Yangyel Lhaden

Almost six months after the Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO), with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), established four businesses for persons with disabilities (PwDs), only a music school is operational today.

Prolonged lockdown has hampered the businesses severely.

A total of 45 PwDs were provided musical, tailoring, bakery, and candy manufacturing equipment to venture into group businesses.

Seven PwDs run the music school, Kuenphel Entertainment of Visually Impaired in Pamtsho.

Before the lockdown, the music school had about 30 students. Today, there are about three students.

The school not only teaches music, but also records songs, music, and composes songs.

A member of Kuenphel Entertainment, Sangay Kinzang, said that he was grateful for the support which made him and his friends independent. “We always wanted to teach music but couldn’t afford musical instruments.”

The bakery, Healthy Options, operated from November, but could not open after the lockdown.

Bhutan Stroke Foundation, which looks after the bakery, has decided to re-open the bakery only with reforms.

The bakery was supposed to be run by 15 PwDs, but only 12 decided to run and during the trial run, only six PwDs ran the business. They divided the income among themselves.

The Founder of Bhutan Stroke Foundation, Dawa Tshering, said that without a mentor to guide the members, it was a challenging experience for PwDs.

“They couldn’t work in team because they all suffered from different forms of disability,” he said. “Lack of capital and limited equipment was also a problem.”   

Dawa Tshering is planning to propose a monthly payment system to the members, promote brand Healthy Options with its standard packaging, and introduce a mentor to guide the PwDs for the bakery to work at its full potential to donor agencies.

A tailoring business, Lhagoe Tailoring, which started with five PwDs, has only two members today.

A member, Dorji Tamang, said that working in a group was not easy and it was discouraging when group members left.

“I am happy with the income and I plan to continue working here. I feel the need to pay my gratitude back to donors and DPO for setting up this business for us,” he said.

The candy business, Bhutan Centre for Disabilities, started briefly with five PwDs, but could not continue the business after the lockdown because it was labour intensive and PwDs had challenges in taking it up.

Sources also said the business was located on the third floor of a building, making it challenging for the members. “They also could not penetrate the market,” a source said.

DPO’s executive director, Sonam Gyamtsho, said that the prolonged lockdown has hampered the progress of group business as they couldn’t monitor it during the lockdown and  issues surfaced during the lockdown.

“We couldn’t impart soft skills such as living together and working together to the PwDs,” he said.

He said that PwDs generally faced socialising issues because they live isolated most of the time. “They require three times more support and we are looking for other alternatives to revive their business such as providing them soft skills, introducing a mentor, or a person to run the business with the requirement to employ at least some percentage of PwDs.”

Sonam Gyamtsho said that their dream was to see PwDs as entrepreneurs and taking charge of their own businesses, but they are still accustomed being employees.

Dawa Tshering said that among the 15 PwDs who completed bakery training, some are employed in Big Bakery of Draktsho, while some received support from other organisations to set up bakeries at their residence.

Some of the tailoring equipment recipients are also running businesses in their homes.

Bhakti Maya is tailoring at her home in Tsirang while Tshering Dema is also doing home-based tailoring in Haa.