With every traveller that sets foot in Bhutan for the first time, it’s not unusual to hear them share about experiencing an almost reverential sense of peace that transcends into a lightness, the desire to absorb the kingdom’s raw beauty overwhelms, and a heartfelt promise to return.
Just ask Jade Seah, who flew to the Land of the Thunder Dragon in January 2018. Back home later, one post read “It's a little tough settling back into Singapore city life after my week long escape to the very magical Bhutan – post-travel blues hitting hard”.
Perhaps supermodel slash actress Sheila Sim (she went with thespian Chen Hanwei to film #老友出走记) says it best.
“Many people's been asking me if they should go to Bhutan. My answer is YES YES YES! Many places can give you material happiness. But Bhutan truly in a country for spiritual and mental enlightenment and awakening. I'll be back, that's for sure!”.
We fully understand, because this too was how we fell in love with Bhutan – and ever since then, our sincere desire to introduce Bhutan to the world.
Bringing Bhutan to the World
For a kingdom that opened its doors to tourism in 1974 and received television and internet links only in 1999, its present worldwide presence is admirable, due in part to current fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s efforts. A lot rests on the Oxford graduate’s shoulders, since Bhutan remains the last of the once-independent Buddhist Himalayan nations, and is geographically a mere tiny landlocked country sandwiched between India and China.
The forward-thinking democratic country has been making much progress – measured first by their famous Gross National Happiness index, then followed by Gross Domestic Product. Still, as with all developing countries, much can be done to forward progress.
And that’s where we hope to be able to play a part.
The Power of Giving back
Today, all of Druk Asia’s travellers fill in online reviews at the end of their trips – but it’s no ordinary feedback. Once done, S$25 automatically gets donated to their choice of one (of four) beneficiaries.
The Gyalyum Charitable Trust (www.gyalyum.org) has become the voice of Bhutanese women, youth and children – especially the disadvantaged and marginalised. Set up by Her Majesty Sangay Choden Wangchuck, the Queen Mother of Bhutan has been a strong advocate of social issues for over 20 years. Seeking to go down to the grassroots levels, the Trust is split into five charities that together educate and empower these precious lives, while simultaneously helping to preserve Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage.
RENEW for instance offers counselling and legal aid to victims of domestic violence, where those in urgent circumstances may also find refuge in Gawailing Happy Home. Elsewhere, the Gyalyum Scholarship Programme reaches out to the neediest of families – especially those in remote districts – so as to practically support the future of the Kingdom to continue with higher education.
VAST (Voluntary Artists Studio, Thimphu; www.vast-bhutan.org) is where art becomes a form of therapy, as youths with personal problems use the craft to develop life skills, while also being involved in community services to learn the heart of giving. The non-profit organisation was set up in 1998 by professional artists seeking out Bhutanese youths who demonstrated interest in the arts, and to then steer them towards their potential talents via art classes and camps, festivals and international exchange programmes, so as to possibly explore art as a career.
“Play is our brain’s favourite way of learning”, says American poet Diane Ackerman, which is why we’ve teamed up with the RSPCA (Royal Society for Protection and Care of Animals; www.rspcabhutan.org). Partnering with Berlin/Germany based animal welfare group Welttierschutzgesellschaft e.V. (WTG), Bhutanese children and youths volunteer for cleaning campaigns, and are even roped in for shelter renovations – with plans such as a tree house, washroom, parking and souvenir shop among other things. RSPCA also has a weekly Animal Lovers Club programme which goes into selected schools to educate on responsible pet ownership, canine related diseases, volunteering opportunities, photography contests and more.
It’s not all play at the Paro Football Club (www.paroFC.com). Here, children are given an equal fighting chance to take up football as a career if they demonstrate real talent – underprivileged kids included. Co-founder Mr. Pema Dorji shared about a 21-year-old player who faced harassment from his stepfather, and after a year with the Club, joined and is now paid as a professional footballer. The Club also scouts in remote districts, helping out needy families so basic needs are met and hopefully, so kids with real talent in football gets a chance at the Club.
The Club hopes to form their own home ground, plan youth leagues, and football awareness camps to reach the young monks in remote districts, the lattermost plan also including talks on health, nutrition and hygiene.
But these are but lofty dreams, without practical funding and support.
“We have been most fortunate to be introduced to these forward thinking organisations over the years, and to be invited to work with them to forge an even brighter future for Bhutan. It’s been such a joy working with her people to bring forth a unique experience for our travellers – it’s only logical that reinvest in the future of Bhutan.” – Joni Herison
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