Bhutan and Canada marks 20 years of relations this year. Deputy Canada Ambassador to Bhutan Amanda Strohan is in Thimphu to introduce new Canadian Fund for Local Initiative (CFLI) projects, and explore education collaboration. She talks to reporter Jigmi Wangdi. Excerpts. 

What are the new CFLI projects?

We implement CFLI projects through local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and we’re working with four different CSOs this time. We have four projects this year for a total of CAD 150,000. The projects range from governance among community-based organisations, sustainable agriculture and water preservation to democratic governance and civic engagement and skills training for people with disabilities. So, they cross a number of themes including gender and inclusivity, climate and democratic governance.

As Bhutan prepares to graduate from the LDC group, will Canada still be a partner in Bhutan’s development? What is the future of CFLI?

Absolutely. What I can say is that you can continue to count on Canada to stand by Bhutan. We have a strong established friendship and we will continue to work together both in the field of education and broadly across the themes supported by the CFLI projects. So, I see a bright future for the CFLI programme in Bhutan.

How will the education collaboration be?

Canada and Bhutan have a long history of collaboration in education. This year we are celebrating 20 years of diplomatic relations but our relationship goes back many decades. It has been largely founded on education. In the 1960s, Father William Mackey from Canada was invited to Bhutan to help set up a secular secondary school system. In the intervening years, dozens of Canadian teachers have come to teach in Bhutan and there has been a number of collaborative projects on education. There were certain actors like our Honorary Consul Nancy Strickland who have continued the charge in supporting education in Bhutan and the Bhutan-Canada Foundation is now continuing to support education.

On this visit, we had the opportunity to visit the Zorig-Chusum Institute and the Technical Training Institute, Thimphu. We also hope to engage more later this year in the field of technical and vocational education and training. We continue to be engaged in education and as much as we have broadened the relationship to many other things, it is still very much founded on the principles of education in Bhutan.

What were other things discussed during your meetings with various officials?

We talked about a number of things. I have met a variety of officials from the government. I have also met former ambassadors who were assigned to cover Canada and we talked about how to move the relationship forward – how to broaden our engagement and how we can continue our bilateral engagement.

One of the things we are looking forward to this year is for Canada to host the second set of bilateral consultations. The first one was held in Thimphu in 2019 and we were delayed by the pandemic. The second one will be in Ottawa in Canada later this year. We have had the opportunity to have a wide range of conversations around education and skilling, and the future of Bhutan as well as the potential for Canadian businesses.

Anything else you would like to add?

Yes, because I wanted to make your readers know that we are holding another mobile biometrics session here in Bhutan, in about a month.

One of the things that were raised during our first bilateral consultations was the challenge Bhutanese students face when they want to apply for a visa to Canada but they had to go to another location. I am pleased to say that we held our first mobile biometric collection in November last year and did the biometrics of 66 individuals. The next one will be conducted from June 5 to June 9. They will need to preregister in order to have their biometrics taken. They can do the biometrics here and won’t have to travel to another country to do it.

Another project that was first conceived in 2019 is the government’s request to Canada to consider being a part of developing the mining industry in Bhutan. The project was kept on hold owing to the pandemic and we are happy we will be able to re-launch the project now. We’ll be part of developing a framework for governance and best practices in the mining industry. This is another area of collaboration outside of just education. It will be a technical assistance partnership so there will be some implementing partners who will help deliver the expertise from Canada.