Dedicated to graduates of the 38th batch and to all DeSuups
In February 2018, a massive forest fire in Paro threatened the extant historic establishments of spiritual importance such as the Sangchen Choekhor, Choechotse and Taktshang (Tiger’s Nest) monasteries, besides damaging thousands of acres of forests. Foresters, armed force personnel, villagers and volunteers fought the fire for almost a week. His Majesty The King Himself was based at the Sangchen Choekhor monastery for a few days to oversee the fire-fighting works.
One night in the aftermath of the fire, I was having a conversation with my brother, a school principal in Paro, who was also involved in the fire-fighting. “Of all things, I was really impressed with the DeSuups”, he said. “Their sense of timing, discipline and readiness was amazing”. He narrated how the DeSuups reported ahead of time every morning, well equipped, and how they engaged in fire-fighting with immense sense of duty. “It’s quite different and far better compared to how we civilians do things. Now I understand why our King started DeSuung”. He remarked in appreciation.
DeSuung, meaning “Guardians of Peace”, is the brainchild of His Majesty The King to promote the spirit of volunteerism, the positive influence of ethics, and the values of community service, integrity and civic responsibility in society. Since its launch in February 2011, 4,457 DeSuups have been trained in the 37 runs of the DeSuung Integrated Training Program (DeSuung website). As you read this article, close to 2,500 trainees of the 38th batch, mostly teachers, are graduating from seven training centres across the country. They will join fellow DeSuups to supplement the work of existing personnel working in various capacities across the country in combatting Covid-19.
Adorned in their standing orange uniforms, DeSuups across the country can be seen everywhere during both good and bad times – scenes at major national events, festivals, religious congregations, natural disasters, reconstruction projects etc. will be incomplete without our men and women in orange. And in a pandemic situation like today that is threatening the peace, security and prosperity of the nation, DeSuups were in action from the very beginning supporting in myriad capacities from loading and unloading goods to helping health workers in quarantine facilities, and from screening people at entry points to carrying out surveillance and patrolling our towns and borders. Their contribution is tangible and visible, apparently filling out voids which would otherwise result in delays, inefficiencies and costs to the State and to society.
Guided by the DeSuung Honour Code, the DeSuups “keep service to their nation before their own safety and comfort”. During the 112th National Day celebrations in Thimphu last year, DeSuups reported to the Changlimithang ground at midnight to ready themselves for management of the thousands of people who would turn up at the national stadium to witness the historic celebrations and to listen to His Majesty The King’s address to the nation. The stadium was full, hours before the program was to start, and thousands of people were stranded on the roads, in the parking lots and at various gates looking for ways to enter inside. While we comfortably settled into our seats, we saw the DeSuups in full swing, helping the police manage and control the huge crowds.
While thousands witnessed live, the arrival of His Majesty in the grand chipdrel procession, the spectacular thang-ra-dewa and marchang ceremonies, the Royal Address to the nation and a variety of exciting programs, DeSuups could be seen moving all around the packed stadium, ensuring that everyone was comfortable. They miss much of the day’s proceedings which they could only watch on television at the end of the day despite having been at the venue much before anyone else. These are moments of sacrifice and unsophisticated anecdotes of how DeSuups live up to their core values.
During the fateful Wangdue Dzong fire in June 2012, when His Majesty The King was personally coordinating rescue operations, we saw how DeSuup volunteers came forward to support His Majesty and the soldiers. Six months later, during the Pel Dechok Khorlo Dompai Wang in Punakha, where over two hundred thousand people congregated for the blessings, one would vividly remember how the DeSuups helped in all aspects of service delivery and crowd management- from cooking meals to serving hundreds of thousands of devotees, from assisting traffic personnel to helping children and elderly cross the bridges, from clearing trash to maintaining surveillance.
DeSuups have created such a good image of the institution of DeSuung and built tremendous goodwill and rapport with the public. Indeed, the mere sight of DeSuups gives one a sense of comfort and reassurance. In them, we see manifestations of a King’s vision, hopes and aspirations for our nation and people. And the DeSuups know that well, that is why they proudly put the prefix “DeSuup” before their names, particularly on social media profiles. On the official DeSuung Facebook page, a DeSuup wrote thus: “I am proud to be a DeSuup and I think as a DeSuup you will be a complete Bhutanese”; one could almost hear his mind out.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, “stay-home” is either an advice or an order to which compliance is sought. The DeSuups are in defiance, with their social media profiles carrying this message: “I am a DeSuup and I can’t stay home”. Inside is not where they should be, not certainly in the current times, so feel the DeSuups.
DeSuups have become a household name in Bhutan for the good work that they have been doing. And especially in the current times where the need for trained, professional volunteers is increasing by the day, the word DeSuups is on tip of the tongue for planners and decision-makers; sitting in a Covid-19 Task Force, I can say this safely. I should also say that the sense of gratitude and appreciation towards them is immeasurable from different quarters. His Majesty spoke so fondly and highly of the DeSuups during a recent visit to Phuentsholing after His Majesty personally saw the hard work they are doing on the frontline, supporting health workers and law enforcement agencies.
The spirit of service and volunteerism of our DeSuups transcend borders in times of need. In 2015, upon the Royal Command of His Majesty The King, some DeSuups went to Nepal to help during the earthquake there. “A significant moment for DeSuung was the voluntary assistance to the victims of the Nepal Earthquake, as part of Bhutan’s Earthquake Relief Medical Unit, which operated a self-sufficient district hospital in Nepal for several weeks. DeSuups were also part of the first-ever Bhutanese Medical Response team during the Nepal earthquake on 25th April 2015.” (The Bhutanese, December 2016) This gesture of support and solidarity generated a lot of goodwill and appreciation for Bhutan beyond our borders.
Also, from 12-18 November, 2018, during the Moenlam Chenmo (the great prayer ceremony) conducted by His Holiness the Je Khenpo in Rajgir, India, some 120 DeSuups helped manage the crowd and supported health officials of His Majesty’s Kidu mobile medical unit in providing emergency medical services. “The medical team, supported by DeSuup volunteers will provide same services during the special prayer ceremonies at Bodhgaya from November 19 to 23”, Kuensel had reported.
That DeSuung has redefined the concept of volunteerism and community service is evident from the popularity of DeSuups in the country, and the huge number of people who are apparently interested to register for the program. In the DeSuung Facebook page, I read comments from aspiring candidates proposing that the qualification requirement to undergo the DeSuung training be lifted. When registration for over 2,500 slots for the upcoming 39th batch training was opened a few days ago, I believe the seats were taken within hours. Indeed, the DeSuung website crashed because of the unprecedented number of people rushing to register themselves. This speaks volumes about the success of DeSuung.
Bhutan has always been blessed with the visionary leadership and selfless service of our Monarchs. DeSuung will be amongst the many legacies of His Majesty The King’s reign to strengthen the peace, unity and security of our country. As we congratulate and salute those who graduate today, we share their sense of pride and accomplishment; after all they are a part of a vision in realization.
(Views expressed are that of the author)