The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
Click over the map to know the differences

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

US announces $ 2.5m fund for Tibetan refugees in South Asia

Himalayan News Service
KATHMANDU: The US government on Monday announced that it would provide a fund of $2.5 million to support Tibetan refugees in South Asia, including Nepal.

Under the ‘Overseas Refugee Assistance Programs for Near East and South Asia’, the Obama administration invited the non-government al organisations to submit their proposals to run a one-year-long project supporting the Tibetan refugees in India, Nepal, and to a lesser extent, Bhutan. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) informed that it will consider projects submitted with budgets in the range of $150,000 to $2.5 million.

The programmes for Tibetan refugees focuses mainly on protection, including prevention and response to gender-based violence, health and nutrition, livelihoods and education,

and Water and Sanitation

sector in Nepal.

Proposals targeted solely or predominantly to the Tibetan refugee population in Nepal should not exceed $250,000, according to the department website. Proposals submitted with budgets in the range of $2.25 million to $2.5 million must include substantial support for Tibetan refugee populations in South Asia. According to a notice of the State Department, the programs will start by no later than mid-June.

“NGO proposals are encouraged to include local capacity building elements across all sector areas in Nepal. Proposals should address the needs of Tibetan refugees in urban and rural settlements. Appropriate consideration should be given to norms and conditions in surrounding Nepali communities and parity in resource distribution, so that surrounding Nepali communities are supportive of and open to the presence of the Tibetan community.”

Himalayan Times

Bhutanese in Sydney show their strength on indoor soccer

Posted: 22 Feb 2010 11:33 PM PST
February 23, 2009: Until a year ago, Bhutanese in exile, in whose symbolic shadow we used to stand. September 2008, came as a great beacon light of hope to the thousands of Bhutanese youths who had burn the flame of gender discrimination, deprived from the justice and right they deserved. The day when some of ours feet landed on Australian soil, hopes had finally opened to live a better and a healthier life. They had a dream, a dream to step up with a plea that shall always march ahead and do something progressive in life.

With a little hope of promoting Bhutanese people and culture, two girls team (Druk FC A and Druk FC B) from Sydney-based Association of Bhutanese in Australia (ABA) participated in an indoor soccer competition organized by Football United, a youth football development program officially supported by FIFA. Druk FC A comprises of Hemanta Acharya (captain), Kabita Dhungel, Sumitra Monger Khadka, Indira Kafley, Indira Dhungel, Goma Acharya, Bhima Adhakari and Druk FC B includes Ambika Dhungel (captain), Bhagi Dhaurali, Radhika Dhaurali, Geeta Dhungel, Januka Acharya, Tulsa Dhungel and Keshavi Bhandari.

Indoor soccer is a new concept of soccer played inside an enclosed building with the total field area just a bit bigger than a basketball court. Having slightly different rules than we usually play on open field, each team has only five players including a goal keeper. The competitions which run from December 28 2009 to February 7, 2010 brought together 8 teams of Sydney’s different football clubs and communities. Those 8 teams were divided with four teams in each group with both teams from Bhutanese community falling in same.
Both Bhutanese teams seemed to be struggling in their first match as they took time in understanding, for they were playing for the first time inside an enclosed premises against highly trained and physically stronger players. But at the end, enthusiasm and passion on soccer was helped both teams to be qualified for the semi finals. Druk FC B lost finals in penalty shootouts to and finish the competition as a runner up. Druk FC A lost the semis and won the 3rd place playoffs 3-2. Kabita Dhungel won the best and fairest players award.

A star female player from A-league club Central Coast Mariners presented the trophy, medals and certificates to the players.

Speaking in the second success of Druk FC girls team, first being success for securing third position in Football United outdoor soccer festival last October, Hemanta Acharya said that the cooperation in the team, passion and support from community members were keys for success.

Hemanta Acharya, who lead ‘Druk FC A’ to the third position is chosen in a 16-member team that is representing Australia as the second team to travel South Africa to play a mini World Cup in June 2010. The 16 member team will be going to the selection after a high level of training with coaches of international level. Eight players will be representing Australia including 4 girls and 4 boys. The competition will be between 32 nations in a same format as of major world cup but players in each team are only 8, with 6 playing including 3 girls in same team.

Similarly Druk FC boys under the captainship of Damber Dhungyel are preparing to face their first soccer match in Australia, Sydney with four other Nepalese Community soccer teams this March. These boys are being coached by ex-football keeper of Bhutan National Team (Druk 11) Tahalman Kharka.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Bhutan media foundation established through royal kasho

His Majesty with representatives of the print and broadcast media at Lingkana palace
21 February 2010 - Coinciding with His Majesty’s 30th birthday anniversary, His Majesty the King issued a royal kasho (charter) formally establishing the Bhutan media foundation.

The media foundation is being established to support the development of mass media, so that it can carry out its roles and responsibilities in the interest of democracy.

According to a press release, the foundation is expected to support the media in enhancing skills through scholarships, internships and training, strengthening media executive management and leadership skills.

The foundation will support the sustainability and growth of newspapers and broadcast stations, journalists associations and press clubs. It will also invest in the future readership of the print media by striving to provide subscription grants of all newspapers to the lower, middle and higher secondary schools and colleges in the country. Additionally, it will also support the promotion of national language in the media and civic education programmes in the media.

His Majesty, in the royal charter to the representatives from both the print and electronic media present at Lingkana palace, assured his support for the development of the media industry in the country.

The foundation is endowed with a seed grant of Nu 15 mn from His Majesty the King.

Representatives of all media organizations agreed that the first meeting of all registered media agencies should take place promptly. This will be done to finalise the organisational structure, regulations, and codes of conduct of the foundation.

Rinzin Wangchuk

The kasho

How do the farms do?

19 February 2010
The RNR Census 2009, re leased recently, paints a com prehensive picture of use and sale of natural resources.
The census, which collect ed data from 57,412 (93.2 percent) of households that engaged in agricultural farm­ing activities across 205 ge wogs and extended municipal areas in 20 dzongkhags, was conducted for the production year 2008.
The study showed a 14 per cent decrease in agricultural land area. Compared to 2000 data, wetland decreased by 11 percent and dry land, by 17 percent. However, cash crop land increased by 12.1 percent.
However, upon completion of the ongoing nationwide ca dastral land survey and grant ing of land kidu, the agricul tural land area is expected to change drastically.
Twenty-three percent of agriculture land had been left fallow mainly on account of crop damage by wild animals which accounted for 36.07 percent.
Maize accounted for the largest amount (69.38 per cent) of cereal grains de stroyed by wild animals fol lowed by rice (27.39 percent). Wild boar was responsible for destroying 63.34 percent of the cereal grains. About 6.16 percent of the cereal cultivat ed area was affected by wild animals with corresponding production loss estimated at 3.26 percent.
In 2008, about 55.74 per cent of the rural households was affected by crop damage by wild animals and 30.61 percent of households faced insufficient irrigation water. Limited access to market, pests and diseases, and land shortage were other con straints.
In the same year, wild animals killed 2,205 cattle, 499 yaks, 204 horses, 1,488 sheep, 180 goats, 41 pigs and 2,316 chickens.
According to the study, the population of yak had in creased by 15.9 percent and that of goats by 9.1 percent. There was a drastic decrease in the population of pigs, sheep, horses, and poultry by 54.1 percent, 47 percent, 19.9 percent and 14.3 per cent respectively.
The households mostly owned cattle (310,071), yaks (40,482), poultry (197,766), horses (22,335) and pigs (18,963). About 14 percent of the households owned cats and six percent, dogs.
The study did not reveal much difference in diary pro duction but there was a dras tic decrease in quantity of all kinds of meat.
According to the study, farm mechanisation had greatly improved. However, in terms of land cultivation, about 88.10 percent of the households still used oxen, 7.43 percent used power til ler and other farm machinery, and 0.98 percent dug the land manually.
For 59.4 percent of the households, horticulture crops are the main sources of cash income followed by live­stock products for 33.6 per cent of households and off-farm activities for 32 percent of households. However, for Gasa Dzongkhag, the main cash income for 56.7 percent of households is livestock products, for 37.4 percent it is use of yaks and horses for transport, and for 30.7 per cent it is non-wood forest products.
Despite many constraints, production was not bad. 2008 produced 52,959.4 metric tonnes (MT) of po tatoes, 7,312.5 MT of chil lies, 3,459.2 MT of beans and 3,578.8 MT of mustard. Among the cash crops, the biggest produce was 38,183.8 MT of mandarin followed by 5,410.4 MT of apple and 961 MT of peach.
In forestry sector, at least 89.76 percent of the house holds were reported to be aware of the forestry rules. About 79.48 percent of the households were of the opin ion that the coming of elec tricity would reduce pressure on the forest resources.
A total of Nu 2,045.75 mil lion was generated from the sale of cereal grains followed by horticulture crops (78.55 percent), livestock products (14.90 percent) and forest products and byproducts (6.55 percent).
A total of Nu 866.13 million was spent on the purchase of food commodities such as grains (36.64 percent), dairy products (14.5 percent), eggs (0.85 percent), fish (4.76 per cent), meat (17.79 percent), cooking oil (16.17 percent), sugar (0.78 percent) and veg etables and others (8.51 per cent).
The study showed that since 2000, the number of agricultural households in creased by 1.7 percent and total number of households enumerated increased by 5.4 percent.
The proportion of rural households within less than one hour’s walking distance to road points has increased to 53 percent and within six hours walking distance to 90 percent from 40.2 percent and 83.5 percent respectively in 2000.
The expenditure in some dzongkhags outstrips income, which indicates that the pro duction in general is low.
Dzongkhag Income Expenditure
Thimphu 52.83 47.55
Paro 114.36 103.34
Haa 28.97 31.01
Chukha 90.01 58.96
Samtse 99.82 87.02
Punakha 79.89 48.63
Gasa 19.07 14.71
Wangdiphodrang 169.18 48.11
Tsirang 37.40 39.16
Dagana 36.83 39.53
Bumthang 57.82 35.01
Trongsa 25.03 12.44
Zhemgang 19.87 13.67
Sarpang 39.57 58.99
Lhuentse 20.81 16.89
Monger 77.27 43.06
Trashignag 87.83 64.13
Trashiyangtse 38.18 27.69
Pemagatshel 27.52 39.85
Samdrupjongkhar 48.93 36.34
By Sonam Pelden & Namgay Tshering

Bhutan observer

Thursday, February 18, 2010

In pictures: Rare images of Bhutan go on display


Bhutanese minister extends invitation for 16th SAARC summit to PM Nepal

Bhutanese Minister for Economic Affairs Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk meets Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal at the latter’s residence in Baluwatar, Wednesday morning, Feb 10 10.
Bhutanese Minister for Economic Affairs Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk has extended invitation of Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Yoser Thinley to Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal for the 16th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to be held in Thimpu from April 28 – 29, Wednesday.

Wangchuk handed over the Bhutanese PM’s invitation at a meeting with PM Nepal at the latter’s residence in Baluwatar this morning.

The up coming SAARC summit is going to be held in Thimpu, Bhutan after Maldives refused to organize the summit citing impacts of global recession. This is the first time Bhutan is hosting a SAARC summit after it was established in 1985.

At the meeting with PM Nepal, Bhutanese minister Wangchuk informed PM Nepal the main agenda of the 16th SAARC Summit would be issues related to the climate change and that Bhutan had expected utmost cooperation from Nepal towards this.

PM Nepal urged Wangchuk to take back the Bhutanese refugees as third-party settlements alone would not solve the problem. PM Nepal also pointed out at the increasing suicidal trend among Bhutanese refugees settled in third countries.

In response, Wangchuk told PM Nepal, he would convey the message to the Bhutanese Prime Minister.

Minister Wangchuk, who is also a former PM of Bhutan, arrived in Kathmandu as a special representative of the Bhutanese Prime Minister, Tuesday.


Two Bhutanese refugees commit suicide

Two Bhutanese refugees living in the UN-run refugee camp in Damak of Jhapa have committed suicide on Saturday.

According to the police, 50-year-old Jas Bahadur Tamang of sector D 4 and 44-year-old Kul Bahadur Acharya of sector A 2 of Beldangi refugee camp took their own lives today.

The reason behind the two committing suicide has not been known.

Large number of Bhutanese refugees are currently being repatriated to third countries including U.S, Australia and Europe.

More than one hundred thousand ethnic Bhutanese of Nepali origin were evicted from Bhutan by the Druk regime about two decades ago.


Discussion on Bhutan on May 25

Guilford Refugee Advisory Council Announces a Panel Discussion: Refugees from Burma
Triad -
The event on February 23rd will cover the refugee crisis in Burma (aka Myanmar) and the culture and experiences of refugees from Burma living in Guilford County.

Greensboro – As part of the ongoing Refugee Information Series, the Guilford Refugee Advisory Council announces a panel discussion on February 23rd to discuss the growing diverse population of refugees from Burma living here in Guilford County. This is the second installment in an ongoing series of discussions meant to provide residents of Guilford County with the opportunity to learn more about the hundred of refugees who have been resettled in Triad communities over the last several years. Each presentation will feature background information about the refugee crisis in a highlighted region as well as refugees from that country residing locally who come to share their experiences and answer questions.

February’s panel discussion will highlight the ongoing military violence that has plagued the country of Burma (aka Myanmar) for the last five decades, forcing hundreds of thousands of the region’s ethnic minorities out of their homelands and into overcrowded refugee camps along the borders of Thailand and Malaysia. Most of these refugees spend decades and even entire lifetimes languishing in unstable conditions hoping for peace to return to their home country. In 2005, the United States increased their commitment to providing a stable solution for the most vulnerable of these and has since resettled close to 60,000 refugees from this war torn country across the United States. Several hundred of these have made a home in the Triad, two of which will be speaking about their experiences and answering your questions at Tuesday’s presentation.

The Burma event will take place on Tuesday, February 23rd 2010 at 6:30pm at the J. Edward Kitchen Center’s Lake Townsend Room located at the city Fire and Water building at 2602 S. Elm-Eugene Street in Greensboro. Speakers will include resettled refugees from Burma living in Greensboro, Pastor Bryan Presson, a long-time missionary to Thailand who currently works locally with resettled refugees from Burma, and Sarah Ivory, Director of the Church World Service Refugee Program in Greensboro, who will share her experiences working in the region.

This event is part of an ongoing series on the Triad’s diverse ethnic communities presented by the Guilford Refugee Advisory Council, a collaboration of Church World Service, Lutheran Family Services, African Services Coalition, Faith Action International House, and the UNC-G Center for New North Carolinians. Future presentation will take place at the J. Edward Kitchen Center at 6:30pm on the following dates: March 30th (Vietnam); April 27th (Democratic Republic of Congo); May 25th (Bhutan).

For more information, email or call 336-617-0381.

Secret of the world's 'most successful' refugees, the Tibetan community

Mumbai: Today is Losar once again. In fact, it is a golden jubilee of sorts — of 50 years in exile. But Tibetans are not celebrating. The pall of gloom of the 2008 riots still hangs over the community, and the government-in-exile or the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) has asked for festivities to be muted.

Most of the older generation of Tibetans living in exile in India had trekked mountains and forests to flee to an alien land. They had neither money nor hope, their country having been taken away from them. Yet today, the Tibetan refugees across the world are considered the “most successful” refugee community.

Much of the credit for that achievement should go to the CTA’s efforts to preserve Tibetan culture, and making the refugee community educated and financially strong. In fact, a 2001 article by The Economist surveyed the two dozen governments-in-exile that exist and found the Tibetan one to be “the most serious”.

While most other such governments function as pressure groups, like the internet-based Rhodesian government-in-exile that lampoons the post-independence Zimbabwean government, the CTA is a democratic set up, with a parliament, democratically elected ministers and a prime minister. Also, 46 agricultural or handicraft-based settlements have been established across India, Nepal, and Bhutan for the community-in-exile.

According to a 2000 survey by the planning commission of the government-in-exile, about one lakh Tibetan refugees live in these settlements. There are also welfare officers, schools, hospitals and clinics, co-operatives, courts to settle civil disputes (although criminal cases are handled by the local police of the host country), old-people’s homes, and monasteries nearby to service the refugees.

Karma Yeshi is a product of one such settlement. Today the editor-in-chief of the Voice of Tibet in Dharamsala, the only radio channel in India in the Tibetan language, he was born at a construction site in 1967. “I am told that I used to be tied to a tree while my parents were building a road in Sikkim. They had no other alternative because they were penniless in a foreign country,” he says. His parents had followed the Dalai Lama to India in 1959 and worked as construction labourers to make ends meet. In 1969, when they heard of the Tibetan community centre in Himachal Pradesh, the family moved to it. “I have much to thank our government for. My family was taken care of, my schooling was free, and I was even sent to Punjab University on a scholarship.”

So strong is the lure of the education system of the CTA, that many of the Tibetans in China who risk their lives and come to India to become refugees are children who want schooling. Tenzing Thargay and Tenzing Palmo, a brother-sister duo, spent ten years in Tibetan Children’s School in Dharamsala. The sister is now in Italy, while the brother has returned to Lhasa where he runs a restaurant. Thargay says, “In Dharamsala, I was able to get quality education. Also, I learned more about Tibet’s history and language, which no school in Lhasa can provide me.”

In all, the CTA runs 82 Tibetan schools in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. And for those who want to pursue further education, there is the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Dharamsala, Tibet House in New Delhi, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, the Norbulingka Institute, and the Amnye Machen Institute in Dharamsala. There is also the Sarah College of Higher Tibetan Studies in Dharamsala which teaches young Tibetans and students from the West, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Mongolia the Tibetan language, the country’s literature and history, as well as the Buddhist philosophy.

The Tibetan refugee community that was about 80,000 in 1960 in India, Nepal and Bhutan has now grown to 1,60,000 according to a 2009 survey. Considering that, when the Tibetans went trekking from one country to another, they were also moving from a medieval world to the 20th century, their adapting to a foreign land is nothing short of remarkable.

Thubten Samphel, secretary of the department of information and international relations for the CTA and the author of Failing Through The Roof says, “What the CTA has done in the last 50 years is noteworthy. While Tibet’s culture is continuously
destroyed in China, it is being preserved here in a foreign land.”


More federal aid for refugees is needed

Late last month, the U.S. State Department announced that it was doubling the amount of its contribution to refugee resettlement efforts from $900 to $1,800 per person. The increase is retroactive to Jan. 1. "While the U.S. government cannot guarantee the success of these refugees, it is capable of providing sufficient support to ensure refugees are able to get on their feet during their first weeks and months in the United States - and move quickly toward becoming independent, productive members of their new communities," the agency said.

Lutheran Social Services and the other agencies contracted to resettle refugees have lobbied for more money for years, and the extra money is a help. But despite the increase the State Department's statement is false.

Funding for the federal refugee resettlement program was never remotely enough to do the job, and it has been a decade since the last increase in its payment per refugee. The agencies that resettle refugees, and the volunteers and donors who assist them, make an enormous effort to help the newcomers assimilate in their new community. But assimilation is rarely easy. Most refugees spent years in camps in nations other than their home country. Many were the victims of hunger, war, horrific acts and imprisonment.

The 75,000 refugees from all over the world who are resettled in the United States make America a richer, stronger and more diverse nation. But in the short term, a period that the State Department measures in months and recipient communities in years, they are a cost that must be borne by the taxpayers in the communities chosen as resettlement sites.

Refugees are expected to find employment within a few months of their arrival, but the recession has made that impossible.

Locally, a number of employers are making an extra effort to hire refugees. Among them are Cole Gardens, the Pleasant View Retirement Community and Steve Duprey's hotel company, but unemployment remains the single biggest problem confronting the new arrivals.

Concord and Laconia became home to 285 refugees in 2008 and 284 last year and about 60 percent of them settled in Concord. That was about 150 more than expected. The bulk of the refugees have been Bhutanese, who have spent as much as 16 years in camps in Nepal as a result of ethnic cleansing in Bhutan, a small nation that borders India, China and Tibet. Refugees are settled in, and choose to migrate to, cities that already have a sizeable population of people from their home country. So Concord can expect to become home to hundreds more Bhutanese over the next few years. They will add to the smaller population of refugees from African nations, Eastern Europe and Iraq who have made Concord their home since Lutheran Services began its resettlement effort in 1998. Their presence is making Concord a much more diverse and interesting city.

Residents should welcome the newcomers, but the refugee influx isn't without costs. The impact on the city welfare budget has been small, as has the expense of food stamps and other federal programs. More challenging is the cost of educating refugee children, including some who have never been in a classroom.

Thanks to the state's tax structure, the added burden of public education is not shared by all the state's communities, only by taxpayers in the handful of cities that have been designated as resettlement sites. That's an inequity that could be remedied on the state level, but then too, it might rain money on Tuesday.

To address the problem, the budgets of two federal agencies, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Department of Education, should include money to cushion the financial impact when cities are forced to cope with hundreds of refugee children whose educational needs are enormous. New Hampshire's congressional delegation should meet with local officials to discuss the problem and take steps to address it.

Concord monitor

Still Seeking Refuge

The East Bay's new Burmese immigrants left their homes in Thai refugee camps only to find themselves in an even tougher spot— inner-city Oakland amidst a punishing recession that threatens the assistance they depend upon.
By Momo Chang

Oo Meh, April Ni, Bo Reh, and Groto Ni stand in the breezeway of the apartment complex they share with other recent Burmese refugees. Oo Meh and Groto Ni were Karenni rice farmers who spent more than 20 years in a Thai refrefugee camp before arriving in Oakland just months ago.

Ale Sho had been in the United States just three weeks when he and his neighbor were accosted while returning to their apartments from an Asian grocery. Ale Sho was carrying two bags filled with fruit juice and wearing a produce-stuffed backpack that also contained a benefits card loaded with enough credits to sustain him and his family for a month. As the two friends neared to their Eastlake district apartment, three young men who had been eyeing them crossed the street and began to follow. Walking the last two blocks more briskly with their heavy groceries, Ale Sho told his neighbor, "They do not look nice."

Just as they reached the gate of their complex, one of the young men grabbed Ale Sho's backpack. Although his neighbor had already run upstairs into the complex, Ale Sho refused to surrender the pack. After a short tug-of-war with the robber, he saw one of the young men pointing a gun at him. Miraculously, Ale Sho was able to get inside the gate and shut it with himself and his groceries intact.

"We had many, many hard times in Burma," said Ale Sho, a lanky man in his thirties who spent the prior fourteen years in a Thai refugee camp. "When we came to the US we thought it will be free, so we feel more upset about [the robbery]. We thought we would be released from the hard times, but we are still unsafe."

Nothing was stolen from Ale Sho, who like many other Burmese immigrants uses no surname. But the attempted armed robbery left him with a mental scar. Through a translator, he said he's afraid he will run into those young black men again. And although he speaks little English, he believes the men told him something along the lines of, "We'll see you again." So he stopped wearing his backpack and is now more cautious around African Americans, even though he knows they are not all robbers.

Like thousands of other refugees from Burma, Ale Sho came to the United States straight from the camp in Thailand. In the last three years alone, about 2,000 such refugees have arrived in California, with more than 300 resettling in the East Bay, most of them in Oakland.

Their journey to Oakland is just the latest chapter in a long quest for freedom that includes civil wars, poverty, and forced relocation from a land 9,000 miles from here. But while the US government offered these refugees protection and the promise of a new life, the ones who wound up in Oakland arrived to discover themselves in the middle of another hostile environment — urban America during the worst economic crisis in generations.

Many Burmese refugees in their twenties or even thirties were born in the refugee camps and thus have no work experience, making their transition all the more difficult. Even for those with work experience, transitioning from agrarian village life to urban life is a challenge. They come with little preparation for American life, and almost no money or English skills.

And to complicate matters, many do not even consider themselves Burmese. Instead, they identify themselves through their ethnic affiliation. Ale Sho and most of the other recent arrivals are Karenni, members of a tiny Burmese refugee group. Other immigrants are members of the larger Karen community.

Most of these families are so-called "free cases," a term resettlement workers use to describe refugees who have no family members anywhere in the United States. After all, the first Karenni refugee family arrived in Oakland just last April, although about sixty have since settled here. But the Karenni had no established community here, and their language is little known.

Consequently, resettlement workers often place the new refugees together in the same buildings and neighborhoods. For instance, the apartment complex where Ale Sho lives with his wife, mother, and infant daughter houses four Burmese families. Two are Karenni, one is Indian Burmese, and the other Chin. The interpreter, Nwe Oo, who lives elsewhere in Oakland, is Rakhine, yet another ethnic minority.

Resettlement workers find the task of assisting these refugees, particularly the Karenni, one of the most challenging they have ever undertaken.

"When I compare them in how prepared they are for American culture, I'd say they are the least prepared," said Don Climent, the regional resettlement director for the International Rescue Committee, who during the past thirty years has helped to resettle refugees from as far afield as Bosnia, Iraq, and Bhutan. "They have more things to learn and more things to accomplish before they can fully participate in American society."

For the East Bay's growing Burmese refugee population, it is a particularly bad time to be embarking on a new life.

Burma, now called Myanmar, was once a British colony. During that time, the Karenni or Kayah state — one of the smallest and poorest in Burma — was independent. The region, which is along the southeast border near Thailand, is mostly hilly and agricultural. Many Karenni were poor farmers who worked in rice paddies and cut wood from nearby jungles. When Burma gained its independence from Britain in 1947, the government began occupying these lands. Ever since then, the country has been embroiled in civil wars. Ethnic conflicts in the Karenni state and elsewhere led to purging, village burnings, and forced labor.

Ale Sho grew up under the watch of the Burmese military. His father had been made to do forced labor for the military many times, each time coming back with bruises and scars. Village families were often caught in the crossfire of the civil war between armed rebels and the repressive military. Once, the military arrested nearly half their village. Ale Sho and his father were captured and tortured for a night, and then released. Soon thereafter, in 1994, Ale Sho decided to flee by himself at the tender age of fourteen.

He lived in the jungle and at an ad hoc refugee settlement with other Karenni people for nearly a year before ending up in the refugee camp in Thailand. In those bleak camps, members of Burmese ethnic minorities lived in limbo. They became stateless and belonged to no country. Refugee camps are typically a short-term solution to wars and ethnic cleansing, and the camps were set up in the hope that one day the refugees could return safely to their home country. But returning home to life under the Burmese military junta was not an option for the refugees. Many eventually became "longstayers" who lingered in the camps for decades.

Ale Sho's neighbor Oo Meh and her family fled their village in the late 1970s. For decades — sometimes daily, sometimes a few times a month — Burmese soldiers would come to their village and force them to work. Her father was getting older, and one time they paid another person to work in place of their family. Oo Meh and her family were poor rice farmers and could not keep up with the military's demands. When they fled, they carried with them only rice, a knife and some clothes.

"I was extremely sad," said the petite, long-haired, 49-year-old in an interview from her Eastlake home through a translator from her native Karenni. "My heart hurt. Before we left, I couldn't sleep. I was afraid the Burmese military would come attack us. We brought some food with us, but not enough." During their escape from Burma, they each ate about half a bowl of rice a day for a month while they lived in a nearby jungle. Finally, they crossed over into a Thai refugee camp.

Then 22, Oo Meh met her husband, Groto Ni, a Karenni soldier in the guerilla army, in the refugee camp. They had both of their children while living in the refugee camps.

There were several camps in Thailand, and the quality of life in them varied. But the camps met only the most basic of human needs. Food was rationed, healthcare was scant, work was prohibited, and there was little quality education. There was no electricity and no paved roads, and families lived in woven bamboo shacks with thatch roofs. People rode bicycles and sometimes motorbikes, but there were no cars or buses. In the schools, camp residents learned Burmese and their ethnic language, and some also learned English, but did not practice it much. If residents left the camps, they would have been in Thailand illegally, and could have been caught and deported by the Thai authorities.

So beginning in the 1960s, refugees from Burma began trickling into the United States. Many of the first arrivals — whether refugees, asylum seekers, or immigrants for other reasons — were ethnically Chinese or Indian. A democratic student demonstration in 1988 and a coup and ensuing crackdown led to more Burmese arriving in the United States, most of whom were well-educated. Burma is where Nobel Peace Price winner Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the pro-democratic movement who was elected prime minister in 1990, has been under house arrest for more than a decade. The "Saffron Revolution" of 2007, led by Buddhist monks, and the military junta's crackdown displaced more people.

All in all, these conflicts created half a million refugees.

After the attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent passage of the USA Patriot Act, the US government barred certain people from entering the country. The list of banned immigrants included anyone who had ever supported an armed antigovernment group, including people who provided weapons or food to such rebels. Because members of Burma's ethnic minorities have been embroiled in wars for years, this automatically enrolled most Burmese refugees into this prohibited category.

But people continued to flee Burma, and the humanitarian crisis in the camps was growing. Overcrowded conditions exacerbated the problem, as did the fact that many refugees lingered in camps for decades. In response to this crisis, and to international pressure from resettlement agencies and the United Nations, in 2006 the United States opened its doors to more Burmese refugees. Nearly 14,000 refugees of Burmese ancestry entered the United States in 2007, more than any other group.

When the United States welcomed the Burmese, refugees like Oo Meh and Groto Ni took the chance. "We planned for one year to come to the US." Oo Meh said. "We felt happy to leave."

But just months after arriving in the United States, many of these same refugees were expressing frustration and fear, combined with a loss of hope. "I don't feel well," Oo Meh said. "I want to go back to the camps. I can't speak the language. I don't have my friends, my people."

Oo Meh and Groto Ni take English classes through the Oakland adult schools, but they say they don't really understand much of what is taught in class. Meanwhile, robbery victim Ale Sho has been in the country for nine months and is taking English classes. He is receiving public assistance and only recently began looking for a job through Lao Family Community Development, because he couldn't get into the International Rescue Committee's employement program. Until recently, he didn't know where to get help or how to find a job.

Other refugee groups typically arrive in the United States with better language skills. For instance, many Iraqi refugees are professionals who speak English, and even most Bhutanese refugees have English skills. But for the Karen and Karenni refugees, English isn't their second or even third language. They speak their native tongue, Burmese, and often some Thai.

"For new communities in general, access to the English language is one of the key ingredients for incorporation success," says Khatharya Um, associate professor of Asian American studies at UC Berkeley, whose work focuses on Southeast Asian refugees. For instance, Um said, an English-speaking refugee with no more than a third-grade education is in a better position to navigate the system and find a job than a high-school graduate who cannot speak English.

That principal was on display one brisk November morning when Oo Meh and Groto Ni's sons, Bo Reh and April Ni, went cold-calling for jobs. Because both young men had been in the International Rescue Committee's employment program for three months and had no luck finding a job, staff members there decided it was time to go door-to-door. And because April Ni washed dishes in one of the Thai refugee camp's kitchens and both young men knew some Thai from their life there, the men focused their job search on Thai restaurants.

At around 11 a.m., they hopped on an AC Transit bus and headed toward Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley with Aurora Almendral, the International Rescue Committee volunteer who had picked them up at the airport when they first arrived in the United States. After three hours, they had hit up fifteen Thai restaurants.

"We talked to workers and owners to see if they were hiring, and we brought their résumés," Almendral said. But the young men were hesitant about their English skills, and Almendral did most of the talking. Only four restaurants took their résumés. Many managers said they were not hiring, and a few even said they planned on closing soon.

"They just seemed overwhelmed and nervous about all the people that they talked to," Almendral said of her young companions. "About twelve or thirteen of the places didn't say anything hopeful."

April Ni, 19, was born in the refugee camp and had never had a job before. He was taking English classes in the morning and waiting for work, like his brother. "If I get any kind of job, I'm ready to go to work," he said through a translator. "If they call, we'll go. But if they don't, we can't."

Bo Reh, 21, shared the same stark assessment as his mother. "The camp is our village," he said through a translator. "The place is ours. We can play, we can go to school. It is better than here. If I had any opportunity to go back to camp, I would go."

Still, as a result of their job search, Bo Reh eventually began working in landscaping after the husband of one of the restaurant managers hired him on an on-call basis. And April Ni found a job washing dishes at a Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Oakland. He now works there part-time in the evenings, but admits he is sometimes afraid to ride the bus back after his late-night shift.

The two brothers are fortunate. More than 40 percent of the refugees in the International Rescue Committee employment program are unable to find a job within six months.

The International Rescue Committee handles the bulk of Burmese refugee cases in the Bay Area, and is one of ten nongovernmental organizations with which the US State Department contracts to resettle refugees. The committee's Oakland office is a stone's throw from the Tribune Tower, in the heart of the hustle and bustle of downtown. At any given time you'll see people from all over the world waiting in the organization's lobby. Committee case managers handle all sorts of issues — from picking them up at the airport and helping refugees find a place to live to translating between parents and their children's schools to finding work for the new arrivals.

The committee has typically located many recent refugees in Oakland because of its relatively low cost of living, access to public transportation, and — at one time — manufacturing jobs. Just two years ago, when Karen refugees started arriving in larger groups, the International Rescue Committee placed 78 percent of refugees in jobs within the first six months of moving here. But that number is now down to 58 percent, and the staff expects it to dip still more in the coming months.

"People are hopeless," said interpreter Nwe Oo, a refugee who arrived in 2005. "They come to the US, but they cannot find a job."

Many refugees have to wait months before finding work, sometimes years. About half of the refugees that the International Rescue Committee works with join its employment program upon arrival. But in Oakland, the unofficial unemployment rate exceeds 20 percent, and jobs are no guarantee.

Even for those refugees who do get jobs, the numbers are bleak. As recently as 2006, the average wage for refugees placed in part-time jobs by the regional International Rescue Committee office was $14.73. In 2009, it plummeted to $8.56.

Meanwhile, the quality of jobs has changed. Four years ago, International Rescue Committee employment specialist Igor Radulovic rarely considered service sector jobs for the refugees he worked with because those are usually part time and often don't include benefits. But today, restaurant and hotel jobs are the only ones he can find for new refugees, he said. Higher-paying factory or production jobs are extremely scarce. Most of the jobs now are part-time.

Transportation also is a huge issue, since most of them rely on public transit. Some find a job only to resign once they discover that they simply can't afford to commute to Fremont or San Francisco by BART and then bus.

Refugees who can't locate or keep jobs are thrown into the welfare system. In California, they can receive public assistance: CalWorks for families with children, or Refugee Cash Assistance for single people. Families of four receive about $800 a month from CalWorks, with a lifetime cap of five years of assistance. A single person receives about $345 a month from Refugee Cash Assistance, which lasts eight months. After that, they may be able to tap into the General Assistance welfare pool, which provides even less than Refugee Cash Assistance.

But with a two-bedroom apartment in the Eastlake district of Oakland running about $1,000 a month, families who rely on public assistance typically have almost no money after rent.

Consequently, Climent notes, this year the committee has had to reject many Burmese refugees who hoped to flee the camps for the United States. For example, it won't accept families with five or more kids with unemployable parents. A couple with five children would receive $1,162 a month from CalWorks, but since, by law, the International Rescue Committee has to find a three-bedroom for larger families, CalWorks funds wouldn't even cover the rent. At a time when welfare benefits have been cut and the unemployment rate is so high, to welcome such families to the United States would just be setting them up for failure.

Climent said refugees' needs have changed. When he started working at the International Rescue Committee in 1979, it was resettling primarily Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees. But today, refugees come from all over the world, necessitating more staffing and more nuanced support. And yet welfare and other public assistance have been cut back drastically. The Refugee Cash Assistance once lasted five years; now it's just eight months. CalWorks was recently reduced by 4 percent. Consequently, he and representatives of other US refugee resettlement agencies are urging the federal government to change its policies in supporting new refugees.

"For high-need populations, three or six months is not enough to transition to full self-sufficiency," agreed Um, the Berkeley professor. "Once they're no longer eligible for refugee programs, they may still have challenges, so they have to access the general programs that are there to assist families in need. They just become a part of America's poor and vulnerable."

Um believes the government should invest in language skills, training, and job development for refugees. "It is important that we as a society invest in our human resources, including new refugees, and not just focus on the short-term filling of needs of the economy, without any kind of real investment in our population," she said. "Our human resources are the backbone of America."

Karenni men typically wear a bright red, sleeveless poncho-like shirt, but April Ni and his 22-year-old neighbor Maw Reh have not worn theirs since arriving in the United States. During a recent interview at their apartment complex, they explained why.

Shortly after arriving in the United States, they were told not to wear their traditional clothing. "They don't like the color red," April Ni said vaguely. When pressed, he acknowledged hearing at the Oakland Burmese Mission Baptist Church that the color red is affiliated with gangs. Consequently, all of the Karenni refugees interviewed for this story wear Western clothing, although many Karen refugees still wear traditional clothing, or at least a woven sling bag.

Traditional clothing may make refugees an easy target for crime, but just being Asian may be a factor. In the months prior to the robbery that Ale Sho narrowly avoided outside his apartment, a number of other Burmese refugees were robbed while walking down the street, according to Climent and others interviewed.

And just within the last few months, there has been a spike in street robberies specifically targeting Asians in the Eastlake district, according to Alan Yu, Asian liaison officer for the Oakland Police Department. While the actual numbers of robberies in Oakland's Area 2 — the area just east of Lake Merritt to High Street — was not unusual in October and November, almost half of the robbery victims during those months were Asian and many of those robberies were concentrated in the Eastlake area. Language barriers, the notion that Asians keep a lot of cash on hand, and underreporting in Asian communities are some of the biggest factors in these crimes. Like many immigrant communities, Asians are less likely to report crimes to police when they occur, making them more vulnerable to criminals who think they can get away with their crimes.

The long-term impacts of such crimes can be significant, if hard to measure. Maha See, a Burmese-speaking case manager who works at Asian Community Mental Health Services, recently counseled three Burmese refugees who were victims of street robberies.

Almost by definition, most refugees have already experienced trauma, sometimes many times over. A rare study of Karenni refugees published in 2001 by the Centers for Disease Control found that 41 percent experienced depression and 42 percent felt anxiety, along with 4.6 percent who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.

Even among those who did not already suffer from depression because of their forcible relocation or loss of homes, property, or loved ones, depression is an understandable response to a jarring relocation to the United States, See said. He and another Burmese-speaking staff member recently began providing mental health counseling on a part time basis. "Since we come from cultures where there's no such thing as counseling or therapy, they are very unaware with how they can ask for psychological or emotional needs," he said. See believes there needs to be more outreach to new refugees.

But besides Asian Community Mental Health Services and the International Rescue Committee, few places offer solace and services for these refugees. Because many Karen and Karenni refugees are Christian, some refugees receive assistance from the Oakland Burmese Mission Baptist Church. Volunteers from Refugee Transitions tutor refugees and their children, and the nonprofit group employs a staff member who speaks Burmese. Staff members of Lao Family Community Development also speak Burmese and can help place refugees in jobs, and there is a Burmese-speaking worker at the Eastmont Wellness Center.

In recent years, the Oakland Unified School District hired a refugee specialist after being awarded a refugee school-impact grant from the US Office of Refugee and Resettlement. Each month at Catholic Charities, groups who work with refugees meet to talk about the different populations as part of the East Bay Refugee Forum.

Still, there is no organization that focuses solely on Burmese refugees in the East Bay. Although there is an existing Burmese community in the East Bay, earlier immigrants were mostly Chinese, Indian, or Burman, not Karen, Karenni, Chin, or Kachin. And there are language, economic, and cultural gaps between all groups.

"That sense of pan-ethnic identity is certainly emerging, but it takes time," said Um, who noted that the same thing happened to Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees after the war in Vietnam. Uniting this fractured group might be difficult but necessary.

Sometimes, new arrivals just need help translating their mail. The International Rescue Committee does much of the work, but sometimes refugees need to be told things many times before they remember, said Zar Ni Maung, a family advocate at Refugee Transitions. There is simply too much information being thrown at them at once.

Other needs are not as easily filled. People need healthcare interpreters, for example, when they go to the hospital. And new arrivals typically don't understand how to navigate systems such as banking or public transportation. Maung tells a story about how one single mother on welfare accidentally opened a savings account instead of a checking account, and overdrafted eight times; now she owes $400 in fees even though she had originally deposited only $175 and taken out $120 from the ATM.

Maung, translator Nwe Oo, and several others are in the process of forming a nonprofit tentatively called the Burmese Refugee Family Network. They have not filed for nonprofit status yet, but have been planning for more than a year. The goal is to fill in the gaps of these other organizations, and assist the organizations since many of the Burmese-speaking social workers are already overloaded. They feel like some of the basic needs of new families are not met. They envision that much of the work will be training volunteers to help translate and advocate on behalf of refugee families.

Still, while the current outlook is bleak, refugee resettlement officials hope the situation is temporary.

"Is it a good idea to come here during this time?" asked Climent. "I think the answer is still yes. ... Their lives in refugee camps was dismal. Even though it is hard for them here, it is a step up. They will have access to education, they will have access to jobs. There is a future there for them here."

Nwe Oo, a mother of three, ultimately believes a community group focused on families' voices and their basic needs is necessary to improve the lives of Burmese refugees.

"There are a lot of Burmese refugees coming here, and they face many issues," Oo said. "The IRC and other organizations are trying to help, but they have limitations. We are trying to help our community, especially with basic needs. ... They can learn English, and later on, they can get a better job. Their family life will change little by little. People who came last year, their English skills have improved. So that's what we hope. Change little by little."

Feature archive

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What Business Leaders Can Learn From Bhutan

nowBuzz up! Get Breaking News Alerts

Share Comments Having spent the past 32 years in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area region, I guess I've grown accustomed to start-ups wreaking havoc in mature industries. Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Google, Facebook -- they all were launched within a 15-mile radius of my alma mater, Stanford University, and they went on to revolutionize not just their industry, but they changed our relationship with technology and, frankly, in Facebook's case, our relationships with each other.

So, it's no surprise that I'm fascinated with a little, almost-mythical country in the Himalayas that is revolutionizing how world leaders are looking at the definition of success. Like The Mouse That Roared (a popular book and film from the late 1950s about an imaginary, bucolic country situated between France and Switzerland that becomes the admiration of modern society when it declares war on the United States), Bhutan is getting the kind of attention an off-off-Broadway play gets when you know it's destined to be a hit. In 1972, the 17-year old King of Bhutan asked the blasphemous question, "Why are we so focused on Gross Domestic Product? Why aren't we more concerned with Gross National Happiness?" For nearly 40 years now, Bhutan has been reinventing itself based upon the premise that the ultimate public good a leader can provide his or her people isn't material possessions, but instead it's happiness or well-being.

This "beginner's mind" idea has found fertile ground in the 21st Century as more than 40 countries are now studying their own GNH (Gross National Happiness). Nicolas Sarkozy recently announced what some are calling a "joie de vivre index" in France based upon an 18-month study of two Nobel economists who recommended that the largest countries of the world end their obsession with GDP and consider some new intangible metrics. In essence, they're suggested that GDP -- which focuses exclusively on tangible production and consumption -- no longer should be our sole definition of global success especially at a time when 64% of the world's GDP now comes from the intangible service industry. In other words, GDP measures outputs which might have made sense in a more mechanized, industrial era. But, given the knowledge era we now live in, measuring those inputs that influence the output is a more holistic method of evaluating whether we're creating sustainable success.

This may seem abstract, but it's extremely relevant to business leaders who have come to realize that a myopic focus purely on the bottom line can have the same effect as driving a car at full speed all the time without doing occasional maintenance and refueling. Here are three important lessons for business leaders to learn from Bhutan:

(1) Leaders don't create happiness for people. The Prime Minister of Bhutan told me his goal is "to create the conditions in which happiness can flourish." Abraham Maslow once suggested business leaders "can set up the conditions so that peak experiences are more likely, or one can perversely set up the conditions so that they are less likely." Great leaders create healthy habitats. From those healthy habitats sprout the outputs we're looking for whether it is happy citizens or a profitable business. Silicon Valley has an eco-system that is primed for innovation, but as many regions of the world have learned, you can't easily replicate the intangibles that create such a cultural habitat. So, first brainstorm with the leaders in your company about what cultural "conditions" would help your company flourish and what kinds of specific things you can do to create that habitat.

(2) Leaders value and measure the intangible. The Bhutanese have created a science behind the art of happiness. They measure four (4) pillars, nine (9) key indicators, and 72 various metrics to help them understand whether they are creating fertile conditions for happiness. The Gallup organization has developed 12 questions that help leaders measure employee engagement like "At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?" or "Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?" It's time for leaders to distinguish between what they can easily count ("Are you being paid enough?") with what employees most value. The intangibles of mission and meaning are powerful fuel for knowledge-driven industries, so find ways to measure these vital inputs.

(3) Leaders are willing to deviate from the norm. Most world leaders didn't take notice when the teenage King of Bhutan asked his impertinent questions about GDP. Those that did notice chuckled and chalked this idea of GNH up to "Buddhist economics." But, if you're a small country or a small company, your best strategy to compete with the big boys is to find a niche and own it. In my case when I started my company 23 years ago by purchasing an inner-city motel, I went after rock 'n roll bands as our core customer, even though conventional hoteliers told me I was crazy to want these party animals. Yet this target customer was perfectly suited to my funky motel and this was an untapped market (bands) that was growing and recession-proof. Similarly, it took 30 years for the world to embrace Bhutan's approach to GNH, yet this "happiness niche" has turned out to be much larger than the King of Bhutan ever imagined. Find a niche, embrace it wholly even if it's unconventional, and deliver on your promise better than any of your competitors.

Huffingyuff post

Bangladesh to lift duty for Bhutan products

Wed, Feb 3rd, 2010 11:23 pm BdST Dial 2324 from your mobile for latest news

Dhaka, Feb 3 ( has offered duty-free access to Bhutanese products, commerce minister Faruk Khan said on Wednesday, after meeting with a Bangladeshi business delegation that is scheduled to leave for Thimpu on Friday

"The prime minister promised duty free access for18 products from January 1 during her recent visit to Bhutan," said Khan, but it could not be offered on time because of the change in the product list made by the Bhutanese government."

He said the products include vegetables, fruits and limestone.

"We hope it will be effective within a month."

The 24-member Bangladesh delegation will meet Bhutanese government officials as well as members of the business community.

Citing business prospects between the two countries as good, Khan said that talks on transit facilities that would enable products from both countries to move through Indian territory opened during the PM's recent visit.

"We've advanced a lot on the issue. Infrastructure development including rail tracks have already been started," he added.

Bhutanese imports to Bangladesh stood at about $12 million in the fiscal 2008-09, which includes fruits, vegetables, processed food and furniture. Bangladesh's exports to Bhutan amounted to just $0.6 million, which includes pharmaceuticals, garment and frozen foods.

Bhutan’s Royalists Fear Christianity Will Create Tension

Anugrah Kumar
Compass Direct News

February 2, 2010

THIMPHU, Bhutan (CDN) — Bars, pubs and discos have become legal in Bhutan - a cause of concern for the older generation - but construction of worship buildings other than Buddhist or Hindu temples is still prohibited.

The prohibition remains in force even though Christians abide by Bhutan's codes of conduct, speaking the Dzongkha language as well as the Nepali language at church gatherings, and wearing the national dress.

The National Assembly of Bhutan banned the practice of non-Buddhist and non-Hindu religions through edicts in 1969 and in 1979. But Christians do meet for Sunday worship, with attendance of more than 100 Christians in an underground church not unusual.

Why are Christians seen as a greater threat to the culture of the nation than the "democracy disco culture," as one government official described the emerging subculture among the Bhutanese youth? It is believed that Christianity will create religious tensions in the country.
"There are reasons why Christianity is not being tolerated in the country," said a former high government official who requested anonymity. "Look at the communal tensions in India and Nepal. Christianity can divide the Bhutanese society as well."

He mentioned two incidents that appeared in the Bhutanese press last year, one in which 13 Christians allegedly hanged a woman they had accused of being a witch, and a suicide by a Hindu man who reportedly left a note saying his Christian wife and children were pressuring him to convert.

Christians here said these were isolated incidents that they strongly condemned.

"A majority of believers in Bhutan are not educated and are from lower economic backgrounds," said the pastor of an underground church. "When open preaching is not allowed, this is what happens."

Sound Christian teaching remains lacking, he said. There is a tremendous need for good Christian teaching and general education among the Christians in Bhutan, said the pastor.

"But little can be done given the restrictions we face here."

Christians are only allowed to pray if someone is sick among their acquaintances, he added.
The government also fears that Christianity could cause societal tensions because of the general misconception that Christians lure others to the faith with money; converts are viewed with suspicion, said a government official on condition of anonymity.

"There should be one religion in one nation," said the official, adding that religious freedom should be allowed only after educating people.

Threat from Within

Bhutanese officials are no strangers to religious conflict.

"You must also understand that the kind of Buddhism practiced in Bhutan is a minority sect within the two Buddhist divisions," said the former government official.

A majority of Buddhists in Bhutan practice Vajrayāna Buddhism, also known as Tantric Buddhism, and belong to the larger Mahayana sect, one of the two major divisions of the religion along with the Theravada sect.

Theravada Buddhism has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asian countries, including Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Mahayana is practiced in a few East Asian countries, including Japan.

Unlike Theravada, which is more individualistic in its motivation, Mahayana Buddhism involves an aspiration to achieve enlightenment not only for one's own sake, but for the sake of all "sentient" beings.

"There is a perceived threat to the Buddhist sect in Bhutan from the more powerful Theravada division," said the source, without divulging more about the clash within Buddhism. "In such a scenario, how can you expect the government to willingly open doors to Christianity, which too is a threat?"

Of Bhutan's more than 670,000 people, Christians are estimated to range in number between 3,000 and 6,000. Around 75 percent of the people practice Buddhism, and roughly 22 percent are Hindus, mostly of Nepali origin.

Monarchy and Buddhism

Religion is so closely linked to the monarchy in Bhutan that one cannot exist without the other.

The national flag of Bhutan, which consists of a white dragon over a yellow and orange background, also has religion in it. While the yellow half represents civil and political powers of the King, the orange signifies monastic traditions of Buddha's teachings.

The religious link is protected in the new constitution, which was adopted in March 2008. Article 2 notes that the dual powers of religion and politics shall be unified in the person of the king, "who, as a Buddhist, shall be the upholder of the Chhoe-sid," the traditional dual system of governance characterized by the sharing of power between the religious and political heads of the country.

Given that the king embodies religious and political authority, the common people worship him.

Additionally, Buddhism is woven into the national fabric. Bhutan is the only country in the world that employs a "Gross National Happiness" (GNH) equation to measure its people's level of happiness, and the GNH assumes that all citizens are Buddhist. Respondents to the GNH survey are asked questions concerning "spiritual activities like meditation and prayers, and consideration of karmic effects in daily life."

The introduction of democracy in Bhutan did not involve disturbing the religious and cultural status quo. While former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who served from 1972 to 2006, brought democracy to Bhutan without any demand for it, people believe his intentions were far from transforming the country into a full democracy.
It is believed that the political turmoil in neighboring Nepal partly influenced King Singye Wangchuck's decision to make the country, at least on paper, a constitutional monarchy after over 100 years of absolute monarchy. A decade-long civil war led by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist - which took more than 12,000 lives - is believed to be behind the abolition of the royal parliamentary system and the adoption of a socialist republic in Nepal. In 2006 the then-king of Nepal, Gyanendra, agreed to relinquish sovereign power to the people.

All sources in Bhutan confirmed that the present king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (selected in 2006 but not crowned until 2008), was still the supreme ruler. Perhaps this is why both the ruling Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (Bhutan Peace and Prosperity) Party and the opposition People's Democratic Party are royalists.

Pictures of kings of Bhutan are found everywhere in the country - in homes, shops, hotels, underground churches and on street walls. Many large posters with the kings' pictures carrying the inscription "Kings of our Hearts" can be seen along the streets. Even public buses have "Our Kings Forever" painted on them.

"But you cannot expect things to change overnight," said the former government official. "It's not wise to allow development without any bridle. Things are improving slowly.

Added an optimistic source, "Freedom in the real sense of the word and in all spheres is bound to come to Bhutan. It's just a matter of time."

Copyright 2010 Compass Direct News. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Refugees find new jobs, lives in Alaska with help from employment program

On a cold winter morning, a group of new Alaskans gathered in a classroom annex in East Anchorage to learn about what it takes to get - and keep -a job in the United States.

On a cold winter morning, a group of new Alaskans gathered in a classroom annex in East Anchorage to learn about what it takes to get - and keep -a job in the United States. Bhutanese refugees Hari Subedi, his brother Tulsi and their friend Raghu Nath Mishra arrived eager,bundled up and shaking off snow.

The three men are some of the 110 or so resettled to Alaska each year by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and the U.S. government. When they arrive, often directly from refugee camps, they face huge challenges: building a life in a country where everything from the language to the culture and climate is new.

One of the biggest challenges is finding a job.

Refugees arrive and are placed on public assistance, living on very limited budgets. Their first goal, says State Refugee Coordinator Dr. Karen Ferguson, is getting off public assistance through employment.

"We teach them how to be on (public assistance) and how to get off," she says.

That's why Catholic Social Services, an agency that provides help to refugees through the Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services program, holds employment orientation classes and helps to match willing workers with employers.

Today, Hari, Tulsi and Raghu, who all arrived a few months ago, will attend one such class. Over tea and animal crackers, the men, and other refugees from Sudan, Iran and Bhutan, talk with instructor Mirna Howard about American-style employment benefits.

to orientation classes, Catholic Social Services' Refugee Employment Program matches people with positions, helping find spots for some 70 percent of participants in the first six months.
For their part, Employment Services Coordinator Said Elmi says employers are often impressed with refugee employees' motivation and loyalty. He's helped to place other refugees into jobs at hotels and schools in town.

"It's a good situation for both sides," he says.

Hari, Tulsi and Raghu spent nearly 20 years in refugee camps in Nepal after the Bhutanese government's campaign to remove Hindus from the mostly-Buddhist country forced them out of the country they were born in. While in the squalid camps, where they lived without running water or electricity and had travel restricted, the men all worked as English teachers in nearby villages. After finally receiving word that they'd be resettled in Alaska, other Bhutanese refugees told them how important job skills and education would be.

"Our plan was to come here and do any kind of job," says Raghu. "We hope to upgrade our jobs slowly."

Tulsi and Raghu now have jobs working at Target, where they serve as parking lot attendants, restock shelves, clean up spills and help customers. Tulsi is still looking for a position.

"We feel proud and thankful to have jobs," says Tulsi.

In time, all three hope to return to school to be certified as teachers in the U.S. --- a long road, because much of their education from Bhutan and Nepal doesn't meet equivalency standards here. When they someday become teachers, Raghu says, they'll be able to impart their students with knowledge and their life experiences.

"We know the poor life," he says. "What we have learned we want to give them."

Working at Target is welcome exposure to diverse co-workers and American culture, says Raghu. And the company is allowing him to take time off to escort his young son to Seattle for heart surgery next month.

While he and the other Bhutanese refugees face challenges - gaining computer skills, communicating clearly in slang-heavy American-style English and learning to drive in wintry Alaskan weather are three he cites - earning a paycheck is a good start to his new life.

"I am very much proud to be employed there," he says. "They trust us and believe in us."


More Bhutanese refugees expected on P.E.I.

 Madan Kumar Giri (4th from right), shown here with family and friends, wants to attract more Bhutanese to P.E.I. (Nancy Russell/CBC)
The Bhutanese community on P.E.I. will increase significantly in size this year.

In May 2007 Canada agreed to take in 5,000 refugees who had been living in camps in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s. Last year, more than 40 of them arrived on Prince Edward Island. Another 35 are expected this year.

Madan Kumar Giri and seven members of his family were the first Bhutanese refugees to arrive more than three years ago. They've applied for Canadian citizenship. Giri sends photos and videos back to the refugee camps in Nepal, in the hopes of attracting people to P.E.I.

"We would like to increase the number of Bhutanese immigrants here on the Island, so at least we would have a small Bhutanese community," he said.

The size of the community matters to Citizenship and Immigration Canada as well. Creating a sustainable community for immigrants is a central part of its planning.

"That is a contributing factor and certainly makes it easier for that particular group to settle into the province," said Jon Stone, director of communication for Citizenship and Immigration Canada in the Atlantic Region.

As Canada continues to work towards its commitment of settling 5,000 refugees, more are expected on the Island in 2011.

About 108,000 Bhutanese refugees of ethnic Nepalese descent have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s. Canada is part of a group of seven countries taking steps to address this long-standing problem.

Read more:

Bhutanese refugees share their stories

By: Emily Wilkins


Kat Petersen / The State News
From left: Nanda Dangal, Keshar Khatiwada and Durga Dhungana, refugees from Bhutan, spoke to a crowded classroom of mostly Amnesty International members Monday at East Lansing High School, 509 Burcham Drive The three men, all Lansing residents, spoke of their experience spending 18 years in Nepalese refugee camps.

In 2006, Business Week rated the country of Bhutan in southern Asia as the happiest country on the continent.

But for Keshar Khatiwada it was anything but, as he and other endured torture and numerous hardships.

Khatiwada and two other Bhutanese refugees — Durga Dhungana and Nanda Dangal — spoke at an Amnesty International Club meeting Monday night at East Lansing High School. The men talked about their life in Bhutan and their journey to the Lansing area.

They are three of about 400 Bhutanese refugees that live in the East Lansing and Lansing area. The federal government places them in new communities and St. Vincent Catholic Charities — one of many resettlement organizations within the United States — assists families and single adults who are placed in mid-Michigan.

“When the refugees come through we are under federal grant,” said Julie Reynolds Picot, the community relations and marketing director for St. Vincent. “We come in and we greet them at the Lansing airport.”

The group helps the refugees with affordable housing, food and basic household needs for up to two years.

Khatiwada arrived in Michigan 10 months ago.

About 20 high school students and several adults listened as Khatiwada, Dhungana and Dangal told their stories about life in Bhutan and the hardships they faced. In one of many examples, Khatiwada said he was once forced to grow his fingernails out to a length where he could no longer eat with his hands, but had to use his mouth to pick up the food.

“We were given no good job(s) because we (did) not speak the language,” he said, “(Our) frustration went higher and higher. Every day it increased.”

Khatiwada and part of his family left the country when he was 15 years old, traveling first to India and then to Nepal. Once in Nepal, they were placed in a refugee camp. Unfortunately, the situation there was no better.

“It was … horrible,” Khatiwada said.

The camp was overcrowded and the refugees were forced to work in the camp for 40 cents per month, a rate that never changed the 18 years Khatiwada spent in the camp.

Help came in the form of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who visited the camp and gave multiple refugees, including Khatiwada, the option of several countries they could choose for their new homes.

“I found (the United States) was the best country compared to any of them,” he said. “I want to upgrade my education and to become a strong citizen.”

Last year, 270 Bhutanese were relocated to the East Lansing area, and St. Vincent Catholic Charities reached out to local churches for help.

Mark Cody is a member of Trinity Church in Lansing. He has been helping the refugees out by offering transportation and getting to know refugees who come to his church. He said there have been some barriers for the Bhutanese to overcome but they have acclimated well.

“(The Bhutanese) have a very tight-knit community and we’ve really enjoyed getting to know them as members of the Lansing community,” Cody said.

The State

Bhutanese adjusting well

A brother and sister who arrived in the Tri-Cities last year from a refugee camp in Nepal are reported to be doing well in school.

0 Comments Bhutanese refugees starting new lives in the Tri-Cities are settling into new schools, learning English and some have secured employment, reports the director of settlement services for an immigrant services agency.

“Generally speaking, they are doing quite well,” said Chris Friesen, of the Immigrant Services Society of BC.

Only 28 Bhutanese refugees came to the Tri-Cities in 2009 out of the 150 expected because families opted to settle in other provinces where they had family and connections.

Canada is expected to take 1,600 Bhutanese refugees from camps in Nepal this year in an international resettlement effort and about 350 could potentially come to B.C. and settle in the Tri-Cities. But Friesen said it’s not known how many will eventually arrive based on experience from 2009.

What is known is that for the next few months the number of refugees to B.C. will slow while the province hosts the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

However, accommodations have been made in case more Bhutanese do arrive, Friesen said. A Nepalese-speaking interpreter has been hired to aid with resettlement details, such as finding a place to stay and getting around the community, a Nepalese-speaking doctor has been found in Surrey, and a summer camp that prepared Tri-City refugee students for school will likely go ahead again in July.

A UBC study gave the camp located at Miller Park elementary school a positive review, Friesen said. “So we are keen, and the Coquitlam school board is keen to take the learning from last year and enhance and replicate that for the upcoming summer.”

The Tri-Cities was the third destination for refugee settlement after Surrey and Burnaby in 2009, with 112 people arriving here. In addition to Bhutanese arriving from Nepal, Tri-Cities saw people from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Columbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Togo move into the community.

To help students settle into the schools, School District 43 has hired settlement workers who speak the languages of newly arriving refugees and immigrants and has received a grant to start a program for older teens recently in the area who need help with English and might be at risk of not graduating.


Over 150 huts gutted by fire in Bhutanese refugee camp

Thursday, 21 January 2010 10:03

More than 150 huts were gutted by fire in the Bhutanese refugee camp located in Beldangi, Damak, Jhapa, last night.

The fire that started from the hut of Lal Bahadur Lamgade at about 10.15 pm, Wednesday spread across the camp due to lack of fire fighters.

Although people in the refugee camp had informed fire brigades in Mechinagar, Damak and Bhadrapur as soon as the fire started, they did not turn up in time.

No casualty except a minor injury has been reported. A Bhutanese refugee Prithvi Lal Tamang has sustained burn injuries due to the fire.

The fire was taken in control at about 1.30 am, Thursday by the refugees with the help of police.

..............Follow up...............
Aid reaches hundreds of fire-affected Bhutanese refugees
Friday, 22 January 2010 17:01
Share this

Twitter Myspace Digg Slashdot Furl Yahoo Googlize this Blinklist Facebook WikioExport PDFPrintE-mail

More than 400 refugees from Bhutan, who became homeless when fire swept through the Beldangi refugee camp in eastern Nepal Wednesday night, have now received emergency aid.

The government, UNHCR, and its NGO partners (Caritas, Lutheran World Federation, the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia) and WFP are providing immediate emergency assistance, according to a press release issued by UNHCR on Friday.

UNHCR and its NGO partners said they will distribute plastic sheets, blankets, mosquito nets, soaps, cooking kits, as well as materials such as bamboo to help the affected families rebuild their homes.

In total, an estimated US $39,000 will be required for emergency relief and reconstruction materials, said UNHCR.

Immediately after the fire, the homeless families temporarily moved to their neighbours and relatives huts, offices of the community based organisations and the camp school.

UNHCR said it will soon relocate the affected families to vacant huts in the camp or will build new huts.

The fire, which broke out at 9:45 p.m., destroyed 28 traditional thatched huts, including 31 huts that were dismantled to stop fire from spreading further. Another 13 huts were partially damaged.

Preliminary investigation suggests that the fire started accidentally from a candle in a hut.

Forty personnel from the Armed Police Force managed to control the fire within an hour with two fire engines from Itahari and Birtamod. There has been no serious injures or casualties.

Over 150 huts gutted by fire in Bhutanese refugee camp

Thursday, 21 January 2010 10:03

More than 150 huts were gutted by fire in the Bhutanese refugee camp located in Beldangi, Damak, Jhapa, last night.

The fire that started from the hut of Lal Bahadur Lamgade at about 10.15 pm, Wednesday spread across the camp due to lack of fire fighters.

Although people in the refugee camp had informed fire brigades in Mechinagar, Damak and Bhadrapur as soon as the fire started, they did not turn up in time.

No casualty except a minor injury has been reported. A Bhutanese refugee Prithvi Lal Tamang has sustained burn injuries due to the fire.

The fire was taken in control at about 1.30 am, Thursday by the refugees with the help of police.

..............Follow up...............
Aid reaches hundreds of fire-affected Bhutanese refugees
Friday, 22 January 2010 17:01
Share this

Twitter Myspace Digg Slashdot Furl Yahoo Googlize this Blinklist Facebook WikioExport PDFPrintE-mail

More than 400 refugees from Bhutan, who became homeless when fire swept through the Beldangi refugee camp in eastern Nepal Wednesday night, have now received emergency aid.

The government, UNHCR, and its NGO partners (Caritas, Lutheran World Federation, the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia) and WFP are providing immediate emergency assistance, according to a press release issued by UNHCR on Friday.

UNHCR and its NGO partners said they will distribute plastic sheets, blankets, mosquito nets, soaps, cooking kits, as well as materials such as bamboo to help the affected families rebuild their homes.

In total, an estimated US $39,000 will be required for emergency relief and reconstruction materials, said UNHCR.

Immediately after the fire, the homeless families temporarily moved to their neighbours and relatives huts, offices of the community based organisations and the camp school.

UNHCR said it will soon relocate the affected families to vacant huts in the camp or will build new huts.

The fire, which broke out at 9:45 p.m., destroyed 28 traditional thatched huts, including 31 huts that were dismantled to stop fire from spreading further. Another 13 huts were partially damaged.

Preliminary investigation suggests that the fire started accidentally from a candle in a hut.

Forty personnel from the Armed Police Force managed to control the fire within an hour with two fire engines from Itahari and Birtamod. There has been no serious injures or casualties.

Bhutan refugees start over in Philadelphia

A family of ethnic Nepalese that fled Bhutan is put on a fast track to resettlement and self-sufficiency.
January 15, 2010|By Michael Matza
Reporting from Philadelphia — The alarm clock's 3 a.m. ring awakened Rudra Kuikel and his eldest daughter, Thagi, in their lightly furnished south Philadelphia apartment.

An hour later, they were headed to a packaged-food plant where father and daughter chopped lettuce for eight hours, netting $50 each after taxes and paying $5 each for transportation.

The Kuikel family, ethnic Nepalese Hindus who once lived in Bhutan, includes wife Jasodha; son Indra, 19; daughter Tulasha, 13; Thagi, 22; and Rudra, 51.

The family fled Bhutan in 1992 after new citizenship laws made it impossible for them to stay in the nation of 691,000 citizens, which straddles India's border with China. Rudra Kuikel was a subsistence farmer growing rice and corn.

"At first we thought we would be able to return," he said. "But time kept going on, and it became clear we would not."

The family arrived in Philadelphia in August through a resettlement program.

About 103,000 ethnic Nepalese fled or were forced out of Bhutan in the 1990s into seven U.N.-run refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Critics have called Bhutan's policy ethnic cleansing. Bhutan's prime minister has called it "regularization" of a long-standing illegal immigration problem.

Almost two decades after entering the camps, where they lived in thatched huts with no indoor plumbing, the Kuikels and about 20 other refugee families who once lived in Bhutan are in Philadelphia. Here, they learn how to use seat belts, that red lights mean stop and that burned-out light bulbs can be replaced without having to replace the entire fixture.

They are part of an international resettlement effort begun two years ago that sent more than 17,000 ethnic Nepalese to the United States, about 800 to Australia, nearly 700 to Canada, nearly 300 to New Zealand and about 600 to northern Europe.

As legally admitted refugees, the ethnic Nepalese in the United States get one-time federal grants of $450 per person to help with their first month's rent and other necessities. In the beginning, they are eligible for food stamps, Medicare and cash assistance through welfare, and they receive additional assistance from their resettlement agencies.

Under the terms of their resettlement agreements, however, they are expected to become self-sufficient within eight months -- a tall order, especially in the current economy. After that time, their benefits dry up.

"American culture is rooted in 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps,' " said Juliane Ramic, social services director of the Nationalities Services Center, the Philadelphia agency that coordinated the Kuikels' resettlement. "The Bhutanese, as a group, are really doing it, finding jobs in a bad economy, moving forward and learning as quickly as they possibly can."

It is only a matter of time, she said, before they "move up on the labor ladder" to better-paying jobs.

Ludy Soderman, director of multilingual family support for the Philadelphia School District, met the Kuikels at an orientation open house.

"Life here is not easy" for them, Soderman said. "But you can see these kids have the light of learning in their eyes."

Indra is a math whiz, taking Advanced Placement calculus as a high school senior and aiming for college. Tulasha is a bright but quiet eighth-grader.

Rudra Kuikel says he hopes to have a house and a car someday, but for now he is happy to have secured his family's future.

Indra has his eyes on a bigger prize. "I want to stay in the United States, get a good job and create a higher standard of living for my family," he said. "I want to be someone."

Matza writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Los angeles times

Refugees need help from locals

BY JONATHON HOWE - Manawatu Standard Last updated 12:00 12/01/

Thirty five Bhutanese refugees will call Palmerston North home from next month and Refugee Services wants locals to help make their transition to Manawatu life a smooth one.

Eighteen people have volunteered to help with the next refugee intake, which arrives on February 26, but 12 more are needed to make the service effective, Refugee Services volunteer co-ordinator Lorna Johnson said.

Volunteers assist the integration of refugees into the community by helping them with day-to-day tasks such as finding a school, doctor, bank or supermarket.

About 10 families are expected in the intake, so three volunteers were needed to commit to a family for six months. During the first six weeks, volunteers could dedicate six to eight hours a week to the refugee family, Mrs Johnson said.

"But many remain in contact for a long time after that. It starts as the volunteer helping the family achieve certain things but once they are achieved, then it changes into a friendship and a social role."

Volunteers require about 17 hours training and receive a NZQA certificate.

Flexibility and commitment were two qualities people needed to be volunteers, she said.

"These are people that have been let down in the past, so we want somebody who's going to be there for the whole time, not somebody who'll do it for a few weeks and then push off."

Refugee Services co-ordinator Kevin Petersen said language was the biggest barrier for the older refugees, who predominantly spoke Nepali. "The younger ones have spent many years living in a refugee camp and in the camps they've been exposed to a fair amount of English."

Being displaced from their homeland was also a tough pill to swallow, he said.

"They're here, not because they want to be here, the majority of them are still dedicated to their homeland. It's ironic because they've been kicked out of Bhutan."

Donations of furniture, such as beds, couches and tables, would be welcomed. Anyone wanting to volunteer or donate items can contact Palmerston North Refugee Services on 355 1415.

* 126 Bhutanese refugees have been relocated to Palmerston North since 2006.

Bhutanese mists: 'Within the Realm of Happiness' by Kinley Dorji and 'Becoming a Journalist in Exile' by T.P. Mishra January 2010

By: Carey L Biron

Within the Realm of Happiness
by Kinley Dorji
Kuensel Corporation, 2008

Becoming a journalist in exile
by T P Mishra
TWMN-Bhutan, 2009
Two books present the dichotomy of Bhutan's image - from one perspective, the progressive-though-traditional idyll, to another, the authoritarian-to-dictatorial regime.

On 4 December, the royal government of Bhutan undertook perhaps its most high-profile discussion ever of the country’s human-rights record, in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). Simultaneously, a group of resettled Bhutanese refugees in Europe were likewise undertaking perhaps the most high-profile public demonstrations ever to highlight that same rights record. The occasion was Thimphu’s official handover of a report on its human rights to the HRC’s new Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a mechanism created in 2006 that will look at the rights records of all UN member states on a four-yearly basis. Despite decades of positioning itself as a leader of a new form of citizen-first policymaking – dubbed Gross National Happiness by the former king – the exercise in Geneva constituted the first time that Thimphu had ever engaged in an international exploration of its record on human rights, triggered both by this fresh imperative and pride in the country’s status as the world’s newest democracy.

As officials were drawing up this first-ever report, however, many observers have been angry that Thimphu was still not treating the exercise with due diligence. Although the criticism has not been from Europe alone, in Geneva the refugees gathered to allege that, despite extending to more than 11,000 words and covering a broad synopsis of recent Bhutanese history, the report included little information about the many serious accusations that have been levelled against the royal government over the past two decades. These have ranged from charges of ‘ethnic cleansing’ against the Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa community of southern Bhutan during the late 1980s and early 1990s (more than 100,000 of whom subsequently lived for years in camps in southeastern Nepal); to more recent allegations of restricting the voting rights of the some 80,000 Lhotshampa that still live in Bhutan during the country’s first-ever elections, held in early 2008.

In fact, contrary to the initial suggestions (including some subsequent reporting), the Bhutanese document does indeed include analysis of the Lhotshampa situation, albeit from a perspective that does little to address the underlying concerns. Under the heading of “Illegal immigration”, the report contextualises those tens of thousands who were kicked out of the country as having illegally emigrated to Bhutan during the 1950s; blames the “political turmoil” of the late 1980s on vested political interests; and explains the subsequent situation surrounding the refugee camps in Nepal as due to a lack of “any screening procedures”. (The “Illegal migration” section is followed by an ominous “Terrorism” section.) As correctly noted by the Geneva protestors, however, the report has nothing to say about more recent allegations, particularly those of day-to-day repression of Lhotshampa (and other minorities) of Bhutan, as well as those of many being denied the right to vote in the historic 2008 polls.

The media response to the Geneva events was telling. In Nepal, the day before the protest in Geneva was scheduled, the country’s largest-circulation English-language daily, the Kathmandu Post, published a front-page story on the rationale for the demonstration. In Bhutan, on the other hand, none of the major English papers included any mention of what was taking place in Europe – on neither the report nor the protests. Two weeks earlier, the former state-run Kuensel newspaper had published a piece on the upcoming report for the UPR under the tantalising headline, “Bhutan in the hot seat”. But the article’s first line instead included pat references to how “When Bhutan presents its national report for the universal periodic review ... the country’s delegation will be commended on the successes and also have to provide clarity on, among others, some largely inaccurate claims and allegations.” And so the grounds were set for what could have been a new page in dialogue over a notoriously contentious, if little discussed, issue: the dichotomy between Bhutan’s positioning of itself as a progressive-though-traditional idyll, and the serious criticisms of the country’s authoritarian-to-dictatorial political set-up.

Beautiful blinders
This disparity has been highlighted at the Himal office in recent months as well, as two essentially self-published Bhutan-related books have been sitting – together yet uneasily – on the editorial desk. The first of these is an achingly lyrical series of day-to-day semi-fictional vignettes written by an acclaimed former editor of Kuensel and current Information Ministry secretary; the second is a do-it-yourself handbook in the activist vein, written by a young Bhutanese journalist living in exile in Nepal. As can be adduced by their equally leading titles, as ‘companion’ pieces these two works stare in diametrically opposite directions, each in its own way digging a surreptitious elbow into the other’s soft midriff.

Becoming a Journalist in Exile is a worthy work for a very tiny readership, aimed at motivating and offering some ethical (and sometimes shrill) media guidelines for young Bhutanese both in and out of Bhutan. In addition to a few chapters of textbook-like content, this work by exile journalist T P Mishra (described as a ‘permanent resident’ of Dagana District, in southern Bhutan) also includes some smattering of pieces by journalists and media activists from other parts of the region and world. By and large, however, the book does not seem to have been written with an eye to broadening its appeal. For instance, it gives only a cursory history of the nascent Bhutanese media in exile in Nepal (though the few pages that are included are easily the most energising section of the book, giving an overview of the dozens of publications that have come and gone within the camps-based diaspora and beyond); nor is it structured so as to function as a media handbook for other exile communities.

And that is okay. While Mishra’s work descends in places into pamphleteering, the fact of the matter is the Bhutanese journalism in exile (almost exclusively in Nepal) remains active, functional and, perhaps most importantly, relevant and relatively effective – this despite significant hurdles, economic, legal and otherwise, that come with working under refugee conditions. Its pretensions to objectivity notwithstanding, after all, this is activist journalism at its most imperative. It is worth noting that exile journalists have also been functioning freely for a decade longer than have their counterparts in Bhutan, where private media was proscribed until 2006.

Can Kinley Dorji’s Within the Realm of Happiness also be termed a work of proselytising? On the surface, it would certainly not seem to be. Everything about this work is beautiful – quaint, minimalist and introspective – from the textured cover to the content, from the odd haiku-like double-spacing throughout to the author’s personal inscription in this particular copy: “Here’s hoping that Bhutan is able to preserve the last of its past,” Dorji wistfully wrote on the frontispiece. Indeed, the following 13 pieces contain all of the backward-looking nostalgia and forward-looking anticipation that one would expect from a seemingly progressive Bhutanese intellectual – Dorji seems like a great teacher and friend, and this reviewer was more than happy to follow him down the mist-enshrouded stone steps of his semi-fictional childhood. (Although the work follows the stories of different ‘characters’, all seem to be thinly veiled versions of the man himself.) But why is there a constant sense of propaganda lingering at the margins?

The answer probably begins with the title. Inevitably, and unfortunately, perfectly upstanding ideas are regularly taken over and occupied by interest groups; recall only former US President George W Bush’s repeated usage of the word freedom. Likewise, the idea of Gross National Happiness seems to hold some excellent lessons for state structures around the world; but repeating that concept ad nauseum will not only tend to grate, but will also make onlookers apprehensive about what this constant rhetoric could be covering up. If nothing else, the author’s use of ‘happiness’ as a regular motif violates an old writing-school rule: Show, don’t tell. Instead, his title page leads into his preface (“it struck me that His Majesty the King had taught us a supreme lesson in impermanence,” he writes about the 2006 announcement of the country’s transition to democracy), which finally leads to his last chapter, where the pretension finally seems to drop entirely: “[Gross Domestic Product] was a broken promise ... Representing a holistic approach to the transformation of society, [Gross National Happiness] was soon to inspire other countries as a higher goal for human development.” How true both of those statements, and how unfortunately lacking in credibility in this context.

Of course, there is far more to Druk Yul than the issue of what took place to those tens of thousands of citizens who were kicked out of the country two decades ago – far more, even, than the ethnic discrimination that continues to take place within the country today. Dorji and other writers are correct in seeking to highlight these many other uniquely Bhutanese aspects, of history and culture tradition, of beauty and pain and growth. But to carry water for a nationalistic cause under the banner of ‘the realm of happiness’, even while refusing to grapple with issues that do not fit that matrix, unfortunately tarnishes both the nationalist project and the issue it is without doubt trying to sell – in this case, the truly powerful idea of Gross National Happiness.

Through the course of Dorji’s stories, there is no mention made of any of the issues that were brought up surrounding the Universal Periodic Review reporting in Geneva. That a journalist of Dorji’s stature and insight would have nothing to say about such monumental issues in the course of his country’s modern-day evolution denotes, at best, a specific decision in favour of elision. Others, however, are keenly interested. In Geneva, the Bhutanese delegation tabled its report before 43 delegates from other member countries, and a significant percentage of them proceed to ask pointed and probing questions on issues of refugees, citizenship and repatriation. Yet according to reports, the Bhutanese delegation members’ only responses revolved around two issues: the king’s structured transition of the country to democracy, and Gross National Happiness. In such a dynamic, with Bhutan on one side of the table and the questioning delegates on the other, it is clear where T P Mishra and Kinley Dorji would have been sitting.

Carey L Biron is the desk editor for Himal Southasian.