Main story: It’s vacation. Fifty-four students from Thimphu and Paro are gearing up to meet fifty-four students from Wangdue at the Camp Rural-Urban Friendship (RUF) this winter.
The week-long camp is being held at Samtegang in Wangdue. It began from December 22.
Bringing together students from rural and urban places into one platform, the camp’s objective is to educate the students by instilling a sense of responsibility and ownership in whatever they do.
Founder of the camp, Tenzin Dorji, said through cultural and experiential learning such as sharing the same food, living under the same roof and by exchanging indigenous knowledge, the students are able to learn Gross National Happiness values.
“Students are able to learn about empathy, compassion and love. The camp aspires for national unity and thus promotes His Majesty’s vision for youth empowerment. Through this camp, we hope to bring out a holistic development to awaken good human nature in these students,” Tenzin Dorji said.
The camp was born out of Tenzin Dorji and his late wife Kelzang Chhoden’s hope of bringing children from urban and rural together during a winter camp after they realised how different rural and urban children were in terms of their perspective and curiosities in life.
It started in 2014.
Since both of them were teachers, they felt the importance of bringing children from two different worlds together. They realised the importance of bridging the differences or at least make students learn from each other’s differences through their friendship.
Today, the camp has grown bigger and has touch many lives. “This wasn’t what we expected when we initially planned it,” Tenzin Dorji said.
“The camp has become bigger than our love story. It never fails to bring immense joy when I see a smile on the children’s faces or when I see how the experiences and lessons from the camp have changed the way they view the world,” Tenzin Dorji said.
More than that, the camp has managed to bring about life-long friendship between the students and the staffs, Tenzin Dorji said. “They have managed to develop an authentic relationship and some still share letters to each other to this day. I never imagined that students will connect to each other this way and I’m happy that we are able to provide such platform to experience life-transforming experiences.”
To make the experiences even more enjoyable this winter, students will be staying in rural homes under Nisho gewog in Wangdue, Tenzin Dorji said.
“Students will be placed in each homes and will help the house owners with their daily chores such as cooking, dish-washing, fetching firewood, feeding cattle, gardening to cleaning their home. If need be, we are also going to build toilets for the house owners. In this way, the students will be able to fully experience this way of life. This is the first time we are organising a home-stay activity in the camp,” Tenzin Dorji said.
During the camp, the students wake up at 6am and go to bed by 9pm. In the day, various activities are held to help student stimulate and initiate their meta-cognition for an understanding of life, Tenzin Dorji said.
“The activities held at the camp are well researched and planned by the facilitating team, which includes principals, teachers, education researchers, and other long-time educators,” Tenzin Dorji said.
The most important aspect of the camp is that each student from a rural area is matched with a student from urban area. They are called as friends (charos) and write to each other before and after the camp. In this way, they begin to understand their differences and similarities, and develop a life-long friendship, Tenzin Dorji said.
“The camp provides real opportunities for the students to be compassionate and empathetic, open-minded and curious, honest and appreciative of one another – the very values that grounds the camp in its vision and purpose,” he said.
Karma, a student of Thimphu Primary School, who attended the camp last year, said he has many heart-warming memories of the camp.
“I still miss the smiling faces at the camp and I hope I can participate in the coming years. I hope the urban students are taking part in the camp because one can learn so many things about the rural way of living,” Karma said. “I hope the camp remains as a happy and loving place.”
To ensure that the camp remains always a fun place for the students, the volunteers at the camp working as coordinators, facilitators and caregivers consists of people working in different organisations and backgrounds such as teachers, principals, artists, actors, researchers, health workers, NGO and CSO officers, filmmakers, producers, media personnel, and recent high school and college graduates.
“Even if my late wife’s vision remained unfulfilled during her lifetime, I am happy that her noble idea became a reality,” Tenzin Dorji said.