Sunday, November 13, 2016

Trip to the 2016 CSO Fair

I would absolutely write non-fiction. It’s just that nothing ever happens to me. Or anyone I know for that matter.
Nothing. Na-da. And even if something does, I wouldn’t be able to write about them without offending a few people. (Like that one time when I asked a guy out but he turned out to be utterly not my type I had to text my friends to call me so I could go, “Are you sure you can’t do that without me? All right I’m coming right away.” Yeah.)  Plus I have this knack for getting in trouble with narcissistic prima donnas. I’m not into buttering people up – probably that’s why. So I have to make-do with fiction and dragons. But I did go on a class field trip to the CSO Fair last Monday. I thought it would make an interesting blog entry because we learned quite a lot that day.  
This semester has certainly been a busy one – assignments, presentations, endless note-taking, quizzes, field work and some more assignments. The usual actually, only with the added pressure of having to turn in excellent quality papers. Therefore, it was like a breath of fresh air when classes for an entire day were canceled so we could visit the CSO Fair happening at Thimphu’s Centenary Park. It won’t be entirely true if I said we weren’t worried about some other teachers who have yet too many a topic to cover before the finals. (Cue guilty grin at Mr. Saurav, if you’re reading this) But really, I thought we deserved the break – we earned it. 
So what exactly are Non-Governmental Organizations? NGOs are also known as “non-profit”, “voluntary” and “civil society” organizations that fall under the third sector – between government and market. These organizations are supposed to fill the gaps produced due to inherent flaws of government and market. They are neutral bodies that advocate for policy and/or development. In Bhutan, NGOs are called Civil Society Organizations and in order to be formalized, they have to register with Civil Society Organization Authority (CSOA) which is part of government. Structurally NGOs are formal and private, functionally they are non-profit, self-governing and voluntary. The term “Non-Governmental Organization” was coined in 1945 by the United Nations when it was created. Today there is a huge number of NGOs under the UN consultancy.
Were there no NGOs before UN? There were, only not referred to as NGOs. Non-Governmental Organizations existed since early 18th century, around the time when Bhutan got hereditary monarch. Save the Children Fund (SCF) was founded by two English sisters Eglantyne Jebb and Dorothy Buxton in 1919 in an effort to relieve hunger among children during Blockade of Germany and the aftermath of World War I. Oxfam (originally known as Oxford Committee for Famine Relief) was founded in 1942 to provide famine relief to victims of Greek Civil War. In Bhutan, NGOs have existed for centuries in the form of informal associations such as Zhabto Woola for construction and renovation that enabled civic engagements. Now setting up an NGO in Bhutan supposedly takes years because Bhutanese government is very careful of grant-eaters.
Fundamentally there are two types of NGOs: a) Public Benefit Organization (PBO) and b) Mutual Benefit Organization (MBO). PBOs are established in order to serve a section of or the whole society. However, MBOs advance shared interests of their members and supporters only. Tarayana and Journalist Association of Bhutan (JAB) are examples of PBO and MBO respectively. Three primary functions of NGOs are: a) Advocating for rights and policy changes, b) Operational – Developing and implementing development related projects and programs and c) Providing humanitarian services such as aid provision and alleviation of sufferings.    
Enough background info on NGO! Let’s talk about the Fair.
It was a chilly morning, the sort where grasses are still frosted and the sun shines so sullenly rays feel cold on the skin. I and my friend got dressed and waited for the college bus at the parking lot. Instead a city bus arrived and we decided to go in it. But because the bus had a fixed schedule, it left those who were late, which was almost half the class. *Squint* Beginning perfecto! Not. It helped that some of them had cars of their own.
Pic: Deki Tshomo

Pic: Sir Needrup Zangpo

When we arrived at the Park, the stalls were only just being set up for the day. The day-scholar classmates started arriving followed by our lecturer, Sir Needrup Zangpo. And so the tour began. At first we just wandered around, looking at the stalls and collecting pamphlets. I bought a T-shirt that had a dragon’s print and logo of HeForShe on it, for Nu. 250 which I thought was beyond reasonable. Plus I had recently written a paper on Youth Activist Emma Watson who is involved in the campaign so of course I bought that Tee! Next, we went in group to each stall and requested people behind them to tell us about the particular NGO, especially its mandates. I’ll talk about three of them who gave us elaborate explanation.  

Bhutan Toilet Organization (BTO)
Bhutan Toilet Organization is a PBO that has not formally registered with CSOA yet and the Fair was meant for those who had. However, seeing how BTO has performed exceptionally well since its formation, they were invited! Even though they remained outside the tent, which was actually explained by a stand they couldn’t accommodate inside, or something like that. Sir PasSu who was present (Yes I finally met him. The first thing he said? “You’re a tiny girl.” *cough… pretend I didn’t hear that*) said that he had little knowledge about CSO and what it’s supposed to do when he first formed the organization. 
My friend (Karma Yangden) with "Poo Boy"
He saw that despite Bhutan being one of the most beautiful countries in the world, she had the dirtiest toilets to show. He and a few others complained about it on social media for a couple of years, but seeing how there was no action, he decided if you want to see change, you have to be it. How cool?

Know more about the NGO and its vision here, and “LIKE” their Facebook Page because that’s all it takes to make something a thing nowadays. And if it’s a thing, you know you got this addressed.
Our very own Sir Needrup!
Music of Bhutan Research Centre (MBRC)
  Sir Needrup told us a story in the class. He was schoolmates with a young man named Sonam Dorji in high school. One day Sonam Dorji composed a song called “Shawa Phomo” which the RSPN team caught up and went around the country singing it. The song became so popular one had only to stick their head out a window and shout “SHAWA…!” and the entire school would pick it up and start singing. Beautiful. No?

Pic: Sir Needrup Zangpo
This very Sonam Dorji (now famously known as Kheng Sonam) went out to score himself a Masters Degree in Classical Music, and back home came up with an NGO to preserve and promote folk music of Bhutan. So basically this is what an NGO is all about. Passionate people come together and work voluntarily for a common cause.
We were fortunate to meet Kheng Sonam at the Fair. He told us that the NGO goes around the country meeting old people and archiving traditional Bhutanese songs and dances. With modernization and advent of technology and Internet, young people in the country have become increasingly unaware of and indifferent to traditional music (Guuiillltttyy). Therefore, the NGO was formed in an endeavor to conserve folk music for the generations to come before it perishes completely.

Pic: Sir Needrup Zangpo
Kheng Sonam also shared with us a spectacular dream of his and the NGO’s. They wish to build a Music Museum in the country (most probably between Paro and Thimphu) where traditional music, songs, dances, instruments and monuments will be preserved and showcased. And here we thought only artifacts were worthy of museums. I personally thought that this was a brilliant aim. Imagine traveling to Paro and stopping on the way to step inside a traditional architectural building where you’re greeted with a soothing folk flute tune. I’m going nuts over this idea. I genuinely wish Kheng Sonam and his team the very BEST of luck.     
Pic: Sir Needrup Zangpo
[a classmate trying out the musical instrument "Yangchen"]
In addition to this, did you know that we have in total five major Zhey(s) in Bhutan? And to perform one Zhey completely, it takes more than two weeks? Cool, isn’t it? So the ones you see during festivals are extremely shortened versions of them. Why did no one in school ever tell us this? We didn’t necessarily have to memorize a series of letters a Lama sent to a king centuries ago. Alright, I do admit they made me more patient, understanding and kind and I don’t kill bugs anymore. But come on, I’d have loved to know more about traditional music than just “There are three types of songs, Zhungdra, Boedra and Rigsar. Boedra was originated from Tibet so the name Boe” (Now I don’t mean memorizing when Ap Dopay was born please, that’s not what I’m talking about!). Anyway, the five Zhey(s) are:
1.     Wang Zhey that originated in Wang region in Thimphu
2.     Woochupai Zhey of Paro
3.     Nub Zhey of Trongsa
4.     Goen Zhey of Gasa, and
5.     Chhoe Zhey (which is religious in nature)
Pic: Sir Needrup Zangpo
Zhey(s) are long Zhungdra-like folk songs with very deep spiritual themes and lyrics. They are not only songs, but also prayers. It is said that Wang Zhey which seems to be the most popular has more than sixteen episodes. It was performed when Zhabdrung Rinpochoe came to Bhutan from Tibet, hence the beginning verse that goes, (roughly translated) “From North come Lamas every day, But the Lama coming today is more blessed”. Dayum. 

Bhutan Media Foundation (BMF)
Pic: Sir Needrup Zangpo
This is yet another interesting organization which has its origin in the Throne Room. What more do you want! Before 1998, News Media in Bhutan (Kuensel and BBS) were fully state owned. They received yearly budget from the government. However, after 1998, the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuk issued a Royal Kasho commanding to corporatize them, allowing the News Media to operate independently and earn and broadcast on their own. This delinking of News Media from government made the contents appear relatively more critical. An example is the critique against Government Officials selling lottery tickets. Severance of News Media from the State was taken to the next level when in 2006 His Majesty commanded privatization of Newspapers.

Now we see that this stage-by-stage liberalization of News Media was a deliberate act in preparation for Parliamentary Democracy since His Majesty had a long term vision for democracy in Bhutan. An independent and energetic media is essential for democracy to function, and democracy without media is utterly incomplete. With privatization of Newspapers, as many as eleven other papers came into being. For once, during the time of Bhutan’s first Parliamentary Election, the News Media became a vibrant institution. However, soon the market was finding it difficult to support twelve newspapers. Three main reasons were: a) The papers had small readership, b) Due to mountainous terrenes, not all papers could reach all Dzongkhags, and most importantly c) They had a single source of revenue that was the government ads.

Gradually, Bhutanese News Media was losing its vibrancy. Seeing that, His Majesty the Fifth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk called senior members of the press, including editors and asked, “How are you doing? Are you afraid of any agency? Tell me.”
His Majesty said, “If you face insatiable challenges that you cannot overcome, always think that your king is behind you.”
The Media persons were summoned once again, this time to the Throne Room (It is said the King did not sit on the Throne) where they were seated on rickety three-legged chairs used since the reign of Third King. His Majesty asked the same question. “How are you doing?”
Not very well, the Media persons confessed.   
Then the King asked one pertinent question. “What can I do?”
Many suggestions came up however, one solution struck a chord. Could His Majesty start a foundation so that if situation became worse, they have something to fall back on?
His Majesty offered to personally get the money. He asked the Media persons to work on a charter and submit it to him. The Media Houses came together, each collecting around Nu. 10,000 for the drafting of the charter. In 2010, in the Linkana Palace, His Majesty issued Royal Charter to the Foundation. You can read the Charter here
Following this, a Board of Directors was formed. Then they interviewed people for the post of Executive Director and Lily Wangchuk was selected as the Foundation’s first Executive Director. Following her leave to participate in politics, Dawa Penjor was selected as the second Executive Director. And that’s exactly who we came across at the Fair!
Sir Dawa told us briefly about the origin of the foundation and went on to ask what we thought about the Bhutanese News Media. We said that we think News Media in Bhutan aren’t so competent, that if we don’t watch BBS or read Kuensel for a few months, we haven’t missed anything. However, if we deactivate our Facebook account for a week, we miss so many important things, both nationally and globally. We agreed that if that’s really the case, then it means there is something tremendously wrong with the institution.
Pic: Sir Needrup Zangpo
[Talking with Dawa Penjor]

Sir Dawa also told us that if we observe something that we feel should be addressed, we must make use of the facilities we have (aka Social Media) and voice them out. One of the classmates asked what if we are sued for defaming (which earned a round of laughter and nods from the rest). We were then tactfully told that we must have ways of approaching a topic. In the end though, we left feeling determined. Find out more about BMF here.     
That’s all about the three NGOs. It was almost lunch and we were debating on where we should eat when we came across Azha Karma Wangdi of VAST. That stands for “Voluntary Artists' Studio of Thimphu”. 
Pic: Sir Needrup Zangpo

He stopped to tell us that “Everything is art. [We] are art, [our] life is an art. Ever since [we] were born, [we] were art in [ourselves]”. He told us that Bhutan has a beautiful history of artists. Starting from Phojo Drugum Zhipo singing melodiously to impress Khandom Sonam Peday to Zhabdrung Rinpochoe building magnificent forts (Dzongs) and creating gho and kira to unify Bhutan. We did meet some pretty awesome people that day, didn’t we? 
Paintings from VAST
Know more about VAST here (it’s a beautiful website) and “LIKE” their Facebook Page as well. 
This was pretty much the end of our tour. After that, we went to have lunch and then hung out a bit before the college bus arrived to pick us back up. I hope you enjoyed reading this. I had a great time writing it. I’ve been writing this for a week now in between assignments.  
I hope you found the amazing people I met at the CSO Fair equally inspiring as I did. Keep reading! 

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From "Die Mitte der Welt"

It's one of those hot, sky-blue days that taste of vanilla ice cream and summer and future, when your heart beats faster for no apparent reason, and when you're prepared to swear any oath that friendships never end.

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