Yangyel Lhaden 

Bhutan is not a very friendly country for persons with disability. This is the general observation. There have been improvements over the years, though. But, certainly, more could be done.

The Bhutanese education system has done well to make education inclusive. But the persons with disability need more than formal education. How can they become independent, productive, and contributing citizens otherwise?

The pilot project called “Understanding, Developing, and Supporting Meaningful Work for Adults with Disabilities in Bhutan: Networks, Communities, and Transition”, managed by Royal Thimphu College, University of Birmingham, and the University of Minnesota is trying to bridge this gap through micro grant.

One of the principal objectives of the project is to empower people living with disability so that they are able to lead an independent and productive life.

The Nu 50-million project, funded by the UK Government’s Official Development Assistance Global Challenges Research Fund, will run until 2021.

Principal Investigator, Dr Matthew Schuelka from University of Birmingham, said that the project was important for Bhutan where transitioning youth with disabilities from school to adult life was a major challenge.

The grant is an intervention activity. Persons with disability aged between 16 and 30, living in Bhutan, can apply for grant up to Nu 50,000. Ten individuals are expected to benefit from the grant. However, depending on application, the amount and number of individual could increase.

The grant will support employment and other social and economic activities, including capital for start-up, school fees, transportation costs and related costs.

Sonam Tshewang, grant coordinator, said that the grant would be applicable even for needs such as student wishing to buy a laptop as they transition from school to college. Oversight of grant recipient would be undertaken by the project coordinators on a weekly basis for duration of six months.

According to Bhutan Vulnerability Baseline Assessment 2016, people living with disability faced discrimination at work places. Lack of disabled-friendly infrastructure at the workplaces was another significant problem.

In January this year, 18 Bhutanese, including teachers from special schools and organisations went to University in Minnesota for personalised training on youth with disability.

Sonam Tshering said that the model was successful there which could be replicated in Bhutan.

Sonam Tshewang said that the model was inspired from College of Community Integration in the USA.

He said that the State Government of Minnesota had strong system of supporting people with disability with  personalised plan and system to make persons with disability independent.

“In the long run, we see this happening in our country too,” Sonam Tshewang said.