Tenzing recently joined the Bhutan Canada Foundation Toronto office in April 2021. We asked him a few questions on what he felt about joining and how it has been for him so far!
1. You recently joined BCF in the Toronto office as a Program Manager. Tell us about your previous experience before coming to BCF.
I previously worked for the Bhutan Foundation based in both Washington D.C. as well as in Thimphu. While working for the foundation, I realized that while I was excited about the work and the impact that the Bhutan Foundation had in the country, individually, there were certain skills that I was lacking that I felt would be important so I applied and got into an international development program at Humber College here in Toronto. Prior to joining the Bhutan Canada Foundation I worked as a team member for a research project focused on assessing urban living and how the COVID pandemic has changed things for youth in the city.
2. Can you describe what you do at BCF?
Starting in April this year I joined the BCF as a program manager based in the Toronto Office. Due to the pandemic, with a number of our programs currently paused, I have been focusing on primarily running the Recover and Rebuild workshop series, working on updating/maintaining the website and social media, and helping our Executive Director Kent with updating the Monitoring and Evaluation framework. I have also been working on the planning stage of our suspended programs in terms of restarting them. We remain hopeful that with the recent vaccination drive in Bhutan and Globally, that things in general clear up and once it is safe to do so, we are able to restart our programs, like the Reading Program , and other projects in the country.
The pandemic has also been an opportunity to reflect on and understand BCF’s activities as well as the situation in Bhutan better. It has given me the chance to see how I can hopefully play my part in the work being done by the BCF and in my own way contribute to Bhutan and its development.
3. You’ve only recently joined BCF, but how has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your work, both in terms of what you do and how you do it?
With Toronto under lockdown for a majority of 2020-2021 (so far) learning to work from home and experiencing a transition between jobs without necessarily a change in environment has proved far more challenging than I thought it would be. The most complicated part about starting a new job in the midst of a lockdown was how surreal it feels/felt. In many ways the traditional on-boarding process or adapting to a new workspace or culture doesn’t really happen as you do not necessarily experience a change in lifestyle or environment apart from maybe the content or projects you may be working on or the interaction with people (again mostly on a screen so you lose the interpersonal connection). In that sense trying to achieve a balance between work and personal habits has been a series of experiments with a varying degree of results.
4. His Majesty the King recently issued a kasho, or decree, calling for a re-thinking of education in the country. Based on your own experience, what do you think are key areas for an educational re-think in Bhutan?
While the pandemic has been a major challenge in all sorts of ways, it has also given us the opportunity to hopefully reassess and address different aspects of our lives that feel a little stagnant in recent years. Although it has been 15-16 years since my own school experience in Bhutan, I know that the situation has not changed in any significant way. Many of my school friends and family have graduated without clear plans for professional careers. I think that the growing number of unemployment among Bhutanese youth is a challenge that has to be resolved.
My own experience has shown that two things emphasized in the kasho – relevance and quality of education – should be the priorities for education in Bhutan. From what I have witnessed and experienced, the key focus for rethinking should also involve updating to fit and follow a global standard. By this I mainly mean either in terms of technology and/or pedagogy, understanding the needs of current and future generations in terms of both employment and social/emotional growth is key. I think there has been a sort of disconnect in terms of what is being taught in schools as opposed to what is applicable in society and I feel this is something that will hopefully be addressed in the revamping of the system.
5. How do you think BCF can best support Bhutan in pursuing this re-thinking of the education system?
When it comes to the “re-thinking” of the education system in Bhutan, what that means to me is that there is the opportunity here to implement something in the country that will be relevant to what we need at home. While Bhutan has definitely progressed at a rapid pace especially in the last few years, there are still so many gaps that require skills that have yet to be fully developed. The education system has focused on academic qualification and not the required skills. This is where I think organizations like the BCF can contribute, especially when helping build the local capacity of Bhutanese people in the country, enabling them to eventually take the reins and lead the developments themselves. Having the ability or the capacity to reach out and connect Bhutan to different experts in the field of education also is a great opportunity.
6. As someone who has spent significant parts of your life living in Bhutan and outside of the country, what would you describe as the uniqueness of Bhutan?
It has been my experience outside that has made me appreciate what Bhutan has preserved – for example, the environment and the culture. Being cautious about development has helped Bhutan avoid some of the problems other countries have been through. Talking to people from all different backgrounds and hearing what they have had to say has also helped me appreciate what we have in Bhutan even more!
I always tell people the first thing that I notice when I land in Paro is the air that hits you the moment you step off the plane. It is a sensation that I am sure many people can relate with and I can’t recall an experience I have had anywhere else I have been. We have also, for the most part, been able to hold on to so many cultural values, whether this is the spirituality you witness or the hospitality you feel that make the experience of being there so unique.
7. Do you have a favourite place in Bhutan? If so, what is it?
I would have to say that my favourite place in Bhutan has to be the deck in our backyard in Motithang, Thimphu. This space is amazing to sit at in the summer with the blue sky above and the mountains standing over you. We also have a dog running around the backyard (and jumping on you if too close) and the housecat sometimes joins us as well. A great place to eat some good home cooked Bhutanese food.
8. What do you like to do when you are not working?
In recent times, especially with the extended period of time spent in lockdown here in Toronto, I have been reading a ton! I noticed that my habit of reading really took a hit in recent years so I am pretty glad that I have been able to pick that back up again. Once lockdown ended I felt the need to stretch my legs, in a manner of speaking, so I signed up for a football league with friends that I am slowly getting back into as well as seeing more of the city (and how it has changed since COVID).