Neten Dorji  

Lhuentse: Sonam Tobgay, 27, stands as the lone youth potter in Gangzur, Lhuentse.

After completing Class 12, he faced the crucial decision of whether to continue his studies or venture into the pottery business. He chose the latter, bringing hope to the people of Gangzur in preserving traditional arts, which are gradually fading across the country.

Sonam Tobgay acquired his pottery skills while studying at Lhuentse Higher Secondary School. With enough experience, he chose to stay in his village to safeguard the traditional pottery skills, a decision he doesn’t regret.

Reflecting on his early interest, Sonam Tobgay served as a Pottery Club Coordinator in school, fully embracing pottery after completing Class 12 and learning from his mistakes.

Trained by master artists Aum Zam and Tshewang Choden of Gangzur, and closely working with two village artisans, Sonam Tobgay has evolved into a full-time and skilled potter.

The journey wasn’t easy, though, as being a youth entrepreneur comes with financial challenges. Sonam Tobgay ventured into full-time pottery business eight years ago, supplying products to Lhuentse, Mongar, and beyond.

Monthly, he makes a profit of about Nu 40,000. Despite societal discrimination, Sonam Tobgay takes pride in being the only youth pursuing pottery skills in the dzongkhag.

“People look down on the profession. Some even ask what am I doing with mud after completing 12th grade?’” Sonam Tobgay said.

Undeterred, he views pottery as a transformative skill acquired through training, changing his life entirely. Today, he earns more than some public employees, selling pots for Nu 350 or more, and makes a monthly income ranging from Nu 30,000 to Nu 40,000.

Sonam Tobgay is now a proud son supporting his parents, having become the main financial supporter for his family. Coming from a disadvantaged background, he had to give up education due to financial constraints but is now financially independent and proud entrepreneur.

With his work, Sonam Tobgay aims to revive ancient traditions and explore modern pot designs. The pottery business is thriving, supported by organisations like Tarayana Foundation, which provides market linkage and regularly purchases crafts for sale at their fairs in Thimphu.

While many young people opt to study abroad, Sonam Tobgay chose to utilise his skills in his village, emphasising the importance of skills alongside education in the 21st century.

Sonam Tobgay’s commitment ensures the continuation of traditional skills, and he expresses a desire to pass them on to those interested in learning traditional arts and starting their own businesses.