While diplomatic relations between Bhutan and Korea was established in September 1987, the KOICA volunteer office in Bhutan was started in December 2019 in Thimphu. Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) is a governmental agency of the Republic of Korea (ROK) founded on April 1, 1991. KOICA Program Coordinator in Bhutan Eunkyoung Koh talks to Kuensel about its plans and activities 

KOICA Bhutan World Friends Program office in Bhutan is one year four months. How has the journey been so far given the Covid-19 pandemic?

We started our office with the first batch of volunteers ( four) in December 2019. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all the volunteers had to return to Korea which temporarily stopped all-volunteer program all over the world. 

We’d like to express our respects and appreciation to the leadership of His Majesty The King for the success in combating the pandemic. Since the KOICA office in Bhutan is a volunteer program office and has not yet become a country office, our first initiated project in response to COVID-19 was the donation of Oxygen Cylinders worth USD 50,000 for the three regional referral hospitals through the Ministry of Health in June last year. We also handed over Test Kits from Korea on behalf of the Embassy of Korea in Dhaka worth USD 400, 000.  In addition, KOICA Alumni Bhutan (KAB) with support from KOICA also donated Nu 585,000 to the national Covid-19 relief fund. 

Korea for a long time has helped in the development of Taekwondo in Bhutan. What were the other areas of cooperation? 

The volunteers who returned back to Korea from Bhutan were working as instructors for Korean language, health and physical education, chef and baking. We have also received many requests from the education, health and agriculture sectors including a request for Taekwondo coaches. 

Since 1991, KOICA has invited around 600 Bhutanese government officials and private individuals from various fields such as agriculture, TVET, education and youth development, health, gender, police, infrastructure, the film industry and environment through KOICA’s Fellowship program called  Capacity Improvement and Advancement for Tomorrow (CIAT). 

Korea is known for its make-up artists (beauty industry). Has there been an exchange of knowledge or training in that sector? 

We have not yet explored support in the beauty industry, but we have supported the capacity building of the members of the Bhutanese film industry since 2015 under the Country Focus Training. This partnership with Bhutan has been further extended for another three years starting 2021. 

Our volunteer program is based on the request from the government, and we will be very happy to dispatch volunteer for the beauty industry if we do get any requests.

Going forward, what are some of the areas of priority?

Our priorities are what KOICA’s core values stand for – “People, Peace, Prosperity and Planet” which is in line with the priorities of the Royal Government of Bhutan. Our office is still a volunteer program, and we would want to bring in more volunteers with expertise in diverse fields and look forward to strengthening our partnership with the Royal Government of Bhutan, the Civil Society Organisations, development partners and the private sector. We would want to support the country by enhancing human resources in many development fields. 

Anything else you would like to add? 

This year marks the 30 years Anniversary of KOICA and we look forward to building our partnership with the Royal Government and the people of Bhutan.  KOICA remains committed to contributing to the realisation of the comprehensive Sustainable Development Goals by incorporating the 17 goals into our plans, strategies and policies which are very well aligned to Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan.  We will assist the Royal Government of Bhutan to achieve the SDGs and ensure that we reach every section of the society.