On the sidelines of the 23rd Annual Dzongdag Conference (June 21 – 23), Dzongdags were granted an audience with Her Majesty Gyalyum Tshering Pem Wangchuck, the     President of the Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF).

“The future of the nation lies in the hands of our younger generation. It is, therefore, crucial that they live up to our high expectations and ensure the continued well-being of the people and security of the nation.”

These insightful and immortal lines of His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck got manifested in the founding of the YDF in 1999, and YDF went on to earn the distinction of being the first registered civil society organization in our country.

Since then, stirred, stimulated and steered by Their Majesties, many stakeholders viz. government agencies, individuals, UN and civil society organizations, including the YDF, have put in lots of time and energy in both supporting and highlighting Youth as an important ingredient in the happiness-driven development dynamics of our country.

With this short article, I hope to share some insights I received from this Royal Audience, which I believe could be useful in further creating, confirming and consolidating the nation’s common vision of guiding our today’s youth into beautiful, brighter, better and bolder adults of tomorrow.

Her Majesty said: “Youth must be given the Highest Priority. We have to invest in our youth. If we can help our youth of today and direct them on right path, we would face less problems in the future.”

Embarrassingly, I learnt for the first time that, even globally, youth started to receive priority only off late, which was also true in our context as evidenced by the fact that YDF has been struggling for the past 18 years to get the necessary technical expertise and fund support. At the same time, we were also delighted to hear the good news when Her Majesty remarked, “Finally, now we see a little ray of light at the end of the tunnel.”

More importantly, we also learnt that the challenges confronting our youth are compounding by the day, which is a matter of serious national concern. For instance, Her Majesty hoped that the rehabilitation center is empty at all times, but apparently it is not so as referrals are on steady increase. For instance, as of 2017, about 6,000 substance abusers were registered with Royal Bhutan Police according to Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority. More worryingly, the trend on substance abusers is steadily climbing over the years and more than 90 percent of these are youth. This trend has to be reversed.

So, it has become important and urgent that we all come together and put in our undivided efforts to combat these challenges.  Today, our nation is faced with following youth-related challenges – unemployment; substance abuse; deteriorating human values; deteriorating culture and tradition; crime and theft; suicide; poor sense of common national identity; rural urban migration, and others.

These problems might be overwhelmingly serious, but the good news is we can overcome them as Her Majesty confirmed: “If we all work together, help each other, we can realize any dreams. We have to be united in our common vision of Nation Building.”

With collective efforts and heavy dose of self-sacrifices, we can overcome any challenges.

YDF as a dedicated organization for youth is at the forefront in combating the above challenges in one way or other through their various educational, social and economic programme: Gakidh village; Y-VIA – Young volunteers in Action; Golden Youth Award; Rehabilitation Centers; Educational sponsorship to economically disadvantaged children and monks; youth participation and child protection, souvenir production (For details visit www.bhutanyouth.org)

Two noteworthy institutes related to youth development are in the pipeline. The rehabilitation center of today is being upgraded and renamed as the Royal Institute of Well being (Education and Research) (RIVER) which will cater to the victims of substance abuse, alcohol and reintegration program besides offering Universal Human Values workshops and provide opportunity for an experiential stay to those in pursuit of happiness. This institute will be also offering “Farmer Plus” service to interns and interested farmers from other Dzongkhags. This wonderful institute is idyllically located in a most peaceful natural setting in Chimidthang, Tselungnye. I thought the name of the place “Chimidthang” literally translated to “place of no death” or “ place of immortality” as gleefully shared by Dasho Pema Thinley, technical adviser, is a beautiful coincidence as it resonates perfectly with the objective of the Institute.

The second institute RADA – the Royal Academy of Design and Arts which will come up in Paro is another interesting Institute that will offer opportunities for young people to become designers and artists carrying the new brand ‘Wear to Be Aware’.

Our common mission as concerned citizens should be to invest time and resources in our youth. We have to nurture them, guide them and handhold them to grow into productive, good, happy citizens. We have to help them to bring out the best in them and develop them into our country’s biggest opportunities in the form of good people, productive people and happy people.

Her Majesty said, “When we talk of serving the Tsawa Sum, youth are also included. So we all should be united in our vision to ensure happiness of our Nation. We have to work together. We have to be united.”

Though youth was the over arching theme, I believe Her Majesty’s address touched upon some fundamentals of greater nation building. In the following paragraphs, I would like to share my takeaways, which is in no way anywhere near its entirety.

Her Majesty repeatedly highlighted we have to be UNITED for greater nation building. We have to have a common vision. We cannot afford to be disconnected. We are a small country with small population and cannot afford to have divisions and factions. We have to help each other. Though Her Majesty jokingly said, “We Bhutanese are endangered species,” I believe it has some truth and therefore to save ourselves from moving towards extinction, we all have to put in concerted efforts in flourishing our species by developing and strengthening our common national identity. This leads us to the realization of how important it is to preserve, promote and practice our age-old unique Bhutanese culture, tradition and values in our daily lives.

Secondly, Her Majesty highlighted the importance of teamwork and shared responsibility in pursuance to happier nation building.

Her Majesty advised: “We should never say – this is not my mandate.”

I could easily connect to this profound statement. It is quite common for us to be cocooned in the comfort of our so called given mandates. For instance, someone working in the Agriculture Ministry could stay completely unconcerned of a youth engaging in drugs right under his/her nose, simply for the reason that it is not the ministry’s mandate to control and counter substance abuse. And sometimes it could be also due to that particular youth not being directly related to him/her. This I believe is a serious case of shying away from the responsibility of nation building and a case of being blatantly irresponsible to fellow Bhutanese. We need to give a serious thought to such complacent habits and try to be an active force in nation building.

Regardless of backgrounds and whatever professions, we are all first Bhutanese – the upholders of the Tsawa Sum – the triple Gems. We are the Victorious Palden Drukpas (people) of the Kingdom of Thunderbolt Dragon (country) that is eternally guided by the Wangchuck Dynasty (King). This naturally concludes that the interest of the Tsawa Sum overrides all other interests, including personal and vested, which is echoed in Her Majesty’s advice, “Never say this is not my mandate…”

Thirdly, Her Majesty touched upon the importance of starting early with our children. This is so true as today’s children are tomorrow’s youth. Therefore, primary education that sets the foundation is very important. The quality and strength of the foundation can be only as good as the teacher, so quality of teachers is critical. However, this does not and should not undermine parents’ equal if not more role in children’s overall development. In fact even the best teacher in the world cannot substitute parents.

I want to share that as teachers are not allowed to use sticks to discipline children, I think parents have the choice to break this rule if deemed necessary. Spare the rod and spoil the child.

In concluding, Her Majesty said to the Dzongdags, “Now that we have met and spoken, I will not leave you. Clean up your Dzongkhags. Alcohol is our biggest menace. Stop drinking, if you do. We cannot say this is not our responsibility. It is everyone’s responsibility.”

Finally, I like to thank the Executive Director and the Management of YDF for giving us the chance to hear and listen to the loud, lucid and urgent call of Bhutanese youth and formally inducting us to answer their call. Let’s dream that in the near future, all Bhutanese youth will be Golden Youth Award Awardees.

“To ensure that our future is in the hands of responsible and productive citizens, YDF recognizes that young people are partners and important stakeholders in this development goal,” said Her Royal Highness Princess Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck, Vice President, Bhutan YDF.

Disclaimer: I am responsible for views and interpretations expressed in this article and sincerely seek apology in case of any misinterpretations and misquotes.

Contributed by Dorji Dhradhul

Dzongdag, Gasa Dzongkhag