Everyday is a challenge but at the same time it comes with new learning and experience.”

The Bhutanese Kuensel met with shared that since they were recruited through the labour ministry, there were no issues of harassments or whatsoever. However, they acknowledged that a few of their friends who were sent through private consultants (those now registered with the labour ministry) were facing some issues including irregular payment.

Kuensel learned that the Bhutanese working in Kuwait including those who had come privately were in contact on the social media application, WeChat.

Meanwhile, the five Bhutanese shared that working in Kuwait was financially rewarding. Most of them said that when they can they save about 150 Kuwaiti dinar (KD) that is approximately around Nu 32,000 at month. At times it takes two months to save this much, one said.

Tshering Dema said that in the last three year she had sent home around Nu 0.5 million .

According to the labour ministry, a total of 456 (143 male and 313 female) are working under M.H. Alshaya in Kuwait alone. The first batch of Bhutanese who left to work in Kuwait was in 2015.

About 1,000 Bhutanese are currently working in the Middle East in countries like Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Younten Tshedup | Kuwait