Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha
Unlike in the past, students in Dechentsemo HSS in Punakha witnessed a unique reading festival this year.
At one corner, students debated on issues such as the government’s decision to lift the ban on tobacco; at another, students relayed to memorise sentences to complete a passage; and in a different section, students shared their favourite quotes from the books they were reading.
The reading festival featured nine corners—buddy reading, musical station, book debate, read aloud, reading relay, popcorn English and Dzongkha reading, tea and snacks corner, and teachers’ books. Tshering Dema, a teacher, came up with the concept.
“This idea was shared by one of my Canadian friends when working at a school. She told me that the setting of reading has always been in classrooms and hostels. So, ‘why not develop different stations and let children enjoy?’” Tshering Dema said.
Following online courses and research, she developed the stations and was discussed with teachers and team leaders prior to the day.
A class IX student, Dawa Druksel said, “I enjoyed popcorn reading. When I came here I was amazed at the decorations and the stations.”
Reading is one of the school’s two priorities. The other is mindfulness meditation practice. Around 350 students of Dechetsemo HSS read over 5,000 books every year on average.
Principal Namgyal Tshering said, “Right now as beginners we’ve made children read, they will gradually pick the habit and then they will enjoy it.”
The school also keeps track of the total number of books a student has read and prizes are awarded.
Another student, Deepa Powdel said that the school ensured reading by providing more than an hour of compulsory reading time on weekends, 30 minutes reading time before bed on weekdays and reading in the morning on Tuesdays.
“Everywhere we go, we are to carry a book. Where I studied before, we didn’t have a reading culture. More girls in my hostel have begun to read.”
For the past three years, Dechentsemo HSS has also recorded 100 percent pass results on class X students.
Principal Namgyal Tshering said that in the past, the school was underperforming. “We have observed that students have improved a lot.”
Despite the efforts, lack of enough reading materials remains a challenge. The school library has around 6,000 books, of which the majority are related to science.
The school continues to conduct literary activities, inviting writers for motivational speaking and poetry recitals, among others.
Edited by Tshering Palden
Thusly put American author Robert Collier: “Constant repetition carries conviction.”
For Bhutan and the world today, this will not be enough. We need to go beyond spurious beliefs and opinions.
We are living in a very uncertain time. The Covid-19 pandemic is not going to disappear into the thin air anytime soon. We are already talking about the Lambda variant and the next deadly incarnations.
We have made headline around the world as perhaps the only nation in the world that has successfully inoculated all the eligible citizens. But then, we can not bask on this small and transient limelight.
What we have always known is that the vaccines will not protect us fully. New variants of the virus will come the way some nations are fighting about whether to take the vaccines or not—the way the vaccines and vaccination programmes themselves are being easily politicised.
Let them play the game; let’s give it a name.
From Alpha to Omega, Bhutan will fight until the last resource because we have no reason to politicise the disease or the virus but protect our people from unnecessary deaths.
Implications are huge for a small nation like ours.
That’s why what we are doing and how much we are giving in to the programmes to keep our people safe from this unrelenting scourge is really important.
No one person or a government wing made a mistake. In the scheme of things we are unavoidably in, we have only to move on to secure the lives of our people and the economy of our nation.
Blabbermouths are many who tell us what to do and what not to do but there is Science to guide us. What Bhutan has so far achieved is the envy of the world. We have given the second dose to almost all the eligible people in the country. What is more? We are going further than that by prioritising the young.
The key though has to be that we do not stagger from here, this moment. It is not about looking for the light at the end of the tunnel but securing the tunnel itself. Post-second dose, people have begun to take it easy. This is the real danger facing the nation today.
Mask requirement has to be all the more strong and, likewise, the use and prerequisites to wash hands and to tap one’s movement from place to place.
Going by the proliferation of the virus and its destructive intensity, we need to be more careful and vigilant.
Science tells us that the basic precautions are by far more effective than the many vaccines coming from the different laboratories around the world.
Nothing has changed significantly in our battle against the Covid-19; it is still largely upon us to manage the risks.
Collier also said: “People blame their environment. There is only one person to blame—and only one—themselves.”
Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha
Despite repeated requests to media outlets, National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) officials said updates on the recent rape of a minor wasn’t removed from their digital platforms. Officials claimed such publications often hampered investigation.
Issues of seeking consent to publish similar media-related issues was also discussed at a three-day workshop on child and gender-sensitive reporting held in Punakha that ended on July 28.
Those in the media argued that if the information provided was correct and didn’t lead to the identification of the child, publication of rape stories shouldn’t require consent from the relevant agencies such as NCWC, police or parents.
NCWC’s director general Karma Drukpa said that when covering such issues, media organisations tend to rush to break the news.
“If the victim was your sister or a family member, would you publish the story? Will you name her? You should also take it from that angle.”
Among other issues, access to information, competency of school counsellors who cater to children, maintaining personal and professional boundaries, lack of resources for private media firms and low visibility of NCWC were also discussed during the programme.
Kuensel Assignment Editor Tashi Dema said that during most cases, children confided in their teachers if there were concerns at home.
She said that while the majority of counsellors and teachers in schools were committed to their work, there were some who were not sensitive to such issues.
“In the recent case in Lhamoidzingkha, a girl committed suicide right after school counsellor called her and her father and asked private questions.” She asked if NCWC trained or collaborated with counsellors in the past or if there were plans to do so in future.
According to NCWC’s senior programme officer Tshewang, a pilot project on engaging facilitators in gender-based violence (GBV) project was completed in a school in Babesa.
She said that NCWC now planned to roll out similar engagements in about three schools in future.
In the past, NCWC has trained front liners regarding GBV and other manuals on child protection, Tshewang said.
“We also have plans to train specialised service providers for GBV and child protection. There, we categorise counselling as one of the GBV and child correction services.”
NCWC’s Chairperson Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji, who attended the closing ceremony, explained the rationale behind increasing the legal marriage age in Bhutan to deter teenage pregnancy.
Lyonpo said that the data showed more teenage pregnancy cases between the ages of 18 and 19.
The need to increase the legal marriage age was also raised at the National Council question hour session on June 11.
There were 330 cases of teenage pregnancies recorded in 2020. Of that, 167 cases were aged between 18 and 19 years while 163 cases were below the age of 18 years.
At the workshop, Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji also reiterated the importance and difficulty of being a journalist, especially in private newspapers that work with limited financial resources.
Lyonpo said, “I think you all have to work for the best interest of women and children.”
The three-day programme held in Punakha engaged more than 15 journalists, bloggers, radio producers, and editors.
United Nations Development Programme funded the event organised by NCWC.
Edited by Tshering Palden
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Ginger growers and traders in Chukha and Samtse are worried if they will get to sell their harvested produce, ginger, this year.
It has been more than a month since the export stopped. If nothing is done, farmers said their produce will soon rot. In some cases it has already started rotting.
For many, ginger is the primary source of income.
A ginger grower in Dzedokha village in Lokchina gewog, Chukha, Suk Bahadur Rai said there are plenty of ginger with the villagers.
“But they are rotting now,” he said. “We are in an uncomfortable situation.”
As ginger is the only cash crop, Suk Bahadur said that many people haven’t seen hard cash in the villages without trade. People are facing problems in buying rations, he added.
“I think the government can help. If we are able to sell the produce, people will be able to buy rations,” he said.
Dzedokha tshogpa Phib Raj Rai said people have no idea how to market and where to sell the produce.
“People are in trouble,” he said.
“We have been in touch with the gup. But he said we cannot take it.”
Phuentsholing gup Birkha Bahadur also said that about 40 percent of ginger in the villages have rotted.
“We are receiving a lot of calls every day from people,” he said.
“This situation is due to the lockdown and some problems across the border.”
When Kuensel reported on the issue on July 10, Phuentsholing’s FCBL auction yard had about 10 metric tonnes (MT) of ginger. In Samtse, FCBL had 16MT. There are many more in the villages.
In Samtse, starting from Tading gewog to Tashichholing, ginger growers and suppliers are giving up hope now.
A supplier and grower, Rakesh said shoots have started to grow from the ginger that was harvested.
“So much has rotted,” he said.
“However, we haven’t heard anything on the export news.”
Rakesh said he alone had about eight to nine MT of ginger. He also had bought about 15MT of ginger from farmers, which are yet to be sold or exported.
Another supplier from Tashichholing said there was no support from the government.
“Our government must speak with the Government of India to solve this problem at the earliest possible.”
Ginger export has been stopped because it doesn’t come under India’s import list and the officials in Jaigaon and Chamarchi do not allow the import.
In October last year, potato export was stopped. However, it was solved and along with potato, betel nut, mandarin, apple and ginger were also sanctioned for export from Bhutan to India. But it was a temporary sanction.
After the sanction time limit expired this year, the problem started again.
Edited by Tshering Palden
The leaders of the Royal Bhutan Army, Cabinet ministers, senior civil servants, representatives from various agencies, and 17 Bhutanese importers (in picture) attended an event on “promotion of Indian mangoes from the state of Uttar Pradesh” at the Indian Embassy in Thimphu, yesterday.
TAG recommends people continue following the safety protocols
With more than 90 percent of the eligible adult population vaccinated, many expect restrictions to ease, and lives to return to ‘normal’. However, experts warn it is not the time yet.
Much to the disappointment of many, the ‘relaxations’, may not come anytime soon given the situation the country is currently in.
A member of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), Dr Tshokey, said that for an individual to be considered fully vaccinated, the person has to receive two doses of the vaccine and complete a two-week duration after the second dose.
The two-week duration known as the immunity response time, Dr Tshokey, said was required for the body to develop an adequate amount of antibodies and have a good immune response against the virus.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that relaxation in the protocols would depend on several factors including the pandemic situation in the region and neighbouring countries.
“There are a couple of conditions that we’ll need to consider before announcing any relaxations to our protocols. TAG is working on it and they will soon submit their recommendation to the national task force,” Lyonchhen said.
Dr Tshokey said that having achieved good vaccination coverage among the adult population would definitely mean that there would be less severe cases among those who get infected and lower risks of death from complications.
“We will see less frequency and intensity of lockdowns. But people will have to continue following all the protocols,” he said.
He said that it would not be correct for people to compare Bhutan with other countries, where relaxations have happened following the vaccination. The parameters — location, size, health facilities, and the real situation on the ground would differ from one country to another, he added.
He said: “Some countries may even be giving up already, but we are still doing whatever possible to win this pandemic under His Majesty’s leadership. One significant difference for Bhutan is the greatest importance given to human life and welfare by His Majesty and the government.”
Dr Tshokey said that people might think that the illness from Covid-19 is not serious or is just like any other flu, and not many have died in the country and then become complacent.
“There are several emerging reports of long-term consequences from the infection. Getting infected, recovering, and being discharged home is not the end. So, unless unavoidable, we should put in all possible means to prevent people from getting the infection and the country from a disaster,” he said.
For Bhutan, the biggest threat is from cross-border transmission. Covid-19 is an imported disease, meaning that the only source of such a disease is through the point of entry (POE) — international borders and airports.
With the majority of the commercial flights currently suspended, it is through the international borders — north and south — that the disease can enter the country.
A big wave of Covid-19 in India and its neighbouring states has direct implications for Bhutan. With growing indications of a third wave of the pandemic in India, observers say the situation would only get worse before it starts subsiding.
Many have pointed out that the third wave in India would enter through the Siliguri corridor, which is very close to the Bhutan-India border.
Recently, the United Nations experts have hinted that Myanmar could become a “Covid super-spreader” state. Northeast India shares a long and porous border with Myanmar. A spill-over transmission to the Indian states would eventually pose a threat to Bhutan through the southern borders.
“In such uncertain times, we cannot afford to relax just because we had a successful vaccination campaign,” said a Thimphu-based doctor.
“The present situation of our country is a direct impact of India’s second wave. The third wave could bring in more deadly variants which could evade the immune system despite being vaccinated,” the doctor said.
He said that vaccination will help reduce severe disease if infected but it did not guarantee people from not getting the disease. “People can still be infected despite being vaccinated. The bigger threat is these people could infect those unvaccinated populations who could then go on to develop severe disease.”
Dr Tshokey said: “Whatever benefits we have from the vaccination and whatever relaxations that may come through, we should always remember that there are still no recommended vaccines for children below 12 years.”
He said that these groups of children will always remain vulnerable to catching the virus as well as suffering from a serious illness. “The very young and the very old have always been His Majesty’s concern during this pandemic. So, we need to be very careful about these two groups.”
Following the completion of the week-long vaccination campaign the health ministry has once urged people to strictly comply with all the Covid-19 norms — avoid large gatherings, wearing face masks properly, and washing hands frequently with soap, among others.
Health experts said that Bhutan has not vaccinated enough population to achieve herd immunity and without the wide vaccine coverage, the population would remain vulnerable to outbreaks.
Observers say that it would be wrong, if not foolish, to ask the government to lift the seven-day and 21-day quarantine protocols in the present situation. “These protocols are our last line of defence. Without the protocols, we would have been in a worse situation today,” said one.
In the meantime, Dr Tshokey said that the priority, for now, was to get Phuentsholing out of the current situation. “We are hopeful we can do it. Following this, a lot of work will have to be put into the continuous risk assessment, local infection risk, and pattern post-vaccination studies.”
He said that the experts will have to review local epidemiology, study international recommendations to make whatever possible relaxations that could be put forth. “It will not be so straightforward. We would not desire a situation where we rush to relax and people travel everywhere taking the virus. If the whole country is put in the same risk level, it will be very difficult for us to even get back to our present situation.”
Edited by Tshering Palden