Stories from the Field – Visiting the blind school

We’ve recently had the pleasure to chat with a number of BCF teachers currently in the field and they’ve told us some amazing stories and incredible moments that they’ve experienced while in Bhutan. Tim, who’ll be staying for a second year at his school, Tshenkharla MSS, in Trashiyangtse, recently posted a fascinating story on his blog. We’ve also posted it below:

Photo Credit: Tim Grossman.

When BCF asked me to share an anecdote about my time in Bhutan I drew a blank. How could I sum up of an experience like this one? 

At first I wanted to share about my students but it was impossible to abstract one or two moments in the daily magic of teaching here. 

After a time my mind drifted back to a perfect spring day. My friend Becky and I had been on a tour of the east and decided to ride out to Khaling. I had it in my mind to visit the school for the blind there. 

I was born with a rare eye condition called Congenital Nastagmus which severely affects my vision. I yearned to meet with kids less fortunate then myself. We marveled at the undulating landscape and lush mountain passes on the way to our destination. Upon arrival I felt nervous ambushing these “disabled” children. But mostly I was excited to be fulfilling my ambition of visiting the school. 

I happened upon the students as they were eating lunch in the dining hall. At one table were students with low vision like me and at another table were kids who were completely blind. Some of the low vision kids were albino which is associated with Congenital Nastagmus and other chronic eye conditions. 

Immediately I struck up a conversation with Dorji a blind boy in a purple plaid gho who also happened to be a famous Bhutanese singer. Dorji adeptly led me around the nooks and crannies of campus swiftly using his cane for navigation. At one point he collided with another boy giving us all a good laugh. 

I spent several hours talking to the boys in their neatly arranged hostel. I also met the girls in the courtyard where one blind girl demonstrated Bhutanese brail by poking holes through carbon paper with an ear syringe device. I went on to visit the classrooms where I met a mentally challenged boy who had no eyes who groped my thumb with his little fingers. 

What struck me about these students was how they supported and assisted each other and enjoyed themselves like any kids would. Unfortunately we had to depart before the blind ball game scheduled for that afternoon. I left feeling inspired to be the best teacher I can be.

Thanks Tim for the inspirational story!

David Suzuki on Gross National Happiness

David Suzuki,  Co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, and award-winning scientist, environmentalist, and broadcaster, will be travelling to Bhutan in March 2013 and is a staunch advocate for the concept of Gross National Happiness.

In his November newsletter, Dr. Suzuki emphasises the importance of looking beyond GDP and take into consideration other markers, including societal well-being and environmental conservation.

Photo Credit: David Suzuki Foundation.

“We’ve measured our well-being by tracking gross domestic product since the mid-1940s. But spending money on things that anyone would see as negative, or even horrendous — including oil-spill clean-ups, car accidents and products that we discard and replace every year — contributes to positive GDP growth. It’s time to come up with a new measuring stick.

 “Many people, from world leaders to economists to environmentalists, realize that the endless-growth model no longer makes sense. More than 30 years ago, the King of Bhutan stated that gross national happiness is more important than gross domestic product. We need a development paradigm that takes into account well-being and happiness, and that accounts for nature’s services. After all, what good are a growing economy and increasing consumption—and their environmental and social consequences—when people are not healthy and happy and when we destroy the things that keep us alive and well?”

Read the rest of David Suzuki’s letter here: We need a new economic paradigm

Class of 2013 Profile: Andrea Chisholm

It’s hard to believe that our new group of teachers will be heading to Thimphu in less than two months! The enthusiasm continues to grow as our teachers visit travel doctors, arrange flights, and learn all about their new school and community from BCF alumni.

Today, we’re proud to introduce teacher, Andrea Chisholm, who will be teaching at Chumey MSS in Bumthang. Andrea will be joined by her husband, Bob, and their two young sons – an exciting time!

Andrea Chisholm and Family

Andrea’s early experiences travelling in Australia and a student exchange to Japan in high school ignited her inner travel bug.

After graduating from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Behavioural Science, she spent five years working and travelling overseas throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, including a month volunteering in Ladakh, India and a year teaching kindergarten in Japan.

She returned to Australia with a passion for teaching and completed a Bachelor of Education and has worked the past 10 years as a lower primary teacher on the Gold Coast.

Andrea is excited to share her adventure in Bhutan with her husband Bob, and sons Xavier (4) and Remy (2). The whole family is keen to learn Dzongkha!

Kuzu zangpo la Andrea and family!

Vacancy Announcement: Royal Thimphu College

The Royal Thimphu College announces the requirement of faculty in various subjects for the Spring Semester starting 25th February 2013 as indicated below. We invite interested and highly motivated professionals (both Bhutanese and foreign nationals) to submit applications for the following faculty positions on full-time or part-time basis:

Interested applicants should submit their letter of interest, along with all the relevant documents mentioned below, by December 10, 2012 to:

The Director, Royal Thimphu College, Ngabiphu, Post Box 1122, Thimphu or

Room # 56 at Chang Lam Plaza Building, Post Box 1122, Thimphu or

Fax to # 351806 or 336051 or e-mail to or

The application should include the following:

  1. A covering letter clearly indicating which semester (Spring or Fall) you wish to apply for,

  2. A Curriculum Vita / Resume that contains contact details (such as address, e-mail, fax, phone/mobile numbers), education qualification, employment history, research and publication, and other relevant information,

  3. Photocopies of Class X, XII, undergraduate and postgraduate degree certificates and mark sheets,

  4. Copy of Identity card/citizenship card/ passport,

  5. Two reference letters including at least one from your former employer or academic mentor.  In case these are not available, the names and contact details of at least two referees who can be contacted should be provided,

  6. If currently employed, a No Objection Certificate from the employer (if selected without NoC, recruitment will be provisional till this document is received),

  7. Medical fitness certificate (to be submitted only if selected)

Terms and Conditions:

  1. The College has categorization of faculty (ranging from Associate Lecturer to Professor) depending on qualification and teaching experience.
  2. The salary package will range from Nu 25,000 to 51, 700 per month (lump sum), commensurate with qualification and experience.  The College will also provide a framework for faculty to carry out consulting work and conduct research.
  3. Limited numbers of houses are available on campus. Housing preference will be given to the expatriates.
  4. All other terms and conditions will all be as per the RTC Service Manual and the contract agreement that will be signed after the selection.
For more information, please CLICK HERE or call the HRO at 351801(EXT 118).

Class of 2013 Profile: Bernie Ofczarzak

This week, we’re delighted to introduce you to Bernard Ofczarzak, who goes by Bernie. Bernie, is an experienced teacher who is returning to the classroom and will be heading to Bartsham Middle Secondary School in Trashigang.

Bernie Ofczarzak

Bernie was born and raised in Texas. He graduated from the University of Saint Thomas in 1987 and after graduation, spent several years teaching English, Spanish, Language Arts, and Theology in the Catholic School system of the Archdiocese of Galverston-Houston.

Since 1998, Bernie has been working as a corporate environmental, safety, and health trainer in Giddings, Texas – a small town between Houston and Austin. He enjoys the great outdoors and is an avid hunter and fisherman. In addition, he loves cooking, gardening, travelling, and music of all sorts.
He is a member of the Texas Association of Sports Officials and works as a High School Football Official and Baseball Umpire. Bernie is looking forward to getting back in the classroom and the many adventures he hopes to experience in Bhutan.
Welcome Bernie, we’re thrilled to have you aboard!

Photo of the Week – Bhutan from Space!

This week’s photo is courtesy of NASA and SpaceRef and shows Bhutan as seen from the International Space Station. This mesmerising photo was taken by one of the Expedition 33 crew members aboard the International Space Station, showing the stunning Himalayan peaks, glaciers, and lakes of Bhutan.

Photo Credit: NASA HQSpaceRef
We’d love to see your photos of Bhutan! 
Send your best snaps and photo credit information to

Teacher Blog of the Week – My Parent’s Visit to Bhutan

For all of our teachers, homesickness and missing their family and friends can be exceptionally difficult. Luckily, our teachers meet new friends and families who welcome and help support them in Bhutan, but it’s always amazing when family from back home can come visit!

Many parents, children, and spouses visited our teachers over the past year, allowing them to share in the experience first-hand, sit in the classroom, attend school and community activities, and enjoy the cuisine, culture, and traditions of Bhutan.

Read on for BCF teacher, Sabrina’s fantastic experience when her parents came to Bhutan…

Photo Credit: Sabrina.

“When I reached the top of the steps, my mom came running out of the room and threw her arms around me with tears of joy streaming down her face.  Her tears were contagious and even dad got a little teary eyed too.  The three of us hugged for a few minutes.  It had been nine months since I had seen them and although we skpe about three times a week, it was nice to hug them without a computer screen in the way.”

“…Then we went to Sonam’s family’s house where my parent’s met little Jimmy and some of Sonam’s relatives.  It was fun exchanging gifts and we visited for hours.  My parent’s thought that they were the nicest people!

Before we left Gangtey, Sonam’s mother cooked us an enormous lunch and Jimmy and I backed a strawberry cake together.  Indeed, Sonam’s family has been like my extended family and my parent’s thanked them for taking such great care of me.”

“…It is one thing to see Bhutan in pictures or read about it, however, it is a whole other thing to experience it in person; to look like an ant against the sides of majestic mountains, to feel the vibrations of Buddhist chants run through your body, to taste the air of incense in monasteries…Thus, I’m so happy that they were able to experience what I will be talking about for years to come.”

Read Sabrina’s full story at: Sabina in Bhutan

Introducing the Class of 2013!

Another recruitment season has passed us by – our busiest to date – and BCF is exceptionally proud to introduce the new class of teachers who will be heading to Bhutan in January!

This upcoming school year, we will have 18 amazing and passionate teachers join five renewers, bringing us to a total of 23 teachers in the field! Each of our teachers will be placed in rural communities across the Kingdom, teaching a variety of subjects and grade levels, all within the public school system.

From recent graduates to teaching veterans, our group is expanding even more with teachers from Canada, the US, Australia, the UK, and Singapore. We are going to profile all of our teachers over the next few weeks leading up to their departure so stay tuned!

Today, we are pleased to profile, Canadian Valerie Robert:

Valerie Robert


This born and bred Ottawan is a graduate of the University of Ottawa, Canada. She began her career with a degree in International Development, which sent her to Buea, Cameroon, for a summer of volunteer teaching. It was there that she discovered first-hand the joys of teaching and developed a passion for making sure each child has access to quality education. She went on to graduate from the B.Ed. Primary/Junior in 2009, and in 2010 completed her M.Ed. in Society, Culture, and Literacies. She then spent two years teaching Kindergarten and mentoring a co-teacher in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, as part of an educational reform.

Meanwhile, she has succumbed to the travel bug and journeyed widely. She tries to incorporate positive aspects of each new culture into her worldview and practice, and to stoke in others the desire and confidence to explore their world. She is incredibly excited about living and teaching in Bhutan, and looks forward to being both a student and a teacher!

Welcome to BCF Valerie!

Attend our Fall Fundraiser & Cocktail Party in Toronto

You’re invited to join us for our
First Annual Fall Fundraiser & Cocktail Party!
Hosted by Danielle Morin & Kathy Allan
Jamie Zeppa, author of Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey Into Bhutan
Sam Blyth, Honorary Consul of the Kingdom of Bhutan to Canada
BCF Alumni Teachers
DATE: November 29, 2012
TIME: 6:30 – 9:30
LOCATION: the home of Danielle Morin, Toronto
For more information, or to RSVP click here or contact
Hope to see you there!

Stories from the Field – A Birthday Celebration

Like our recent post about Dave Green’s awesome music club at Pakshikha MSS, we’re thrilled to share a story from BCF Teacher Martin and his lovely wife Tara at Wangdicholing LSS in Bumthang, as he experienced his birthday celebrations in true Bhutanese style!

I knew already that birthdays were not a big thing here in Bhutan.  Except for very young children, nobody really celebrates their Special Day as we do in Canada.  In fact, several adults I’ve met don’t even know what day might be theirs, as their parents couldn’t write and kept no birth records.  But this month, I witnessed a cultural fusion of East and West to celebrate my own birthday. On my walk to school today, several students stop in the dusty road to bow to me.  I’m used to the daily, “Good morning, Sir”, but today I’m greeted with: “Happy Birthday, Sir,” “Best remains of the day,” and “Long life, Sir.”  This must be through our neighbour’s daughter, who knew Tara and I were planning a dinner.  She told a friend, who told her brother, and in true small town style, my birthday was becoming an event.  So these greetings continue all day at school, and I feel so honoured, especially knowing they’ve put it on just for me.  As I move through the school grounds, students I teach come to admire my new birthday gho, pinching me as they explain that it’s what you do for good luck with new clothes.

When I walk into my own class at 9:00, I hear a hush and a shuffle of desks as I step through the weathered doorway.  My Class Captain pushes me back out, apologetically:  “Sorry Sir, would you come back in again?”  This time when I cross the threshold, he reaches above me with a bamboo stick and bursts a yellow balloon pinned to the lintel, showering me with flower petals.  The class erupts with a vaguely familiar melody, standing to chant “Happy Birthday to you!”.  I have to say, this is about the only time they’ve used the pronoun “you” with me; they’re trained to talk to their teachers in the third person….”Does sir…?”, “Would Sir…?”, “When could Sir…?”, etc..  I turn back to the rough chalkboard and notice it’s been covered with colourful birthday wishes in both English and Dzongkha.  And they’ve taped balloons in various corners of the room, which really brightens up the chipped plaster and fading paint.  It’s a party!

I can’t bring myself to start a lesson now, and this is no time for one of our pre-lesson meditations, so I ask them to be seated and hand out peanut butter cookies I was saving for later.  Here at school, the only indication of birthdays is when primary children come into the staffroom offering candies.  They move from teacher to teacher holding out a small bucket of Indian toffee, standing without a word in their school uniform, perfect replicas of the adults in their national dress.  So the tradition here is all about giving rather than receiving.  I’d prepared myself for this part by baking the night before.

After the cookies, the class asks me to sing, so I share a Québecois birthday song.  Then two of my oldest grade 7 boys–“repeaters”, at 16 and 17 years old—come to the front of the room and sing two love songs in Dzongkha.  One song is sad, but they’re both so beautiful, and obviously shared with pride.  In Bhutan all singing, both traditional and pop, tends to have lots of controlled vocal decorations wrapped around simple melodies, and these boys have mastered the technique.  The class is quiet, but cheers the singers on with expectant faces and grins.  I am in awe of this spontaneous celebration and feel so honoured.  I tell them this, but how could they really understand what it means to me?  Most have never been farther than the next Dzongkhag, let alone another continent.


It’s another of those moments we privileged BCF teachers have, when we consider pinching ourselves to be sure we’re awake and really experiencing this.  Sometimes my own culture at home by comparison seems so vague and diluted, lacking that strength of unity that is simply “how we do things” for children in Bhutan.

Photo Credits: Martin and Tara