Main story: At a time when employment is scarce, fifteen young people came up with a cooperative in Haa last year. Today, the Haa Valley Cooperative produces local cheese and butter, which is supplied not only in Haa, but also in places around Thimphu.
The cooperative employs three graduates. One of them is Chencho Lham. The 29-year-old heads the administration section. Today, she is waiting for people to visit their office as a part of Gakyed Gatoen – Festival of Happiness that kick-started in Thimphu, Paro and Haa since January this year.
The month-long festival, organised by the Department of Cottage and Small Industry (DCSI), gives an opportunity to locals and tourists to experience how the different small businesses function and also to enjoy hands-on experience in creating some of the products. While doing so, the visitors have to pay a nominal fee only to get exciting souvenirs and tasty refreshments. The festival is bringing together 85 entrepreneurs from the three dzongkhags.
Chencho Lham’s team has yet to see their first visitor but the team is prepared to receive visitors any day.
It was last year when Chencho Lham and her team started the cooperative and the business has never been better.
We started the cooperative to give employment to young people in Haa and also to help our farmers, Chencho Lham said. “In this way, we will be able to generate economy to our farmers and help them promote local products such as cheese and butter. Such festivals are important for small businesses like ours to be able to find a market.”
The cooperative plans to employ more youth in time so that young people in Haa don’t have to go to other places to look for a job.
For Tshewang Dem, owner of Tsejor Ezay, a tourist from India visited her shop in Thimphu a few days ago. The visitor got to experience how ezay (Bhutanese pickle) was made and what kind of ingredients went into making these spicy delicacies.
For Tshewang Dem, who has been in the business of making ezay for the past decade, said such festival is important because it promotes an understanding and appreciation of their business to the visitors.
“When people experience and understand how ezay is made, they value our work and they realise that it’s not an easy job. Instead it takes an immense amount of hard work and dedication,” Tshewang Dem said. “People complain that the price of local products are high but after visiting our shops, they understand and appreciate us for undertaking such business.”
When a customer visits her shop, one will not only understand how the business works but will also get to share personal stories. “It’s a heartening way to get to know new people and also help them appreciate our business.”
Tshewang Dem has been a recipient of Woman Entrepreneur in 2013 and also received the best Loden entrepreneur in 2015.
DCSI’s Industries Officer, Sherub Zangmo, said the festival is a part of the decentralised hands-on programme exhibition (D-HOPE), which has been initiated to develop the local economy through enhancing the self-confidence and increasing the incomes of the local communities.
“Decentralised hands-on programme exhibition takes place at the individual location of the entrepreneurs as a part of their daily business affairs without having to travel with products to centralised locations,” Sherub Zangmo said. “It gives the participants an opportunity to earn additional income and also helps in promoting their products and services while customers can appreciate and participate in the process of production.”
The festival is held to give an authentic experience to the visitors. The festival will showcase the locals and tourists how and what it takes to bring the various end products into the market. There are a wide range of programmes such as culinary tasting, painting, craft making, ezay and thukpa making, and learning about natural dye among others, Sherub Zangmo said.
“The objective of the project is to train government officials, civil society organisations and enterprises on the community development approach, which is well established and known as D-HOPE in Japan, which was introduced in the country. Through D-HOPE, people can go to production sites, see and enjoy hands-on experience in producing products or services with the various entrepreneurs listed in the catalogue,” Sherub Zangmo said.
In this way, it promotes development of cottage and small industries, particularly home-based entrepreneurs and further contributes towards community development and revitalisation of tradition and culture, Sherub Zangmo said.
The festival is an outcome of a three-year project on community entrepreneurial capacity and rural enterprise development, implemented by DCSI with technical support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The festival started last year where it saw around 67 entrepreneurs from Thimphu, Paro and Haa.
From next year, there are plans to incorporate more dzongkhags and we hope to cover at least half of the dzongkhags in the country, Sherub Zangmo added.
Meanwhile in Paro, Dechen Pem, is busy setting up her Tea boutique shop, probably the first of its kind in the country. She hasn’t received any visitors yet.
With the Tea boutique shop, Dechen Pem hopes to revive the healthy tea drinking culture in the country with the exotic tea she imported all the way from Kolkata in India. She promises that visitors won’t be disappointed with the beautiful packaging and even tastier tea.
“Participating in the festival is a perfect way to advertise my new business. Now that many Bhutanese are conscious about their health, I hope they would visit my shop to experience not only tasting but making tea as well,” Dechen Pem said.
For a visitor to receive such hands-on experience, one has to pay Nu 250 and will not only get to taste but take away souvenirs as well.
Although the festival ends in February, these entrepreneurs will be available if one is interested to visit their businesses in the coming months as well.
The catalogue about the festival is available in shops, hotels and restaurants in these dzongkhags. The catalogue provides information of the festival – about the programme providers, the programme on offers, time and location, price and how to book in advance. The festival celebrates and pays homage to the people working in the cottage industries.