Harvard Alumni from 14 Nations Discover Happiness in Bhutan

We have been deeply humbled by the kindness with which Bhutan has welcomed us and the generosity with which its people have shared their time—and their suja, ema-datsi, and ara.

Harvard Alumni from 14 Nations Discover Happiness in Bhutan. (Source: http://www.kuenselonline.com)

 

Kinga Tshering, former Member of Parliament, exudes pride as he gestures toward the mountain range through which he hiked for days to talk with his constituents. 

I met Kinga eighteen months ago, 11,993 km away in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the start of the Master’s of Public Administration program at the Harvard Kennedy School.  Since that time, my classmates and I have been deeply moved by Kinga’s descriptions of his homeland, a nation previously unknown to many of us.

Inspired by Kinga Tshering to explore the magical Kingdom of Bhutan

During the course of our year studying at Harvard, we developed profound respect for Kinga as a scholar, a mentor, a civil servant and a loyal friend.  That friendship and our desire to discover the nation of which Kinga spoke so glowingly drew 31 of us from 14 countries to come to Bhutan from December 27 until January 3 for the inaugural Harvard trek to Bhutan, much to consternation of our families who questioned our venturing to the Himalayas during the Christmas and New Year’s

We have been deeply humbled by the kindness with which Bhutan has welcomed us and the generosity with which its people have shared their time—and their suja, ema-datsi, and ara. 

What we discovered in the seven-day visit

During the course of our seven-day visit, we have met with government leaders including the Prime Minister, the Mayor of Timphu Tromde, the Chairman of the Royal Civil Service Commission, and the leaders of the nation’s political parties. 

We have visited the Tarayana Foundation, engaged with the young entrepreneurs of Bhutan's Thimphu Techpark, and talked with villagers in their homes in Rinchhengang.  We have visited Dordenma Buddha and Taktshang Goemba, tried our skills at archery, practiced guided meditation, received blessings for our loved ones from monks, and even donned Ghos and Kiras with Bhutan Street Fashion. 

These breath-taking experiences resulted from more than a year of planning by Kinga, his wife, and his team.  The professionalism and dedication of our hosts and tour guides leaves no doubt in our minds that tourism will continue to blossom in Bhutan

In a world obsessed with building things that are taller and faster, maximising the efficiency with which we allocate our time, and amassing material wealth, I am grateful to have discovered a country that defines success in terms of the happiness of its people.

The merits of the ‘Economics of Happiness’

In a panel about “the Economics of Happiness,” Ms. Aum Damchoe reflected, “for happiness to be harmonious, you have to be grounded.  You have to understand that happiness has to be shared to be experienced.” 

During the past seven days, we have had the opportunity to share in the happiness of Bhutan. We have observed the strength with which Bhutanese approach the challenges of transporting water and cultivating food on terrain as treacherous as it is magnificent.

Bhutan inspires us to believe that it possible to create a nation intentionally based on the principals of GNH and despite the geopolitical reality of being “sandwiched between two giants” as many leaders described. 

That it is possible for beloved leaders to relinquish power in the name of the autonomy of their people and the longevity of their nation.  That it is possible to embark upon development while pledging the first-in the-world commitment to be carbon-negative.  That it is possible to embrace the Western world while preserving the beauty of Bhutanese culture.  That happiness and economic growth can harmoniously be achieved and the pursuit of one doesn’t have to be devoid of the other.

Getting up close with Bhutanese Youth

Another of the joys of this trip has been coming to know the youth of Bhutan.  Throughout our trek, a group of young volunteers has accompanied us, addressed our countless questions, and provided unparalleled insights into the history and evolution of the country.  Based upon the passion, the reflectiveness, and the patriotism of these young people, the future of Bhutan appears incredibly bright.

Participants were struck by the eagerness of the Bhutanese to change, to help their nascent country continue to grow in response to feedback.  Along those lines, we have also had some conversations that saddened us.  Women who appeared brilliant spoke regretfully of their lack of formal education, the struggles of marrying and having children as teenagers, and the limitations they face now as a result of their lack of schooling. 

Aspirations of Bhutanese Youth

We are hopeful that, as Bhutan develops, boys and girls from cities, towns, and rural areas alike will have access to schools that prepare them for rewarding employment.  We are hopeful that every girl will have the opportunity to choose her future—to study, to work, to marry, and to become a mother when she feels prepared.

In March, a second group of 32 students from HBS and HKS will venture to Bhutan to continue the friendship between Harvard and Bhutan and to enable emerging leaders from more countries to discover the fledgling democracy that is Bhutan.  The motto of HKS is, “Ask What You Can Do;” there are no limits on what HKS can Bhutan may achieve together.

What we hope to contribute for Bhutan in future

As we scatter around the globe, we take with us prayer wheels, Buddhist flags, hand-woven scarves, and, I suspect, more than a few smuggled chilies.  We also carry our New Years’ resolutions: 

To share with the world our experience of Bhutan

To explore collaborations between Bhutan and our countries (Gautam Ghandi from India has already arranged for 10 students from the Thimphu incubator to travel to an incubator in Delhi)

To implement practices we have learned from Bhutan in the public, private, and government sectors in our respective nations, to return to the nation of happiness. 

To support the work of our revered classmate and friend, Kinga, as he brings his Harvard experience back to serve his spectacular homeland.

 

Contributed By Meredith Segal 

Co-Founder & Co-President of the African Development University

Harvard Kennedy School Class of 2017

 

(This article has been edited for the New Bhutan Times)

This article first appeared on Kuensel.

 


Related Posts

Thimphu Tech Park Expansion Begins

Thimphu TechPark begins work to expand its infrastructure with the ground breaking ceremony (Salang Tendrel) for a new...

Dec 22, 2017 14:51

Thimphu TechPark aims to attract foreign investment

The main mission of the company is to attract reputed IT/ITES companies from both within Bhutan and around the world to...

Oct 01, 2017 17:37

Philanthropic Works by the Tarayana Foundation

The Tarayana Foundation was founded by Her Majesty the Gyalyum Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck and was formally launched on May...

Nov 05, 2017 16:59

Applying the Concept of GNH on Social Enterprises

The essence of a social entrepreneur is what they can do and how they can balance the social and the commercial aspects...

Nov 14, 2017 07:47

Emphasis on Gross National Happiness at the Singapore Summit 2017

As one of the esteemed speakers invited, Prime Minister H.E. Dasho Tshering Tobgay of Bhutan gave an enlightening...

Oct 08, 2017 12:31

Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan (Eco-Tourism): 54 Hours where...

The eventful weekend saw 130 keen people in attendance, of which 56 pitched ideas. This was the fifth time that such an...

Nov 29, 2017 08:46

Latest

News

Bhutan’s Satellite Deployed From ISS Along With Limited Edition Stamps Launched To Laud Event

Live-streamed on YouTube, representatives from various countries and institutes gathered at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in...

Aug 11, 2018 16:08

Daily Professional Fee Proposed For Tour Guides To Boost Tourism In Bhutan

Such an initiative is also thought to help boost the image of the profession in Bhutan and retain senior tour guides.

Aug 10, 2018 12:09

Features

In Commemoration Of World Elephant Day, Bhutan Records 678 Elephants, Up From 513 In 2011

There are 678 elephants in Bhutan, according to the second edition of the National Elephant Survey Report.

Aug 15, 2018 12:54

Discover Raju’s Passion For Making The Traditional Bhutanese Bow And Arrow

The class VI drop-out earns at least Nu 8,000 a month by making bows and arrows.

Aug 08, 2018 16:09

Sports

The Myriad Of Sporting Facilities Constructed In Bhutan To Promote Healthy Living

The government in its 11th FYP report stated that it undertook the development of various infrastructure and institutions to promote sports...

Jul 29, 2018 08:33

Adolescent Girls In Bhutan Learn About Health And Sanitation Through Weeklong District Cricket Championship

The national nutrition survey 2015 conducted by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF Bhutan found anaemia in adolescent girls to be a critical...

Jul 21, 2018 16:29

Business

Start-up Centre In Bhutan Held Session To Provide Advice On Doing Business For Entrepreneurs

Guidance was provided during the first session on starting a business held at the newly established start-up centre at Changzamtog, Thimphu.

Aug 14, 2018 12:06

SDF To Develop E-Commerce Platform And Support Start-Ups In The South Asian Region

The SDF has already achieved and disbursed US$ 47mn for 12 cross-border projects.

Jul 24, 2018 09:03

Travel

About 91 % Of International Visitors Intend To Revisit Bhutan And 85 % Want To Recommend Nation Of Happiness To Others

The majority (80.4 %) of the international visitors expressed that the culture and traditional charm attracted them to Bhutan.

Aug 13, 2018 12:11

DrukAir To Fly Between Bhutan And Singapore Via Guwahati Starting Sept 1

The new flight will connect Paro to Singapore via Guwahati.

Aug 09, 2018 10:37

Lifestyle

Gokab – The First Dance Studio To Be Registered In Bhutan For Dancing Enthusiasts

Gokab, a youth group comprising of mostly dance enthusiasts, has seen a healthy growth of membership numbers since its inception in 2015.

Aug 12, 2018 15:44

Red Rice Is Bhutan's Staple Food And This Brewery Has Turned It Into Its Flagship Beer

Namgay Artisanal Brewery is the new kid on the block and it’s got everyone talking about its red rice lager.

Aug 03, 2018 14:04

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!