COVER STORY: It is hot in Thimphu, the peak of summer. The sky is clear and the sun is burning. Despite the heat, however, a group of young people was seen singing an age-old ‘Om Sagla Mani’ as they pound the stretch of mud wall in an almost intoxicating rhythm.
The song echoes through the valley. It is believed that the traditional song is a prayer for all sentient beings, especially for those that live in the soil that is used to build the wall.
A few passers by stop and listen to these young people as they work and sing, while others simply drive past. Stark change in tradition is visible; it is palpable.
The group consists of Class X, Class XII and college graduates who are working for the re-construction of the traditional wall near the Trashichhodzong. They are here; it’s been almost two months. About 60 students were recruited for the work by the labour ministry.
Students are paid about Nu 450 a day for the work. They have to construct the mud wall in the traditional manner. So pounding goes on. Everything there is done manually.
Chhimi Dem, 20, is a class XII graduate and is from Wangdue. She has safety boots and gloves. She is covered richly in mud. For Chhimi, this is fun. She has found some good new friends.
“I am also learning new skills everyday, which will be asset when I look for a job in the future,” said Chhimi Dem. “Being a female, people ask me whether I can work in such conditions. But the job is not difficult like how others think,” said Chhimi Dem.
Chhimi Dem said that she was hesitant in the beginning to work. Now that she has given it a try, she likes it and finds it to be deeply satisfying. “We were all Bhutanese here. And once we get the hang of the job, it is interesting and full of fun,” she said. “Now I know what blue-collar job is. It isn’t all that bad.”
Chhimi Dem completed her class XII a year ago. She has been desperately looking for a job until labour ministry announced availability of such works. Chhimi Dem applied for the job immediately.
“Even my parents support me, and they are happy that I am contributing something instead of just wasting my time,” said Chhimi Dem. “I realised that it is simply a change of one’s attitude. Jobs are everywhere. We should have the heart to take them.” There is a happy smile on her face. She is happy that she chose to start her career this way.
Nowraj, 22, from Samtse calls Chhimi to help him to dig and put some fresh muds on the wall.
Nowraj completed his Class X some two years ago. He has the experience of having worked with a construction company in Bjemina.
The work is easy and we are paid well, said Nowraj. “What we realised is that if the pay is good, young people are ready to do all kinds work. I am happy that I am able to contribute towards nation-building process without any assistance from foreign labourers.”
Jokes fly and there is extraordinary fun here. Everyone knows his or her own duty. They know their goals. And, now, it is lunchtime. The group comes together and sit around packed lunch. They pass their food around in circle. Here, they share love, too. It is a big happy family.
The group resumes their work. They are all energetic and determined. A thromde vehicle stops by. Bottles of mineral water come down from the vehicle. It is a refreshment time.
But, there is no time to waste. No one seems to be willing to let time pass being useless. They are back on the wall, singing as loud and passionately as they can. They are sweating. But they don’t give up.
The picture is the same with a group of young people who are building a bridge at Hejo in Thimphu. This is a project conceived and carried out by Bhutanese entire.
Construction Development Corporation Limited heads the project. About 50 Bhutanese workers were recruited for the construction of the bridge in April this year.
One of the workers, Meto Selden, 21, is a class XII graduate. She did not qualify for higher studies. So, she decided to look for a job. She is now here among her friends, building the bridge.
“At first I wasn’t sure whether I could work in a construction site. But all works are mechanised. We have to do only some parts manually. It is very easy,” said Meto Selden. “I feel proud that I am helping build the nation my way.”
There were seven other female workers at the bridge construction site. Meto is not alone.
“Economy is bad and there aren’t jobs. We have not much choice,” said Meto Selden “I have come to understand the true and noble meaning of blue-collar job.”
Meto said that there are people who complain about not getting a job. She thinks this is because they are not ready to do the job.
Phuntsho Nidup, 29, is a Vocational Training Institute graduate. He said that it is simply people’s perception and attitude towards blue-collar jobs that really needs to be changed. “There is no job one can’t do as long as one’s attitude is right.”
A big change is now afoot. A group of young people has started a waste management initiative. Calling themselves as Youth in Blue, the group comprises of 10 young members. A graduate from Gaeddu College of Business Studies started the group.
The group has office at Changjiji, Thimphu. They collect all kinds of waste to sensitise the public about waste management and to create employment opportunities for young people.
“It’s a good indication that many young Bhutanese today are ready to take up a blue-collar job. Pay has to be good, however,” said a Youth in Blue member.
By Thinley Zangmo