Welcome Class 2014!

Welcome Class of 2014!

It’s been a bit of journey to get here (the anticipation, the back and forth e-mails, the waiting!) but now the real journey begins for the new class of 2014! BCF is happy to announce eighteen new wonderful teachers along with six renewals who will be heading to Bhutan in January!

That brings a total of 24 teachers who will bring their “A-game” to teach their awaiting Bhutanese students skills in mathematics, chemistry, English, geography and other valuable life lessons. This year our teachers will be placed across ten different dzongkhags (districts): Mongar, Wangdue, Bumthang, Trashigang, Zhemgang, Pemagatshel, Lhuentse, Punakha, Trashiyangtse, and Trongsa.

Just as in previous years, we have teachers coming from a variety of nationalities and of various professional backgrounds—all of whom are ready and prepared to take on the challenges and amazing experiences that Bhutan has to offer!

Over the next few weeks we will be posting each of our teacher’s profile! For today we are pleased to introduce:

Kezia Zuber

Meet Kezia...and her adorable dog!
Meet Kezia…and her adorable dog!

Kezia is a native of Hayden, Colorado of the United States, a small farming and agricultural community just west of the great Rocky Mountains, where she grew up surrounded by goats, chickens, donkeys, cats, dogs, wheat fields, sage brush and chokecherries. She spent her time learning classical and jazz piano, playing basketball and reading of faraway places.

After studying music therapy, philosophy and sociology, Kezia naturally gravitated towards education and worked full-time as a special education teacher in both Colorado and Arizona. While she has worked with a wide – range of student populations, her three years working with a very diverse group of at-risk high school students, who included many Navajo and Apache Native American youth, has been her greatest challenge and greatest joy thus far in her professional career, solidifying her pure passion for service-learning and reciprocal pedagogy.

After 10 years in public education, she decided it was time for a new kind of adventure, and began working for an international travel organization, leading week-long hiking and biking tours. Kezia has recently returned to her roots in Northwest Colorado where she has had the pleasure of reconnecting and meeting new people who share her desire and effort to create environmental and economic sustainability, working with both small businesses and local non-profits to not only implement local-food production practices, but also provide alternative educational opportunities therein.

We are so happy to have Kezia joining BCF!

Blog of the Week – How To Make Bagthuk (Bhutanese Noodle Soup)

Warm up this winter with a Bhutanese noodle soup! BCF teacher Andrea enlisted the help of one of her student’s mothers Yangchen, who was more than happy to share her recipe for Bagthuk (Ba-thuk).

Photo Credit: Andrea Chisholm – The perfect way to add warmth and sustenance to the body on a cold winter’s afternoon.

“A couple of weeks ago I wrote about making a Tibetan soup called ‘Thanktuk’.  At the time I was desperately trying to recreate the taste and texture of a soup we were served at school one cold evening. While the thankthuk was delicious, I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I found the recipe for the thick savoury soup that Yangchen cooked for us. So, what to do but go right to the source for a cooking lesson!”

Photo Credit: Andrea Chisholm – Yangchen Rolling the Dough

“What makes this soup so full of flavour are two unique ingredients: dried garlic chives (I’m guessing that’s what they are, and I hope fresh garlic chives are a good substitute) and thingey (szechuan peppercorn). Both are added at the last moment and it’s amazing how they lift the soup from a bit bland and ordinary to zingy and rich with savoury flavour. Don’t even think about making the soup until you can get your hands on these flavourings.”

“Choe thukpa zhimbe ga?   Do you think the soup is delicious?
You can reply ‘Zhimbe!’ with the gesture of putting an index finger against your cheek (where a dimple would be) and gently twist it.”
Check out the recipe here!

Bhutan to become an electric vehicle “hotspot”?

Will Bhutan become a “hotspot” for electric vehicles?

The Financial Times reported last week, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay and other government officials announced by next-year March they plan to replace all official government vehicles in Thimphu with electric cars and then slowly turn to replacing privately-owned family cars and taxis (Bhutan aims high with Renault-Nissan electric car plan – Victor Mallet in Thimphu and Henry Foy in London).

Thimphu, Bhutan Photo Credit : Dorji Wangchu

Why Bhutan? Well Bhutanese officials say that the city of Thimphu presents the ideal venture opportunity for electric vehicles.  It has a manageable population of 120,000 where roads are short and taxis are heavily depended on by its residents.

“The introduction of hundreds of electric vehicles will have an immediate impact in a small city that would be impossible to achieve in a metropolis such as Tokyo.”

“Nissan applauds the initiative taken by the Bhutanese government to leapfrog oil-dependent mobility in favour of zero-emission transport and is keen to support their ambitions,” the company said. 

It seems no surprise that the Bhutanese are so determined in their initiatives to preserve and maintain their beautiful environment. Along with other green initiatives such as Karma Yonten’s Waste Management and the move towards organic agriculture, Bhutan is a country to look up to for their leading pursuits to keep the earth clean.

Thimphu also hosts a monthly Pedestrian Day where personal vehicles are banned from the city streets. “The city, while never loud by international standards, is so quiet and peaceful today. People are walking down the main streets as if they are like pedestrian malls at home.” – Andrea Chisholm

Read the full article at the Financial Times – Bhutan aims high with Renault-Nissan electric car plan.

Wrestling with Cultural Diffusion by Matt Stretton

BCF teacher Matt Stretton recently wrote an article for Druk Air’s Tashi Delek in-flight magazine! In his article he ponders the reason behind the popularity of WWE wrestling amongst some of his students and takes a thoughtful look on the impacts of cultural diffusion in Bhutan.

Wrestling with cultural diffusion by Matt Stretton

Here is a quick snippet:

“Whoa! John Cena!”  “Smack Down! Yeah!”
Sticking my head around the door, I found four boys from the boarding hostel sitting on a makeshift wooden bench, eyes glued to the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) blaring from the TV in the corner of the room.

“And although like most teenagers in the world my students will still face significant challenges in negotiating their multiple cultural worlds, I feel more confident that at least they will have plausible alternatives to an angry, steroid-ridden world where over-sized men wear gimp-masks, yellow mankinis and spend all day stomping on each other’s heads.”

Read his full article Wrestling with Cultural Diffusion in Bhutan on his blog!

Bhutan’s Artistic Expressions!

After Kelly Dorji took up art and got more involved into the art scene, he realized that Bhutan lacked spaces to promote local Bhutanese contemporary art, and so he established the Terton Gallery in 2011.

Terton Gallery, Thimphu, Bhutan (Photo Credit: Art Radar)

Art Radar spoke with Kelly Dorji to find out more about contemporary art in Bhutan (Buddhas, dragons and horses, oh my! Contemporary art in Bhutan – Terton Gallery interview). The gallery aims to provide a platform for local contemporary artists to earn enough money so that art can be recognized as a greater profession in Bhutan.

While local art works usually include themes of the Lord Buddha, the dragon and nature and textile reproductions, the gallery hopes to carefully introduce more bold forms of expression in the future.

Kelly Dorji says that he would like to see the growth of Bhutanese art and artists by branching out into the world, and spoke to the importance of Bhutanese art within the general Asian art scene,

“Buddhist art is growing in popularity the world over, yet just a handful of Himalayan artists seem to be making an impact in presenting contemporary art from the region. Bhutan exudes a certain uniqueness in interpretation of art, like it does in many facets of its culture. I believe promoting new ideas in modern contemporary art from Bhutan would greatly complement the general Asian art scene.”

Azha Kama Wangdi, 'Temple Scape (I, II, III)' Triptych, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20". Image courtesy Terton Gallery.
Azha Kama Wangdi, ‘Temple Scape (I, II, III)’ Triptych, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20″. Image courtesy Terton Gallery. (Photo Credit: Art Radar)

Creating and enjoying art is a wonderful way for people to connect and to express themselves, and several of our BCF teachers, like Andrea Chisholm and Matt Stretton, have engaged in art with their students!

Andrea encouraged her students to get artistic through arts and crafts as a way of personal expression and a richer learning experience. Check it out at Photo of the Week – Arts and Crafts.

And Matt recently took his class VII students to the Volunteer Artists Studio, Thimphu (VAST) to meet Asha Kama, a well known Bhutanese artist, who graciously gave them a tour and a handful of exhibition programs to take home for inspiration.

Asha Karma - Buddha grid, Satyr Tragopan, Dragon for the Buddha at Taj Tashi
Asha Karma – Buddha grid, Satyr Tragopan, Dragon for the Buddha at Taj Tashi

“Asha Karma’s work is a beautiful and unique blend of traditional Bhutanese painting and more contemporary influences.” – Matt Stretton Mountain Echoes Literary Festival.

Hopefully local Bhutanese artists will continue to make further contributions to the already growing popularity of Bhutanese art around the world.

Read the full interview at  Buddhas, dragons and horses, Oh my! Contemporary art in Bhutan – Terton Gallery Interview.

Photo of the Week – Andrea’s Class 2 Chumey

With the school year coming to a close, BCF teacher Andrea Chisholm reflects back on her time spent educating her Class 2 at Chumey Middle Secondary School.

Photo Credit: Andrea Chisolm - Class 2 Chumey Middle Secondary School 2013
Photo Credit: Andrea Chisholm – Class 2 Chumey Middle Secondary School 2013

“To my dear little friends in Class 2,

I wanted to write you a letter (that you might read one day!) to say thank you for being such an awesome class this year. 

This year has been the most special of all my teaching years. I feel like I was so lucky to be your teacher this year. You are such a wonderful group of kids and we have had such a good time.

..I will always remember your smiles, your funny stories, your exuberance, enthusiasm and determination. We have laughed and cried and hugged and laughed again together. I will always be wondering about you and where you go in your life..”

Read more at A Letter to My Class 2

Blog of the Week – The generosity of others

It is amazing what happens when people decide to open their hearts and are able to provide support for those around them. When BCF teacher Matt Stretton posted a Wish-List for Yangchen Gatshel LSS back in October, he received an outpour of generosity throughout the month.

Stretton, Matt - dancing

“The response from family and friends in Australia and across the world has been extraordinary and extremely generous to say the least. Many people have written to share not only their financial support but also to offer to send materials, hold other fundraising events and bring educational materials between Bhutan and home when visiting.”

Over the last month or so, more than $4500 was donated and fundraised to Matt Stretton, currently teaching at Yangchen LSS. The money partly helped to fund the annual picnic–a big celebration looked forward to by all students and staff–after discovering that the school budget could not provide anything other than an ordinary lunchtime meal. With a small part of the donations, all the kids had the opportunity to enjoy a meal of delicious beef and egg curry!

Matt also planned and adopted a quick criteria for how donors would want the money to be spent, which he shared with the staff and students at Yangchen LSS.  Together, they proposed a budget that included a much needed photocopier, new books and heaters and water boilers for hostel students during the cold winter weather, along with other necessities. Matt outlines in more detail about the school’s needs in his blog The Generosity of Others .

Thanks to all generous donations, students are able to grow and learn with better resources!  So thank you to all those who opened your hearts to the staff and students at Yangchen Gatshel LSS.

The Black-Necked Crane Festival

The Black-necked Crane Festival is upon us!

Chisholm, Andrea - Black Cranes Festival
Photo Credit: Andrea Chisholm
Above us four elegant cranes circled in formation! They circled around and around gracefully, gradually getting higher and higher until they passed out of sight. The perfect highlight of the day to see these special and vulnerable birds.

The annual festival aims to brings awareness to the conservation and protection of the beautiful but endangered Black-necked cranes.

BCF teachers Valerie Robert and Andrea Chisholm and her family had the chance to visit this spectacular festival. Andrea notes on her blog (Hit the Road, Yak), “This festival is unique in a number of ways from other tsechus we’ve been to. Firstly, it is not a religious festival so there were only a couple of short mask dances: most of the performers were local school children performing dances to honour the black-necked cranes including movements like pecking the ground and ‘flying’ with their wings outstretched.”

The festival takes place in Gangtey Gonpa, in Phobjikha valley. The Phobjikha valley is the wintering ground of the rare Black-necked cranes, and a place valued for its respectful co-existence of  its inhabitant and nature.

Andrea continues: “I entered the Lhakang to see the dance I was most looking forward to: children dressed as black-necked cranes doing a dance inspired by the moves of the birds.” Check out this video by Seth Masarik to see a glimpse of this amazing festival!

The festival is also thought of as a time to strengthen the connections between conservation, economic welfare and sustainable livelihoods of the community. The Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) has been apart of its organization as way for farming families to earn extra money (from tourism) and “be discouraged from using cheaper, chemical fertilizers on their land which would destroy the black-necked cranes’ habitat” (Julia Horton CNN Travel, Bhutanese farmers turn to tourists to save endangered cranes).

Bateman, Cranes-of-Bhutan

Want to support BCF with the beauty of Cranes of Bhutan? Purchase a limited edition Bateman print (above). Learn more at Cranes of Bhutan Print.

Students learn to grow their own fresh food!

At the Lower Secondary School in Yurung, students are learning ways to grow and produce their own organic foods as part of the Agriculture Programme initiated into the school’s curriculum in 2002. Classes on Agricultural Gardening came under way through a joint initiative by two ministries of the Royal Government of Bhutan: Agriculture and Education.

Karma Yangzom, a student at Yurung LSS. Photo Credit: WFP/Angeli Mendoza

Students get to enjoy the food they so-carefully produce, as their fresh organic veggies accompany the three meals provided to the school by the World Food Programme and the Government.

“We have a very unique way of doing the agriculture programme here because our garden is shared with the community – so they come here, including some of the parents of our students, to learn the proper ways of farming and to work. Then whatever they harvest from their share of the plot, they sell to us for the school canteen to use,” – Yurung LSS’s Principal Ugyen Wangdi.

Photo Credit: World Food Programme

Learn more about Yurung’s Agriculture Programme at Bhutan: Children Learn To Grow Nutritious Food At School, Angeli Mendoza.

For more information on how Bhutan is working towards turning it’s agriculture fully organic, check out Organic Happenings in Bhutan!

Blog of the Week – Sabrina Back in Bhutan

For many of our BCF teachers, Bhutan is a place they call home and no matter the duration, their time in Bhutan will always be a precious one. The experience of returning back ‘home’ is both a wonderful and touching experience. BCF teacher Sabrina Soares recently wrote about her emotional return to Chumey in this week’s blog of the week.

Sabrina Soares

On her way to the Gangtey nunnery where is presently teaching, she stopped by a few places and paid a visit to the friends she made in Bhutan.

“One of my first stops was in beautiful Gangtey to see little Jimmy, Sonam’s family and the Rinpoche of Gangtey.  Since I arrived later than expected, little Jimmy was sleeping, but Sonam’s mother waited up for me.  We sat in the sitting room holding hands and smiling at each other for quite sometime while catching up on lost time.  There was joy in our hearts and all over our faces to see each other again.  I’m certain we have a karmic connection because I feel so close to her even though we don’t speak the same language.” 

She also of course made a visit to her former students at Chumey HSS:

“…my former students threw me the most elaborate welcome back tea party with nearly a hundred cookies, rows of thermoses filled with tea, a bouquet of wild flowers, a homemade crown that read, “Best Teacher in the World” and balloons taped to the ceiling, which I was instructed to pop to experience a rainfall of confetti.  I realized that one of the sweetest gifts life can offer is to be loved by children.  It was one of the happiest days of my life and one that I will surely never forget.”

Sabrina Soares 2

Read Sabrina’s full post at Returning to Bhutan.