It started with a teacher and her friend whitewashing a choeten (Stupa) in Lungtenzampa.

Today, with volunteers joining the cause of whitewashing choetens especially in remote areas, the group has whitewashed 130 choetens in Thimphu, Paro and Chukha.

The teacher of Loselling middle secondary school, Sangay Wangmo said the initiative started on November 11 last year when they whitewashed a choeten and dedicated it to the long life and wellbeing of the Kings, people and their families. “My friend and I took the help of scout volunteers and decided to complete whitewashing 108 choetens.”

The group completed whitewashing 11 choetens during the initial two months but had to stop due to financial constraints. However, they restarted their effort as a community-based scouts (CBS) initiative during the schools’ summer vacation, which helped them mobilise youth volunteers from across the country, mostly CBS. Soon volunteers from other working sectors also joined them.

Sangay Wangmo said the group is targeting choetens in remote places as some had been left unpainted for over 20 years.

The group moves from one place to another whitewashing and doing minor repairs on all the choetens in the vicinity. Volunteers are currently working in two groups, one in Thimphu, which Sangay Wangmo is leading and the other in Paro lead by the group’s coordinator Tandin Tshering. There are about 30-40 volunteers in each group.

Sangay Wangmo said that apart from the benefit it has on the community, such initiatives would instill the spirit of volunteerism especially among youth, develop physical as well as spiritual skills, engage youth meaningfully during their leisure time and would develop values of preservation and protections of choetens in them.

She said the youth portrays dedication, interest and willingness for such a cause especially with the encouragement and support given by the community.

A volunteer Phelpo said, “I volunteered thinking that although I cannot do big things own my own, this way I can at least help a bigger initiative in my own small way.”

Sangay Wangmo said the group does not face any problem in obtaining materials but faces difficulties in finding transportation and finding choetens. “Since most volunteers are visiting the place for the first time, it is difficult to know where the choetens are.”

To tackle the problem, the group hires a vehicle or arranges one, and seeks the help of the gup, tshogpa or a villager to locate a choeten.

The group gets their volunteers through word of mouth and social media forums such as Facebook and Wechat.

A volunteer, Amrita Rai said, “I heard of the initiative from a friend of mine, and my friends and I decided to come as a group.”

To motivate the volunteers, the group is also planning to award certificates of recognition after they complete whitewashing 108 choetens.

Sangay Wangmo said that their initial plan was to whitewash 108 choetens but the group will include all the choetens in the country in the second phase of the project that will be led by CBS.

The group gets funding in terms of materials like paint and brushes and money mainly from Japan, Australia and in-country donors.

Karma Cheki