Harvard Alumni from 14 Nations Discover Happiness in Bhutan

Email

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

Surgery To Separate Bhutanese Conjoined Twins Postponed

One of the twins' health has declined, revealed late night tests just before surgery on Friday.

Oct 12, 2018 16:27

Conjoined Twins From Bhutan To Be Separated On Friday

The marathon surgery may take six to 12 hours to complete. It involves getting the liver divided safely.

Oct 09, 2018 10:35

Features

Discover Drupthob Chagzampa – The Great Iron Bridge Builder Who Constructed At Least 60 Suspension Bridges In Bhutan And Tibet

Revered as Drupthob Chagzampa or the ‘Great Iron Bridge Builder’, he was an early and unequalled master of engineering skills.

Oct 14, 2018 16:33

Carbon Negative Bhutan Strives To Maintain Its Status As The ‘Shangri-La’ With A Pristine Environment

The mountainous state absorbs three times more carbon dioxide than it emits, thanks mainly to the lush forests covering 72 per cent of its...

Oct 12, 2018 17:36

Sports

Bhutan's 'Judo Girl' Fighting For Her Sport Back Home

By competing at the Youth Olympic Games Bueno Aires 2018, 16-year-old Yangchen Wangmo is blazing a trail for judo in the small archery-mad...

Oct 10, 2018 12:45

Two Para Athletes To Represent Bhutan At 3rd Asian Para Games (6-13 Oct) In Palembang, Indonesia

Organised by the Asian Paralympic Committee, the Asian Para Games will be held from 6 - 13 October in Jakarta - Palembang, Indonesia.

Oct 06, 2018 13:06

Business

Bank At Your Doorstep – Bank Of Bhutan Introduces ‘Banking On Wheels’

Bank of Bhutan (BoB) introduced ‘banking on wheels’ on 3 Oct 2018. It travels to various areas in Thimphu on a fixed weekly schedule.

Oct 09, 2018 17:36

CDK - A Contemporary And Eco-Friendly Clothing Line By Chandrika Aims To Preserve Traditional Bhutanese Textile

Chandrika Tamang was inspired to come up with her own line of designer clothing to fill the void in the market for contemporary Bhutanese...

Sep 29, 2018 16:19

Travel

Be Intrigued By The Kunzang Khorlo Graph Found On The Walls Of Monasteries In Bhutan

In Bhutan, the circular or full wheel style of artistic poetry is found on the walls of many temples and dzongs as one enters the premises.

Oct 13, 2018 18:01

Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan Serves As A Platform For Members To Share Information, Enhance Hospitality Skills And More

Currently, the hotels in Bumthang, Trashigang, Gelephu, Mongar, Lhuentse, Trashiyangtse, Samdrupjongkhar and Phuentsholing have decided to...

Oct 10, 2018 17:19

Lifestyle

ShaMa Foundation Reaches Rural Bhutan, Helps To Provide Potable Water To Remote Villages

The program aims to provide access to safe drinking water in remote and challenging geographies in Bhutan.

Oct 15, 2018 20:39

Gabbar – The Popular Street Food Vendor Of Trashigang Known For His Momos And Other Snacks

Sonam Wangdi started his business in early 2008 in the dzongkhag. The 40-year-old entrepreneur began selling momo (dumplings) on foot.

Oct 05, 2018 16:53

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!