Yangyel Lhaden

Karma Wangda was a victim of bullying. His peers used to make fun of his physical appearance and family background. Teachers weren’t of much help as he was a naughty student and nobody took him seriously. This made him depressed.

When he grew up, he realised it was not only him who suffered bullying. To make a difference and advocate anti-bullying, he started a youth group called Generation Y- Youth (GYY).

“In an age of bullying, gossip, slander and hatefulness (which can destroy a teenager’s self-identity), young people need other young people who can lift them up, encourage them and challenge them in all the right ways,” Karma Wangda said.

The group has visited schools in 14 dzongkhags advocating anti-bullying among the youth. Due to the pandemic the group is advocating about cyber bullying and awareness about bullying on their Facebook page.

GYY is not alone. There are youth groups in the country working for different causes. There are 15 youth groups registered with the Young Bhutan Network (YBN). Druk Clean Pledgethon (DCP), Young Advocacy Network Bhutan (YANB), Nazhoen Jangsem Tshogpa (NJT) and Team Change are some of the groups.

There is a common theme that led the youth to form groups. The hardships they faced. Therefore, the groups engage volunteers from diverse backgrounds- students, school dropouts, and unemployed.

Tshedrup Dorji and his group is trying to find out the root cause of problems youth face. He said that youth faced problems as they were not provided prior skills, not socially included with adults in the decision making process and not meaningfully engaged with policies and opportunities in the country.

He resigned from civil service and formed YANB along with three friends in 2018. “With this initiative I hope to consolidate the potential of young people to bring positive change through advocacy and meaningful engagement in all policies and programs related to young people.”

Druk Clean Pledgethon’s  vision is to unite Bhutanese to build the world’s largest druk green pledge. The group aspires to use DCP as a platform to achieve zero waste by 2030. 

Team Change is based in Samtse. The founder, Kinzang Dorji is a class 10 dropout and a farmer. The improper waste management system in his village- Sangaychhoeling concerned him. Team Change manages the waste in rural places of Samtse. “Rather than leaving all the responsibility to the government, we can take the initiative to do what we can do in our capacity.”  

To build a sense of responsibility and ownership, the group volunteers in various projects in Samtse.

Nazhoen Jangsem Tshogpa focuses on religious work. The group with 42 members helped build the Namgay Khangzang Chorten this year in Phuentsholing in collaboration with Truelku Phuntsho Namgayl. The group is currently distributing Sangay Menla statues to schools.

The founder of NJT is a class 12 graduate. To meaningfully engage other youths like him in six months break after class 12 and his interest in religion, he started the group.

Youth groups fighting tooth and nail

Sustainability is a problem. The group seeks sponsorship and some groups ask minimal membership fees. Karma Wangda dreams of GYY becoming a non-government organisation. He wishes to earn from what he does. Karma Wangda used up his savings he earned from working in tourism for his campaign.

Tshedrup Dorji said that National Youth Policy had been in place for last 10 years but only on paper. “With increasing youth groups there is a need for clear policies and plan for youths to access economic, socio-cultural and technological resources. Otherwise, the groups are vulnerable to become liabilities in the community.”

However, many organisations are optimistic to work with young-led organisations, Tshedrup Dorji said. Organisations like the EU-Helvetas Bhutan, UNICEF Bhutan, Youth Development Fund, Bhutan Foundation and Global Network of Religion for Children had been helping the youth groups.

Team Change first formed to volunteer also realised they needed money to cater their services such as fixing dustbins, and refreshment to volunteers. “Without any fund, we started selling scraps. Due to the pandemic, the group is collecting scraps to sell once the borders open,” Kinzang Dorji said. The group would continue rendering volunteer services but take up scrap as a business to sustain the group, Kinzang Dorji added.

Kinzang Dorji said that money was one problem and another thing was not having clear policies to function.