Community: Recognizing the village of Menchari as one of the least developed communities in Samdrupjongkhar, the Samdrupjongkhar Initiative (SJI) of the Lhomon Society, a civil society organisation (CSO) is attempting to turn it into a model Gross National Happiness (GNH) village.

The project was implemented in December last year to commemorate the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo and to celebrate the philosophy of GNH.

The intention is to turn the village into a self-reliant and sustainable community. Other goals include sustaining the value of traditional knowledge and age-old wisdom, ensuring nutrition and food sufficiency at the household level and the creation of income-generating activities, among others.

Ten months into the project, the impact on the community is evident. But officials said much still needs to be done.

Menchari in Orong gewog has 23 households where villagers still live in thatched bamboo huts with roofs made of banana leaves.  The village is an hour’s walk from the Samdrupjongkhar-Trashigang highway.

The standard of hygiene, nutrition, health and sanitation, was found to be poor in the community according to the project’s officials. In addition, community harmony was also on the low side and alcoholism was ravaging the community.

Most of the villagers did not prioritise agriculture and preferred to work at construction sites. Most of their earnings were spent on alcohol. No one bothered to save money.

Twelve young college students from the Gaeddu College of Business Studies and College of Natural Resources along with SJI staff were involved in carrying out the project. They lived with the community for about a month.

The interns created awareness on alcoholism, bookkeeping and financial literacy.

Today each household has better bathrooms. A vegetable group has been formed and better agricultural practices are being pursued.

The consumption and brewing of alcohol has been reduced.

A farmer, Tenzin, said that earlier it was compulsory for each farmer to bring alcohol to any occasion such as a visit to a neighbour’s home or even for regular meals. But today, alcohol is not offered anymore.

The villagers are also now bookkeeping in an effort to save money. Each villager maintains an accounts book where daily earnings and expenditure are recorded.

“We expect in the long run that our village will develop. We’ve learned so much,” Changlupay, a farmer, said. “We’ll work hard to follow them because it is for our own benefit.”

Project coordinator Sonam Tshering said development programmes are designed together with the community and local officials. “The project is not only sustaining the positive impact but also recognising the importance of GNH’s intrinsic value,” he said. “It is challenging but worth pursuing.”

Yangchen C Rinzin | Orong