Apr 16, 2014

Teaching man how to fish

An old Chinese proverb goes:  
Give man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. 
Teaching kids ABC - this way?
With the coming of modernization our everyday and simple lives have suddenly become confusing and often complex. From operating mobile phones to taking pictures to driving cars to listening to music, our lives are no more same. Ever. And that is when we need to run to the experts. More so with the brewing complexities. And time is precious they say. We have to do everything in less time. That calls faster learning. Or else we will be left out of the mad race. Isn't it?  

Recently, I realized this while visiting one of the mobile service providers because I was asked to come there with my gadgets. The man at the counter looked at me and asked what was wrong with my phone. Faithfully, I explained the problem like I would do to a physician. He took the phone from me and did something, which I had no idea of. And in no time the guy handed the phone back to me. I couldn't believe what transpired before us. I checked if it was working. It was working! A little embarrassed I walked out. Not sure if some customers thought what an idiot I was!  

The man at the counter fed me a fish that day and certainly didn't teach me how to fish. Of course being a vegetarian, I feel uncomfortable using this fishing analogy, but I can't help it. If he taught me how to do it, I would not have bothered him again. But I had to visit him again, a few months later with the same issue. And I am not sure how many trips I would have to make there. 

I don't know how it works, but I personally feel that people behind the counters should make efforts to teach their customers and pass on their knowledge. After all we are talking about their services, which they only understand the best. And moreover I don't find how sharing such knowledge with their customers would ever reduce their income. I certainly do not see how it would affect their livelihood either. I only see them finding more time for more important work. I'll completely understand if it is something to do with their trade secrets! 

Maybe it is time that our service providers engage their customers instead of continuing to feed them fish. 

On a separate note - my friend and I visited a service counter in town (very) recently. Again because we were asked to visit it. But no one in the room could fix our issue - because the only person (the ONLY person) was on leave. That was quite something!    


Jan 11, 2014

Igniting Confidence in Young Girls

Tshering reading at the Center
Tshering Yangzom is a 16-year-old tenth grade student at Ura Middle Secondary School. Second eldest of seven siblings, Tshering was born in Shingkhar Village, which is located about seven kilometers from Ura. Tshering’s father works as one of the cooks at Ura Middle Secondary School and her mother is a housewife.

Initially, Tshering was an introvert and shy student. “I did not interact with my friends much before because I was so shy,” says Tshering. “But I kept on visiting library (Ura READ Center) every time I had free time and read books, and learnt to use computers.”

Tshering Yangzom also took part in the trainings and workshops at the Ura READ Center. She participated in leadership training, art therapy and good governance. “I learnt a lot from these trainings,” says Tshering. “I feel more confident now and understand a lot about the importance of decision-making, leadership and confidence building.”

Tshering now wants to help other girls in the community by forming a girls group at the Center and work closely with the volunteers to conduct activities for youth during winter holidays. The group also plans to educate young children in the community about democracy and leadership.


Starting March 2013, READ Bhutan launched its women’s leadership program: Women Represent: Boosting Women’s Participation in the Public Sphere, which was awarded Global prize by Beyond Access in Civic Participation category. The project aims to educate and inform women and girls on the need to become active participants in roles ranging from politics to everyday social life. As part of the project, we have conducted a series of empowerment activities including leadership trainings, media advocacy, seminars and consultative works to boost women’s confidence to participate in the public affairs.  

Jan 9, 2014

Aum Selden's New Year Gift

36-year-old Aum Selden is a mother of four and lives with her family at Changjiji Housing Complex in Thimphu. Her husband is a driver in the government department and the family sends three of their children to school. Originally from Trashigang Dzongkhag, in eastern Bhutan, Aum Selden could not go to school; instead the young girl ended up helping her parents on the farm.

Aum Selden in one of the health classes
“It was difficult getting around without the help of friends who could read the signs or help me fill up the forms,” says Aum Selden. “I could not even use my mobile phone. Being illiterate is like being a blind person. We always had to depend on others to show us the way and help us around.”

In April 2013, a group of community women came to the Model Center, Changjiji expressing their interest to learn Basic English and accordingly in response to the women’s interest, the two center coordinators started Basic English classes to a group of 20 community women. Aum Selden did not want to miss the opportunity the second time.

The classes were conducted for two hours four times a week. “Women took keen interest in the classes and this was driven by their need and urgency to possess Basic English skills,” says Dorji Wangchuk, one of the coordinators. “It was great experience teaching them.”

For Selden, attending English classes at the Center was great opportunity. On top of learning English she also had the opportunity to attend weekly women’s health training along with other community women. She brings her two-year-old daughter with her to the literacy and health classes.

Today, Aum Selden can not only operate her mobile phone, but also send text messages to her literate friends. She can also communicate in English and independently fill up forms while visiting the banks. “I feel proud of myself,” Aum Selden smiles. With confidence, she also took part in a quiz competition organized by Ministry of Health during the International Breastfeeding Week.

Congratulations Aum Selden! This is a story of a woman who braved the odds and succeeded in being inspiration and role model for other community women. This is a story of READ Bhutan and its drive to provide people with access to information and life-long learning!

Oct 1, 2013

How much does it take to ignite your luck?

Courtesy: Bhutan Telecom
Bhutan Telecom is conducting its lucky draw again. This time it’s to commemorate 50 years of Bhutan Telecom since its inception. The prizes range from iPhone 5 to iPad 4, Samsung Galaxy S4 and cash. There will be a total of 33 prizes in total. This sounds interesting! We all should give a try. The voting lines will remain open starting today (October 1) till December 15, 2013.

Anyone, who owns a mobile phone, can participate. Each time you vote, B-Mobile will deduct Nu.5 from your balance. It makes sense too – Nu. 5! But the terms and conditions continue;
  •  Each lucky draw number is entitled to one (1) prize only; no number(s) shall win more than one prize
Okay that makes sense! But it goes further: 
  • Customers sending more number of SMSs will have higher chances of winning
 Now that is where I find it confusing. That’s where most of the lucky draws, reality shows included, become messy. We understand it is business and marketing strategy, but a person might end up voting worth more than iPhone 5. That confuses me. What is the point of voting if one can buy it in the first place? I think only one vote should be allowed per number. That way every number – for BT says one number will get only one prize – that's fair chance of winning. If one number can win more than one prize, then it makes sense to vote many times - countless times.

According to National Statistical Bureau (NSB), a total of 479,517 Bhutanese subscribed to cellular phones by the end of 2011. And B-Mobile alone has a staggering figure of 3, 83,089 subscribers. Now assuming that 70% of its customers take part in the lucky draw, Bhutan Telecom would earn a substantial revenue (Nu. 1,436,584?). And this is only from one vote per customer.

This is why I find “Customers sending more number of SMS will have higher chances of winning” clause confusing. Bhutan’s economy is certainly not in its best shape we were told. And I find this a little off beat. 

But I will certainly send as an sms BT 50 to 1963 and stand a chance to be lucky! 

Sep 19, 2013

These Mandatory "Vestigial" Documents

Back in our high school biology classes we were taught that “vestigial organs” – or as Charles Darwin called them “rudimentary organs” are nothing but those organs that have lost their functions in the  due course of evolution. According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “The concept of vestigially applies to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function in a given species…. emergence of vestigially occurs by normal evolutionary processes, typically by loss of function of a feature that is no longer subject to positive selection pressures when it loses its value in a changing environment.”

It seems that these “structures” did have some functions in the past. But the word here is “loss of function” or loss of their “values” due to “changing environment”. I like this definition. This only means that those things that have no value or create values are basically “useless” and that they must be done away with. Of course this disposal theory does not work all the time. There are instances where old is valued more than the new. And as “environment” changes many things that carried significant value and meaning are no more. I call them “vestigial” acts. It is shown that we waste a lot of energy in having to fulfill these “meaningless” acts. Bhutan has come a long way today. And owing to Bhutan’s “changing environment” many things, good and bad, are upon us. Even in terms of service delivery, we have leapfrogged.
Typical vacancy announcement in Bhutan

Thanks to government’s G2C (Government to Citizens) initiatives, today security clearances, which are mandatory to have all the time, can be obtained literally within 24 hours or less. Back then it was a great hassle and often took weeks to process. No need to mention time wasted in the process. Today that hassle is no more. One can easily apply for security clearance and conveniently online. And one can easily check the status of the clearance online. However, even when we have a system that can faithfully verify the status of security clearance online by punching one’s identity card numbers, most organizations still demand from the candidates applying for the jobs to have printed copies of security clearance, which is approved online. I find this totally “unnecessary” and hence “vestigial” act. People who demand will have hundred and one justifications, I know.

The mandatory-useless document 
The second vestigial document in Bhutan I find is that of Medical Fitness Certificate. What do we achieve by this? Nothing. Of course it makes sense if someone is in for some military training. After all doctors in the hospital are too burdened and at the end just to fulfill the requirement they issue the documents without even checking our pulses or heartbeats. Medical Certificates are issued merely for the sake of issuing them. Again, I know, people demanding such documents, will cite hundred and one reasons.

The third one is that of having to produce photocopies of our citizenship identity cards. I find this meaningless again because we have the numbers provided and everything is decoded in that set of numbers. Photocopying is a sheer waste of resources and unnecessary hassle to the applicants. I wonder how much those seeking jobs would have spent on Xerox.

And finally times have changed. This is shown by companies mandating people applying for the posts such as security guards, sweepers, gardeners and drivers to submit their résumé or CVs along with their applications. I see them all the time and it sounds utterly funny to me. How does the résumé of a security guard or for that matter sweeper or gardener look like?


There are many such acts, but are beyond the scope of this piece. 

Sep 12, 2013

Beyond Fines: One for the Road Safety

My first report card
Today I violated a traffic rule by talking on the phone while on the road. And the vigilant traffic police on duty caught me red-handed. I knew it coming. This is my first offense since I obtained the legal documents that allow me to sit behind the wheel.

The man in uniform took my bluebook and my driving license. I requested the policeman and said that it was my fault for using the phone while driving and I repetitively promised I would not repeat again. The man did not hear me. He was busy scribbling down my offense and instead handed me a yellow slip. And knowing that I would be wasting my energy pleading him I drove home with my first driving report card.

But it was a good experience getting caught and having to pay for the blunder. “Expect the unexpected” reads a signboard a few meters away from where I got caught. And getting caught unexpectedly made me reflect on some pertinent issues.

As drivers, we must not bear any grudge against those men in uniform for they are simply carrying out their duty just like us in our own fields. I certainly have no ill feelings against the traffic police, who caught me today. Instead he earned my respect today! We must understand things can go wrong at times. Yes, expect the unexpected! Unpleasant incidents, unfortunate at that, happen all the time. We hear a series of unfortunate road accidents and yet we think these unpleasant incidents are not meant for us. Experts also have us believe that these accidents could have been averted if people involved in them were more careful. Most accidents are manifestations of human errors and seldom mechanic failures. Human life is precious, we say all the time. We must take appropriate safety measures to protect it until it lasts. That’s why we traffic police to remind us!

However, of late I was told that these men in uniform are on fine-collecting spree! Yes, this means no amount of excuse or request would help. If we were at fault the traffic police would simply demand our “documents” and hand us the receipts. This means no excuse! I don’t know how far it is true – some senior officials are said to admonish traffic policemen if the fines they collect during the day is not substantial. What does it show? It seems to us that the authorities are concerned more about the fines than the road or the passengers’ safety.

As human beings we make mistakes and I think that’s expected. But when we talk of driving I think we must look beyond fines for collecting fines is not only the solution.

Is collecting fines same as generating revenues? I don't know. I only know that collecting my documents now entails more than the actual fine I contribute to the government exchequer!