Sonam Pem Tshoki

Unlike his usual winter holidays spent in Thimphu participating in events conducted by the Department of Youth and Sports (DYS) and Youth Development Fund (YDF), Tashi Yoezer, 13, had a different experience this year.

The class nine student of Lungtenzampa Middle Secondary School, who is from Paro, participated in camp ‘Rural-Urban Friendship’ (RUF) and enjoyed the exotic lower Kheng region from December 21 to 31.

Participants set off rafting on the Manas River

Participants set off rafting on the Manas River

He was amongst the 135 students, 61 from rural and 74 from urban schools in the country, who stayed in eco-lodges made of bamboo and banana leaves and spent the days participating in activities in and around Panbang and nights watching movies, listening to stories and dancing under the stars.

“It was a different experience in Panbang,” he said. “I enjoyed homestay the most and being with a family from the locality. They were kind and nice.”

Another student from Thimphu, Kinley Choden, 10, of Dechencholing Higher Secondary Schools, said she joined the camp after hearing wonderful stories from her elder brother, who participated in 2018.

Kinley was one of the youngest campers.

Born and brought up in Thimphu, she said she enjoyed her stay and experience in Panbang.

Camp RUF started in 2014 as a winter camp to enhance friendship among the young children of rural and urban areas and to bridge the cultural gap.

The camp was held in Panbang Primary School this winter.

The principal of Panbang Primary School, Kuenzang Tenzin, said volunteers including the cooks, teachers and other staffs from the school helped to construct the eco-lodges.

Young campers woke up at 5am and went to bed at 9pm every day and participated in activities designed to keep them engaged and to inculcate the spirit of teamwork and compassion, empathy, enhance the zeal to ask questions and seek adventure while also adhering to the moral values and staying connected to village life.

In this year’s programme, a grant was also introduced for underprivileged children to make the camp available to children from all over the country. The programme had the first two campers from Draktsho East. The campers also enjoyed rafting on the Manas River and jungle safari in Royal Manas National Park.

The Prime Minister’s ‘KC scholarship’ dedicated to the late founder Kezang Choden, was received by Sangay Kencho of Yebilaptsa Central School in Zhemgang this year. The scholarship started since 2018 and the Prime Minister sponsors the recipient’s education expenses till he or she graduates.

The campers promised to write letters and stay in touch with each other as the camp ended. The campers are currently doing a post-camp project called #soles4souls, where they will raise funds to buy 200 school shoes for underprivileged students around the country under ‘Project Chodrup’.