The Gyalyum Charitable Trust offered a contribution of Nu 7.6M to the Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon on the command of the royal patron, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck.
The Gyalyum Charitable Trust is the umbrella organization for all the charities under the royal patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck. These charitable organizations include the three chapters under the Trust; Gyalyum Scholarship Programme, Gyalyum Dharma Initiative and the Craft Gallery, RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women) and The Royal Textile Academy.
A press release from the Trust stated, “This contribution towards the Covid-19 fund stems from our profound respect and admiration for His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo’s great concern for the safety, health and wellbeing of the Bhutanese people. It is our sincere hope that this humble contribution will help support the purchase of the much-required essential medical supplies and Covid-19 testing kits.”
The charitable organizations of Her Majesty the Gyalyum will continue to do their part in fulfilling the aspirations of His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo by providing services to the marginalized sections of the society. Furthermore, Her Majesty would like to commend all the individuals who continue to work in helping those affected by providing essential services and caring for the most vulnerable.
“We remain ever grateful for His Majesty’s guidance, leadership and support during these perilous times for the country and people,” the press release from the Trust stated.
“Her Majesty the Gyalyum is optimistic that the country will overcome this challenge under the dynamic and visionary leadership of His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo.”
Thinley Namgay and Tshering Palden
Tandin from Dawakha in Paro sowed 15 sacks of potato seeds but soon after, wild boars dug them all. Then he sowed peas, the boars got them too.
But that didn’t deter him from contributing to the Covid-19 respond fund a few days ago. From the little he saved selling potatoes and renting his house to three tenants, the 79-year-old donated Nu 10,000 to the fund.
“I see His Majesty The King working tirelessly every day for the country and to ensure that we are safe,” he said. “It pains me because given my age I cannot do much physically. I wish I had more to give.”
He said that the amount was not much but it would help the government to buy the vegetables to feed those in the quarantine.
Yesterday, a group of farmers arrived at the Prime Minister’s Office with a bolero ladened with about 800kg of red rice.
The villagers of Taktshang and Shari chiwogs under Tsento gewog, Paro also contributed Nu 18,100 in cash to the Covid-19 respond fund.
One of the villagers, Pem said that the government spends a lot just on food for those in the quarantine facilities.
“The villagers got together and decided that we have to do something,” the mother of two children said.
So they began contributing rice voluntarily. Those who don’t cultivate paddy contributed in cash.
“The government need a lot of money to respond to the disease but we can do our bit to help,” the 41-year-old from Taktshang chiwog said.
The villagers also making similar voluntary contributions during the religious events in the dzongkhag, she said.
Various agencies and private individuals also contributed to the Covid-19 respond funds.
Dungse Garab Rinpoche, Rangjung Foundation, and Druk Throema Tshokchhen contributed Nu 600,000 to the Covid-19 response fund. “The donation is a gesture of gratitude towards His Majesty’s continued visionary leadership and compassion, and also to support the government in fighting the pandemic.”
TCD Private Limited donated a new bus worth of Nu 2.7M to His Majesty’s Secretariat to help efforts in combating Covid-19.
Save the Children-Bhutan Office donated hand sanitiser, soap, and wash stations worth Nu 1.4M. The items will be delivered to 53 education institutions.
Employees of the Royal Audit Authority jointly contributed Nu 447,945 to the Prime Minister’s Covid-19 respond fund. The contribution was directly deposited into the civil service contribution account number (202415440) maintained with the Bank of Bhutan.
A total of 347 contractors under the Construction Association of Bhutan also donated Nu 1.5M for the Covid-19 relief fund. The association has more than 2,000 contractors.
Meanwhile, Wangchen Momo Corner at the Centenary Farmers’ Market, Thimphu donated Nu 50,000 each to the government’s Covid-19 relief fund and His Majesty’s Kidu Fund for Covid-19.
The European Union (EU) on April 4 released Euro 8.5 million (M) to support Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) and local governance (LG) sectors in Bhutan.
The tranche release is a part of the larger budget support initiative for a total value of EUR €48.8M implemented by the government for the period from 2017 to 2022, according to a press release from the EU.
With the release of the 4th tranche, the EU has so far transferred EUR 29.6M to the government. Funds are implemented directly by the government through the national budget.
According to the press release, €4.5M will be utilised in the RNR sector to increase food self-sufficiency and sustainable management of natural resources.
The rest, €4M will be used in the local governance sector to improve local governance and fiscal decentralisation, equitable socio-economic development and sustainable management of environment.
The EU’s ambassador to India and Bhutan, Ugo Astuto, said, “Under the government of Bhutan’s leadership, the country has made good progress in supporting the renewable natural resources sector and in fostering local governance, in line with the Five-Year Plan.”
“We are happy to contribute to Bhutan’s efforts in accelerating sustainable economic growth, improving service delivery and enhancing the livelihoods of all citizens. Strengthened financial and control capacities of the government will allow even further progress in implementing Public Finance Management reform measures,” he said.
The ambassador added, “The EU will continue to work together with the government also in the framework of the current global Covid-19 crisis, assessing the medium and long-term impact of the pandemic in the country. The funds made available will offer the government more fiscal space to address Covid- 19 needs.”
According to the press release, both the projects, supported by the EU, have achieved key milestones in 2018-19.
Under the RNR sector, self-sufficiency with respect to egg and milk production was achieved and 2,765 hectares were afforested and reforested in 2018.
About 262,949 hectares of forest area was brought under sustainable management and 9,858 km of farm roads have been built.
The EU also stated that 2,996.5 km of irrigation channels were constructed or renovated and 99 farmers groups and cooperatives were registered, creating 584 employment opportunities.
In the local governance sector, 31 business initiatives commenced through green economic development. The EU also supported 50 local governments through the performance-based grants.
Over 1,000 LG functionaries trained and women representation in LG have increased.
Phub Dem | Paro
When residents of Paro are on Tshechu break, a group of tourist guides who call themselves ‘Active Covid-19’ are busy in the fields.
They are engaged in land development works in an apple orchard in Kyichu.
Tshering Paldon, who has been working as a guide for 12 years initiated the commercial farming project.
She and seven other guides started the project and aiming to economically support guides affected by Covid-19.
Commercial farming was taken up to meaningfully engage the guides, provide an alternative source of income to those who are solely depended on tourism and to reduce the impact of food import with the lockdown of neighboring countries, she said.
Unlike her friends, Tshering Paldon is a permanent senior guide with Druk Asia and the company continues to pay her salary.
She said her salary could support her comfortably but there were many friends whose sole source of income was completely cut off. “With the little saving, we are investing in this project.”
The eight founding members contributed their saving and pay other guides who work as daily wage earners.
There are about 22 guides who work as daily wage earners as of yesterday.
There are around 115 guides residing in Paro.
The group is of the stand that they contacted every guide in Paro to engage them in the farming.
The land was leased for two years from a private individual, Tashi Choden. “The land was leased for free to which we are grateful,” Tshering Paldon said.
The group is expected to carry out the farming activities for at least two years.
She said that the pandemic might end in a few months but the impact would stay on for some years.
A freelancer guide, Tshering Chuki Wangchuk, said that without a stable income, 80 percent of the guides were affected.
She said that although the government was planning to provide support and alternatives to employ those affected, the actions were not immediate. “If we wait for the directives, the vegetable season would soon end. That’s why we agreed to lease land.”
She added that during peak season her income was about Nu 70,000 a month.
Another guide said that the project would support him and other guides financially to pay house rent and buy groceries.
A freelancer, Kishor Kumar Thapa, said other guides without any sources of income should join the group. “Don’t feel shy. We welcome anyone willing to join the team.”
Guide Association of Bhutan helped the group in completing the procedures. And Paro dzongkhag administration provided technical support, free machinery, water tanks, seeds, pipes, and greenhouse.
Urgent need to secure learning for children across South Asia: UNICEF
To ensure children in Bhutan continue to learn at home, UNICEF Bhutan is working with the education ministry so that education continuity is implemented in the form of Education in Emergencies (EinE), through the national broadcaster, Bhutan Broadcasting Service.
A committee has also been formed to oversee the quality of lessons being broadcast through national television. Around 170,263 children from classes PP to XII are not attending schools today due to Covid-19 in Bhutan, according to UNICEF.
The government has endorsed the EinE implementation guidelines and circulated nationwide. The guidelines serve as standard operating procedures for all that have a stake in education continuity.
UNICEF is also supporting the efforts that the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) and Special Education Needs (SEN) divisions with the education ministry are making to ensure that the learning and wellbeing of children in their earliest years are not overlooked during the pandemic.
A press release from UNICEF Bhutan stated that building on this initiative, UNICEF and the ECCD and SEN divisions are currently developing parenting education materials in Dzongkha, to distribute directly to preschool-aged children and their families. “Contents of these parenting materials will also be developed into animations to capitalize on platforms in social media, television, radio and mobile phone applications, the press release stated.
UNICEF Bhutan Representative, Dr Will Parks, said UNICEF remains committed to supporting the government in ensuring every child and young person has access to inclusive quality education. “We are working closely with the Ministry of Education to ensure no child is left behind in accessing education and that they are able to continue their learning at home,” he said.
In the South Asia region, 430 million children are affected by school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of these students are now in danger of dropping out of the education system. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the South Asia region had a chronic education crisis with 95 million school-age children out of school, according to UNICEF.
UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia in Kathmandu, Nepal cautions that vulnerable and hard-to-reach children may never return to school if they get further behind due to not being reached with alternative ways to learn during school closures.
Although Covid-19’s impact on the region’s schoolchildren has been mitigated in the short-term by creative approaches to term breaks and examinations, UNICEF is calling on countries across South Asia to urgently develop contingency plans for continued education at home in preparation for possibly longer closures. This means implementing plans to continue education through a mix of radio, television and internet-based platforms, as well as the home delivery of printed learning materials for those who do not have ready access to communication technology.
“We are concerned that prolonged school closures could hit girls and the most vulnerable, including those with disabilities the hardest. Girls are often obliged to take care of household chores and look after siblings. We are also concerned about the psychological impact on children of increasing incidents of domestic violence during lockdowns,” said the Regional Education Adviser at UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia, Jim Ackers.
While most countries in the global north are continuing education at home through online learning, South Asia faces additional challenges due to limited connectivity, according to UNICEF.
Only 33 percent of the people in the region have access to internet. Access to both radio and television is limited in some parts of the region. For example, only 35 percent of rural Nepal has access to television. Children who currently do home learning can also find it hard to get the necessary help if parents are illiterate or did not complete their own education.
UNICEF, the press release stated, is working to support governments in the region to ensure that children can continue with their education at home in partnership with other agencies. Most countries in South Asia have received external funding for this purpose, including through the Global Partnership for Education and bilateral partners. Some countries are rolling out innovative approaches to education.
“The coronavirus has turned into a complex emergency that threatens children and young people in many ways – including their right to learn,” said the Regional Director of UNICEF in South Asia, Jean Gough. “We need to see urgent action across the region to ensure that children’s futures are not compromised.”
Yesterday was the World Health Day. The international community observed it solemnly as a new health crisis, the novel coronavirus, has taken the world by surprise.
The Day’s theme this year was “Support nurses and midwives,” as the Covid-19 pandemic has put nurses and other health workers on the frontline of the coronavirus crisis. In Bhutan, we observed the day with a different theme that calls for togetherness, unity, solidarity and compassion in our fight against Covid-19.
Experiences worldwide had shown that the best weapon to fight the Covid-19 battle is collective effort. Thus the theme at home is most appropriate. There is no medicine or vaccine as of now. Prevention is seen as the best cure. And to prevent it, we need to be united.
We are fighting it well. If unity and solidarity is key, it is there to the extent that the crisis has brought out the best in our people. What is an encouraging sign, everybody is aware of the approach.
Because it is a health crisis, not many can contribute even if they want to. It is frustrating. Therefore, a farmer decides to offer his saving from the sale of vegetables, villagers contribute rice and vegetables and some are offering to cook for those in quarantine. At the other end we have hoteliers offering their property to be used, businesses, big and small contribute from cash to health equipment and vehicles. All these are happening when the government has not even asked for help.
If this is encouraging, those affected with the virus are telling their story thanking the King, the government and all those involved in the fight against Covid-19. When privacy of affected people has to be protected to prevent stigmatisation, among others, those in quarantine and even in isolation wards are boldly sharing their experience to encourage each other and those worried about getting infected.
To put into context, we have five reported cases. One has recovered and others are recovering. Recovery rates even in worst affected countries are increasing every day while fatality rates are dropping. Coronavirus is not a killer disease, as many may have misconstrued.
For those who are on the forefront, the appreciation and gratitude came way before the World Health Day. The nurses and doctors have become our heroes. They take it as their responsibility, a call to duty, but the appreciation is different from the people because they risk their lives. Then we have other volunteers who are contributing in all ways- from entertaining to teaching to guarding our porous and treacherous borders.
We have not reported a new case in the last week. The curve has flattened and there is no evidence of community infection. All these indicate that we have done well and done it together. There is reassurance from the government headed by a prime minister with medical background and a health minster who is a public health expert. The government is confident and so shall be the people.
Above all, we have leadership. Even as some complain of the quality of food or spread fake news, His Majesty The King is touring the country overseeing preparedness at the national level. We can derive confidence and encouragements from the leadership.
As a Buddhist nation, even as we are worried about our own problems, we paused to offer our prayers to those who lost loved ones and those who are risking their lives on the frontline.
Another day went by
Crouching by the window
A mug of steamy coffee in one hand
Admiring the beauty of the structures
Rigid, mighty and soulless they rise
Astonished at the intelligence of mankind
Mere stone is turned into a precious gem
Trees to tables, chairs, and you name it
How beautifully have we moulded them
For pleasure and comfort of our senses!
Doorbell has replaced my alarm clock
But wait, where is everyone?
A sweet voice shouts “Breakfast!”
Same man brings the meals to my quarters
I feel like a pampered princess
I can hear the birds twitter and chirp
Vast blue skies roll out from my window
So much gets done even without
A word, movement or a sound
To feel safe and cared for is sweet
I am home again at long last
And look at the reality differently
My small worries measure up to nothing
How can I ever thank my country?
Some lessons we learn the hard way
Bhutan, Bhutan, oh my love, Bhutan
But it is love and care that wins
How fortunate I feel to be born here
Together we can assail all adversaries
Another day, another strong resolve.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
A youth agriculture group in Marphang, Trashigang is doing well.
Marphang Youth Commercial Organic Farm, which sits on 16.5-acre land, was inaugurated in November last year. Land use certificate (LUC) programme made it all possible.
Not a single member has farming experience. It wasn’t easy to begin from scratch. The group focuses on growing pineapple and green chili.
Chili did well last year. This year the group has expanded the cultivation.
“We piloted with chili and learnt that there was a huge market potential,” said the group’s leader, Kinga Wangchuk. “We could harvest about 800kg chili and made about Nu 105,000.”
Kuenga Wangchuk began thinking about commercial farming after officials from office of Gyalpoi Zimpon visited the gewog to encourage commercial farming.
A member, Pempa Tshering, said that farming was labour intensive. “But there is good return.”
He said: “My dream is to become agriculture entrepreneur and encourage youth to take up agriculture as a profession.”
Another member, Sonam Tshering, said the group was expecting to harvest at least half of the pineapple fruits by the end of this year.
“We don’t have to worry about the market. We have signed agreement with Bhutan Agro for 10 years,” he said.
He said hard work and patience was important.
“We had never worked during school days. It is quite challenging,” Sonam Yoesel said. “But the future is in agriculture.”
The group is also planning poultry farm.
Informal sector workers such as street food and vegetable vendors, temporary workers in the export sector, home-based weavers and bakers are among those hit by the consequences of Covid-19.
Informal workers constitute 75 percent of the workforce in the country. They are private business entities or enterprises that do not have any signed employment contract.
Dharma Raj Sharma had been selling momo in Thimphu. In three years, his business hit the lowest within few months this year. He is worried.
Daily, Dharma Raj barely earns Nu 600 with 10-15 customers compared to Nu 2,500 with 50-60 customers in the past. He said that every day about 15 plates of momos remained unsold.
Working in the informal sector has got Rinchen (name changed) running from monitoring authorities who heavily fined him. For the past six months, he was driving around selling Bhutanese dishes to taxi and bolero drivers.
Rinchen said that since the outbreak of the pandemic, his customers had drastically dropped. “In the past, every day, there were 40 customers but now I don’t even get half the number.”
The vegetable vendors along the roads and highways have the same story to share. Dawa Dem sells fruits and vegetables along Thimphu-Paro highway. Within a month, her income dropped from Nu 7,000 per day to Nu 1,500 a day.
Vendors like Dawa Dem had spread themselves across different spots along the highway to attract customers coming from other places.
Similarly, Baker’s Basket, a home-based bakery, doesn’t receive a single order in a day. “I used to earn a minimum of Nu 7,000 in the past,” the founder Pem Dechen said.
Last month, handicraft stalls and porter and pony service providers to Taksang reported complete closure of the business due to the pandemic.
The situation of the vulnerable sector is expected to worsen. Most of the entities said that they were worried about their livelihood.
The World Bank report on Bhutan’s labour market found that informal labour was of particular concern as it is widespread among the general population and endemic in certain groups, such as individuals with low education, from rural areas, and from poor households.
The proportion of informal jobs is highest among workers with no schooling, at 93 percent. Informal labour is also closely related to poverty, the findings stated.
The government also pledged to formalise, legalise and support the informal sector who contributes to the economy.
“It takes a community to raise a child” is resonant to the e-learning programme the government has initiated in the light of the new coronavirus.
The education of a child is a shared responsibility between the teacher and the student, parents, as well as the community as a whole, working together in solidarity.
Often, it is easier to stand outside a pond and reflect on the dirt that lies within, than to muster the courage to stir the mud and nurture growth.
Credit is due to the teachers who stand live- probably for the first time in their lives- teaching online. To the students who eagerly wait for their day’s lessons, and to the parents who reschedule their day to day routines to facilitate this long overdue foray into revolutionising the education system that has remained virtually unchanged- not just in Bhutan, but the world over- for more than a century.
Despite the foreboding presence of hushed dubious voices, mixed with fear and apprehension at the idea of not being able to meet expectations, the online lessons have gone into full swing.
“Our demo lessons went so smooth, that we felt well prepared to face the camera, but eventually, when the camera lights focused on us, we suddenly felt overwhelmed,” said one of the teachers involved in the online classes.
Some other teachers were of the opinion that teaching in classrooms was more comfortable than doing so facing a camera; that the shift in teaching took a more formal exterior and became less interactive. However, they also added that this new dimension to teaching has enriched them.
While some students felt that e-learning was fun and wished for the continuance of the project, others expressed their concerns over not having accessibility to the internet or even a basic television set at home. These concerns were primarily shared by children in the more remote corners of the country.
No two sides of a coin have ever been the same. So is the case with the e-learning program.
The sudden emergence of e-learning can be taken as a renaissance for the Bhutanese education system to move forward.
It gives us an opportunity to shift from the more institutionalized form of learning to a more open arena. One in which students can develop the ability to be broader in their thoughts, teachers gain exposure and develop the confidence to explore different mediums of instruction and parents, in turn, become more instrumental in their child’s learning.
In fact, a whole nation is aroused and made more conscientious on the importance of coming together, to solidify for our children, their rights to a tomorrow with boundless potential.
All this can become a reality if each of us felt, and acted upon a communal responsibility to raise our children in the best possible manner. The apparent crippling realities of the lack of a smart phone or even of that which is considered a necessary accessory in most urban homes, a television set, may instill a lack of conviction in the viability of e-learning in the minds of many a doubter, but I would like to think that these are hurdles that our little nation can overcome, given time, and given belief.
Consistencies and continuity can come into place, if all come in unison to raise our children. If each, instead of finding means for negative criticism, lent a hand not as an individual apart, but as a voice in solidarity, to further enhance one another. Even now, in the face of adversity, our children adapt.
Those without television sets at home visit neighbours to facilitate their e-learning, all the while hoping for the assistance promised by our government. If the children can be so optimistic and pursuant to gain a day’s lesson, why cant society, instead of standing by the wall, ready to shred apart anything new, come together for a change and build upon the initiatives that have already been taken to create an educational culture that engenders the brightest of futures for them.
If Parents could be by their children guiding them, with their lessons, taking advantage of gaining more insight on their child’s learning, or if in the event a parent, who is not fortified enough, to guide their child, sought neighborly assistance, if as a teacher, we bore accountability to our profession, if as a society we did not always look for means to down size the efforts of those struggling, if as committed stake holders would look into the inadequacies and meet them with efficiency.
If and if, the beginning of all changes, the birth of all changes, looming around the cornerstones of that ‘if’,
That it is not just a child but our child, our child’s future that we have to ensure, to reciprocate the trust, that they have placed in us, with their tomorrow.
The SAARC Development Fund (SDF) has allocated USD 5 million (M) to help the member states respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The fund will be given to eligible proponents from the member states under its social window.
All eight SAARC member states can submit Covid-19-related proposals for the fund upon fulfilling certain criteria. The first criterion is that there should be at least three SAARC countries proposing a project.
Secondly, a minimum of 50 percent cash should come from co-funding proponents of a project. However, the SDF can consider 100 percent grant for project proposals originating from SAARC bodies, government and autonomous bodies of a government.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector can submit applications for the fund.
But such proponents should be registered in any of the SAARC member countries and have the experience of working continuously for a minimum of five years in the relevant field with a commitment of 50 percent cash co-funding.
Chief executive officer (CEO) of SDF, Dr Sunil Motiwal, said: “The objective of the USD 5 million allocation is to provide fund support to the member states in their efforts and to protect the people of the SAARC member states by mitigating the financial losses and severe socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
As per SDF Charter Article 4(2), the social window would primarily fund projects on poverty alleviation, social development focusing on education, health, human resource development, support to vulnerable and disadvantaged segment of society.
The fund will be used to address the needs of communities and micro-enterprises and develop rural infrastructure.
All eligible project proposals submitted to SDF, CEO Dr Sunil Motiwal, said will be reviewed and due diligence would be ensured.
“The approval process, project implementation, fund disbursement, management, monitoring and reporting shall be as per the existing SDF-Board approved policy, and practices of SDF and Social Window,” he said.
He added that SDF would follow a fact-track system for appraisal and approval of projects.
According to the WHO, the eight SAARC member states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka have reported a total of 8,282 confirmed cases, according to the SDF.
As of yesterday, India reported 4,281 cases, Pakistan 3,403, Afghanistan 299, Sri Lanka 178, Bangladesh 88 and Maldives 19. Nepal and Bhutan reported nine and five cases respectively.
Since its inception in April 2010, the SDF is mandated to build regional integration and economic cooperation through project funding in all the eight SAARC member countries through its economic, infrastructure and social windows.
Currently, SDF is implementing 90 projects in all SAARC member states with a total fund commitment of USD 198.24. The SDF has completed 48 projects benefiting thousands of people in the region.
There is a misconception, say hoteliers
From the quality of food and the misconception that hoteliers who volunteered to offer their property as quarantine facilities are making profits, hoteliers are at the receiving end of social media critics.
With pictures of food served at different quarantine centres circulating online, people are alleging hoteliers of compromising with the menu and making profit out of it.
This, according to hoteliers is untrue.
A Thimphu hotelier explained that the government has allocated a specific budget to prepare meals for different hotels based on the standard of the hotel. The government has prepared a set of menu that is to be served uniformly across all quarantine centres.
According to the approved standard rates of the government, the budget approved for a budget hotel is Nu 1,000 per person per day. A three-star hotel is given Nu 1,200 while a four-star hotel has to prepare the menu at Nu 1,500.
Hotels have to include three meals of specified menu within the specified budget.
The budget does not include room charges.
A normal stay in a three-star hotel would cost any where between Nu 3,500 to Nu 6,000 a day. This is excluding the meals, which would normally cost around Nu 2,000 per person.
The hotelier said that while the government has agreed to pay for the food and other utilites, there are other expenses such as staff salary, which differs with the hotel standards.
She said that the pick-and-drop services for the hotel staff, the increasing commodity prices and other incidental charges are not included in the government’s budget.
“The amount is hardly enough for a breakeven, let alone make profit from it,” she said.
On the menu, another Thimphu hotelier said his chef is finding it difficult to cook vegetarian meals thrice a day for 21 days. “Usually, our chef prepares one or two vegetarian items a day,” he said, adding that the lack of choice for vegetables is also adding to the problem.
Despite knowing the risks of converting hotels into a quarantine facility, hoteliers across the country have come together in solidarity to show their support to the government in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
One of them said that while health workers have been in the frontline battling the disease, hoteliers and their staff were also equally involved. “Despite the limited information and scare from the virus, hotel staff are working tirelessly, everyday. They don’t even have all the safety gears.”
Many hoteliers shared that turning a hotel into a quarantine centre also invited social stigma from local residents as well as their international partners.
“Knowing that my hotel was used as a quarantine facility, many would be hesitant to use our services,” said one Thimphu hotelier. “Once this information is out, our international partners would also come to know about it. Knowing this, they would always have some kind of fear in using our services in the future.”
She said that because of this reason, many high-end hotels have not come forward to make similar contributions. “These are the hotels that get the benefits from government in the form of organising official conferences and mega-events. But when the government is in need, it is hoteliers like us who come forward.”
And then there are cases of vandalism in the quarantine facilities. Some hoteliers shared that many of the their furniture including television sets, bathroom fixtures and celling were damaged when a person left the facility.
The negative image the hoteliers have been tainted with has discouraged many from coming forward, she said.
“I’m better off not giving my hotel as a quarantine facility. I would rather lock my hotel and engage my employees elsewhere. And when this is all over, my guests are ready to come in,” she said, adding that more than the financial damage she would take, the though of have a bad reputation would deter her from coming forward.
She said that hotels are under no obligation to step in and help the government. However, she added, “Drawing inspiration from His Majesty who has since day one been personally monitoring the situation, many of us felt the need to do our part to help the government and country in such difficult times.”
In Phuentsholing, besides offering the hotels as quarantine centres, many of the hoteliers have taken in all their Bhutanese staff and their families residing in Jaigoan and provided them accommodation in their hotels.
Kuensel learnt that the volunteered hotels have also not laid off any of their Bhutanese staff and are paying them their regular salaries. Besides the shortage of staff (foreign labourers) especially in the south, shortage of vegetables, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) supply, and disposable packaging containers, among others, were some of the challenges the hoteliers experienced.
Meanwhile, in one of the hotels, when a cook called in sick, the owner had to cook breakfast for 70 people in the quarantine centre.
But little or no options for small and new entrants
Amid the indefinite Covid-19-induced tourist ban in the country, many tour operators have kept their employees on the regular pay roll in a show of solidarity.
Incomes from tourism have been negative for a month now. But tour companies are using either cash in hand or incomes from other sources to pay their staff.
One of the biggest tour companies in the country, Yangphel Adventure Travel, has been using cash in hand to pay the employees, according to its chief executive officer (CEO), Karma Lotey.
He said that the company’s 270 employees, including that of its hotels, Zhiwaling, are on paid leave. But he added that it would not be sustainable to keep them on the regular payroll beyond six months.
Karma Lotey said that company was working out a win-win arrangement with banks. The company has proposed to banks for re-structuring of loans, enhancing working capital and deferment of interest payments to retain employees.
“Of course, if there is some fiscal incentives, there is nothing like it. But we don’t want to burden the government at this difficult time,” he added.
Most other tour operators are doing the same.
Owner of Bhutan Birding and Heritage Travels, Hishey Tshering, said that he had committed to his staff members that he would continue to pay them despite the loss of income from tourism. He has about 12 full-time people, including some from his hotel, on the regular payroll.
“If I reach a situation where I can’t pay anymore, then I will have to see which of the staff members are in more dire need,” he said.
If the situation prolongs but things return to normalcy after a year, Hishey Tshering said that he would pay the employees in arrears. He was in favour of submitting a letter of commitment saying that tour operators would pay their employees as a part of support to the government.
“The biggest help the government can give can be freezing of monthly loan installments or even the interest part until the situation improves,” he said on what kind support would be useful.
Another tour operator, Sonam Jamtsho, said that he was using savings and incomes from his construction company to pay his employees.
But the owner of A Bucket List Adventure added that even construction companies have been affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Even if we get work, workers are not available,” he said.
Little or no options for small and new entrants
While the older players are making adjustments, small tour operators and new entrants’ anxious wait for relief programmes continues.
The delay in relief programmes has forced some of the tour operators to send their employees on unpaid leave although the government has requested them not to do so. But the tour operators say that the government has been agonizingly late.
Economic relief programmes should have come more than a week ago, if the government’s earlier statements were anything to go by. The government later said that it needed to incorporate some amendments into the relief programmes.
Small and new tour operators say they need help such as soft loans for payment of office and house rents and to cope with loss of livelihoods immediately. For small and new operators, tourism had been the sole means of living.
A tour operator said, “Generally, all small travel operators like me depend on regional tourists. He said that it was the small operators that needed a relief immediately.
He said banks should give soft loans for sustenance of livelihood until business returns to normalcy.
He said his monthly expenses including office and house rents were about Nu 50,000 and that all of them came from tourism. “I’m totally bankrupt and am going through a critical situation,” he said.
Executive director of Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO), Sonam Dorji, said that despite the total loss of income, most tour operators had expressed commitments to continue paying their employees for some months.
Some employers, he said, were paying 50 percent of the salary. The ABTO, he said, had come up with strategy to engage the employees in alternative economic activities and in skills development trainings.
One of the alternatives considered is to engage people in development of tourism infrastructure. He said he was hopeful that deferment of loan installments would come in the government’s economic stimulus plan.
The government has said that the economic relief programmes would be rolled out in phases, the first of which will be targeted at the most affected sector.
Among other recommendations, ABTO recently requested the government to provide capital loans to be made available at a zero or very minimal interest rate and repayment to be done over a period of four years.
The ABTO solicits soft loans for marketing, product development and staff retention after lifting of travel restriction.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering at the recent meet the press asked affected businesses not to send their employers on unpaid leave. He said that the government had already started bearing some portion of affected employees’ salaries.
But Kuensel found that many affected employees were either engaged in temporary jobs or have returned to their villages as the employers stopped paying them.
To enable businesses to avail loans and maintain continuity of economic activities, the government plans to inject liquidity into financial institutions.
Financial institutions expressed their willingness to help clients by deferring equated monthly installments (EMIs), providing moratorium and increasing grace period on loans for eligible individuals and businesses.
However, whether or not banks will give soft loans, tour operators will have to wait for the government’s economic stimulus plan.
Two special flights for Paro-Delhi-Paro sector on April 9, to bring home Bhutanese residing in India.
Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji yesterday said that it has been confirmed. “The government at the moment is exploring other possibilities for other Bhutanese wishing to return home,” he said.
The Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Delhi in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Drukair Royal Bhutan Airlines and relevant authorities in the Government of India is arranging the flights, the embassy wrote on its Facebook page.
The embassy is asking Bhutanese nationals who are in Delhi to register with the embassy to book a seat on the flight.
“We can still accommodate around 21 individuals on the Paro-Delhi-Paro sector,” the embassy’s message on its Facebook page stated.
Meanwhile, the embassy in Bangkok, Thailand is exploring possibilities to bring back Bhutanese residing in Australia and Malaysia.
After the embassy issued a travel advisory to the Bhutanese Associations in Australia earlier this month, ‘a sizable number of Bhutanese’ informed the embassy that they wish to return home as early as possible.
The embassy stated that it has found out that Malaysian Airlines is operating a few flights to Kuala Lumpur from Perth, Sydney and Melbourne in April and up to mid May 2020.
“This could be a viable option as transit is possible at Kuala Lumpur as of now, and Drukair may also be able to put in flights from Kuala Lumpur to Paro,” an updated travel advisory from the embassy stated. It stated that the embassy is in touch with both the Malaysian Airlines and Druk Air.
The embassy has also asked the Bhutanese Associations in Australia to compile the list of Bhutanese wanting to avail this option.
“All Bhutanese in Australia who wish to return home are requested to get in touch with Bhutanese Associations in your respective states/area as soon as possible.”
As the returnees have to undergo 21 days of mandatory quarantine upon arrival in Paro, the embassy isTherefore, the Embassy will also need to coordinate their travel home with the health and foreign affairs ministries.
Bhutanese are asked to follow up with their respective Bhutanese Associations.
The Bhutanese Association in Perth have sent out a form for the residents to register and asked them to confirm by yesterday evening if they wished to return home on the flight that the government would be arranging.
Yangchen C Rinzin
To ensure children have access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) when they return to school, Save the Children Bhutan Office provided materials worth Nu 1.4 million (M) to the education ministry yesterday.
The materials include hand sanitisers, soaps, and wash stations designed by Bhutan Toilet Organisation with water tank and tap.
It would be delivered to 40 schools, four youth centres, five early childhood care and development (ECCD) centres, two extended classrooms, and two community centres in 14 dzongkhags and three thromdes.
The officiating education secretary, Karma Tshering, said that although schools are closed right now, it is the right time to install and keep everything ready since the focus is on the preventive measures.
He said the ministry, as a part of preventive measures, collected data from schools immediately after Covid-19 was first detected in the country. “It was found that 20 schools did not have basic hand washing facilities and they wanted to do something to ensure such critical facility is provided in these schools and Save the Children came forward to support.”
Education officials say 33 vulnerable schools were also identified, especially those located in the southern foothills to supply wash stations.
With this, wash station will benefit 24,906 students where 115 wash station, 7,850 soaps, and 455 sanitisers would be provided in the schools.
Meanwhile, reporting and user guidelines for emergency WASH materials for Covid-19 preparedness were also provided with the materials.
The officiating secretary also said that the ministry is looking forward to complete producing 500 episodes by April 10 for tele-education currently aired on BBS every day.
“We’re also looking into the possibility of reaching out students in rural areas who have limited access to online education,” Karma Tshering said. “We’re planning to publish what we covered until now through print media.”
He said they are currently developing self-instruction materials. “The ministry is also working to provide different programme or engage children with disabilities including non-formal education.”
Save the Children’s national director, MB Ghaley, said that in addition to the emergency WASH material support, Save the Children will also support the education ministry to carry out children’s remote or home-based learning.
“This is a part of continuing education in emergency plan in response to the current Covid-19 pandemic,” he said. “We will be providing financial support worth Nu 4.2M.”
The financial support will be used in the development of content for teaching-learning sessions in all the five key stages of learning. It will be also used to procure stationery and other required teaching and learning materials to support development of learning content.
His Royal Highness Gyaltshab Jigme Dorji Wangchuck graced the opening of the accelerated DeSuung training programme in Dewathang yesterday.
The three-week programme has taken in 2,500 volunteers in seven different locations across the country.
The training focuses on health and security to enable volunteers to support health workers in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a press release, all volunteers and trainers were tested for Covid-19 before commencing the training to prevent the possibility of community transmission.
During the opening, His Royal Highness said that DeSuups rendered great assistance during times of need and must continue to serve with the same dedication and loyalty to the Tsawa-Sum.
His Royal Highness is His Majesty’s representative in the east.
Meanwhile, on the Command of His Majesty The King, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo attended the opening ceremony of the 38th batch of DeSuung integrated training programme in Wangdue yesterday.
Lyonpo shared the critical role DeSuups could play in the wake of Covid-19. According to the health ministry, in a worst-case scenario, DeSuups would have to share responsibilities and activities with the health workers.
Following the event, Lyonpo visited the isolation wards at Wangdue and Punakha hospitals. Officials in the districts were advised to emphasise more on districts’ plans for worst-case scenario.
Phub Dem | Paro
Eleven employees from sectors affected by the Covid-19 pandemic joined the Farm Machinery Corporation Limited (FMCL) in Paro as of April 3.
The 11 individuals work as daily wage earner.
FMCL’s chief executive officer, Karma Thinley, said the corporation planned to employ more people affected by the global pandemic.
He said youths would get hands-on-training in agricultural works, mushroom cultivation and other activities.
He also said they would engage some of those individuals in contract farming and other activities like roof painting, fencing and constructing irrigation canals. “By doing this we could replace construction workers and reduce cash outflow.”
Karma Thinley said FMCL was also planning to take up joint ventures with those from affected sectors. “The corporation will provide land and investment and they would take up manual work,” he said. “The profit will be equally divided.”
He said they are discussing with Tourism Council of Bhutan, Druk Waste Management and some farmers.
However, an official said they were skeptical if the individuals would take up manual work.
Meanwhile, FMCL is carrying out commercial and contract farming to achieve food self-sufficiency through mass cultivation of crops in commercial and contract farms established across the country.
The company aims to upscale agriculture production by recultivating fallow lands and initiating land terracing to cultivate in government reserve forest (GRF).
FMCL also engages youths in sequential training on various crops through modern farming technologies and enhances farm mechanization through hiring services.
There are eight contract and commercial farms around the country.
Karma Thinley said the regional farming teams were already gearing for mass production. “FMCL also deliver vegetables to schools and hospitals where there are no farmers’ group and cooperatives.”
The dengue season has arrived.
In the southern belt and some eastern parts of the country, the weather’s warmed up. It is becoming hotter by the day. Suspect dengue cases have already started emerging from hospitals in Nganglam and Panbang.
Given the right conditions this vector-borne disease has the potential to spread very quickly. Last year, 5,400 people tested dengue positive and the disease claimed six lives.
Phuentsholing, which saw the first and the highest dengue cases in the country last year, is already on its toes. Others must follow suit. Vector control and source reductions are being carried out. Between March 18 and 24, Vector-borne Disease Control Programme team has inspected 5,766 containers (1,538 wet and 700 dry), 116 buildings, and 302 units and premises in Phuentsholing.
The team has spotted at least 15 potential sites where the vectors can proliferate. The surveillance report has recommended thromde and drungkhag offices to impose strict cleanliness and hygiene rules. In such cases, regular inspection should be instituted and penalties imposed on those who do not comply with the rules.
These are good measures because prevention is always better than cure. This is more relevant today when we are already faced with the dangers of Covid-19. Both the diseases can spread like wildfire and consequence can be fatal.
Advocacy and awareness programmes are good but often they do not work in our society. If stricter and harsher measures are required, authorities must not hesitate to shell out their worse.
Covid-19 is still a major threat and could remain so for sometime. We have only a limited number of health professionals. Having to deal with two dangerous and fast-spreading diseases at the same time can put a serious strain on our resources. That means our chances to bungle increases.
Phuentsholing Thrompon put it bluntly: “We are all already tackling Covid-19 and a dengue outbreak at this time can cripple us.” But that is indeed the very risk facing the country today.
Violation of regulations is already a big problem as we fight Covid-19. People continue to ignore government notifications that restrict international border crossing. In an incident that is worrying and is of serious concern to the nation, a 31-year-old man recently made off from a quarantine centre in Samtse. He is still at large.
At a time when we have no option but to maintain social distancing and hygiene at all costs, such irresponsibility on the part of the public should not go unpunished because what they are doing is nothing less than treasonous.
Simply put, we cannot face two wars at the same time. The renegades must be brought before the law.
I am Kinley from Trongsa. I study at Kathmandu University in Nepal. With the ongoing Covid-19 case the curriculum of this spring semester in my school changed to online classes.
Although there were very few Covid- 19 cases reported in Nepal when I was there, I thought Bhutan would be safer for me than anywhere else. So I decided to come back home. More over my mother called me every day expressing her concern and worries about the deadly case. I landed at Paro airport on March 22 with five other friends. As soon as we arrived at the airport we were brought to the quarantine centre at Kuenphen Rabten Resort in Thimphu. We were aware that we would have to be in quarantine so it wasn’t a surprise for us when we were told that we couldn’t go out from our assigned area until the quarantine period was over.
We were told that two persons should share a room. Luckily my close friend and me got to share a room. We were glad that the quarantine-included facilities like, free Wi-Fi, free meals, and luxurious rooms with appropriate space to study and relax.
This is my 15th day in quarantine and I just feel like days are passing so fast. Even before the quarantine was extended to three weeks, me and my friend hoped for the quarantine period to be extended because both of us thought it would be safer for everyone and also we were actually enjoying our time together, it was like a little retreat.
On Tuesday March 31, we were happy that the quarantine was extended by one more week.
We wake up at 7am as usual, I and my friend do 30mins of yoga then we do our morning prayers. By 8am breakfast will be kept at our door. Our online class starts at 9:15 am and it goes until 12:45pm, by then it will be time for lunch. Again In the afternoon our class starts at 3pm until 5:45pm. Our college conducts online classes in Microsoft team app which is convenient.
Dinner is served at around quarter past six. We are also served with snacks and tea in the evening. After dinner we watch TV, write homework and sometimes read news online. We are also kept updated with news (Kuensel). We say our prayers and go to bed at around 11pm. That’s how we spend our weekdays. However during weekends, we enjoy our days watching movies, singing and dancing. My friend likes dancing and I like singing.
We are grateful for the facilities we have in the quarantine. The meals are always good. For each meal served we remind ourselves of the kindness of our King and the government and thank them through our prayers. We feel very lucky to be a Bhutanese citizen under the leadership of a Dharma King.
Back in Nepal we have friends who also want to go back to their country but are worried about the quarantine facility and the cost. When we talk to them about the situation in our country, they said we are really lucky to be born in Bhutan and said they wished to be a Bhutanese.
We are grateful to His Holiness the Je Khenpo and monks of the Zhung Dratshang for praying for the peace and to the owner and helpers of our quarantine centre.
Thank you so much Bhutan.
Millions of ngultrum has poured in from individuals and institutions in a show of solidarity and gratitude to the country’s Covid-19 relief fund.
Given the need for funds to sustain measures against the pandemic, majority of the contributions made are voluntary. However, besides the overwhelming donations, there are a few individuals who are still unaware of the procedures involved in contribution.
Many have approached Kuensel seeking suggestions if their donations should go to the Prime Minister’s Office or the health ministry. While all donations made would be used for any Covid-19-related activities, many remain uninformed.
Crowdfunding could come as a solution to this.
The concept of crowdfunding is similar to the customary models of constructing a house in villages, where the whole village comes to provide voluntary labour and the host treats them to a feast.
Initiated as an alternative financing model for startups, new business ventures and cottage and small industries in the country less than a year ago, the Royal Securities Exchange of Bhutan Ltd (RSEBL), the platform providers, has successfully completed a donation-based crowdfunding campaign for Ability Bhutan Society.
The campaign that ended yesterday raised Nu 724,212 against the target of Nu 700,000 to provide early intervention services to children from economically disadvantaged background with disabilities.
A total of 106 donors contributed in the campaign that began on February 21. A group of tourist through a tour company also donated more than Nu 400,000.
How does crowdfunding work?
Bhutan Crowdfunding, a digital platform developed by RSEBL allows business firms (CSIs and entrepreneurs) to raise small amount of funds from a large number of individuals while providing new investment avenues for the public.
There are currently two types of crowdfunding provided in the country. An equity-based crowdfunding is an investment platform, similar to buying shares. Investors would be rewarded with returns on the equity, should the business prosper.
And there is donation-based crowdfunding, where there is no monetary return on the investments and is mainly organised for charity purpose.
Covid-19 and crowdfunding
In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, a global trend, in response of the pandemic is the coming up of multiple crowdfunding platforms as an opportunity for fund raising.
While the government has opened a Covid-19 relief fund account, nobody is aware of how the fund is being utilised.
RSEBL’s chief executive officer, Dorji Phuntsho, said that using the crowdfunding portal, interested parties could make donations online. He said that crowdfunding campaigns are more transparent in the sense that people would know how and where their donations would be utilised once the contributions are made.
The list of donors would also be reflected at the end of the campaign period, which would normally be decided by organisers.
It would be more demonstrative – using audiovisuals contents and detail on the corwdfunding objectives to convince the donors. “We would also have better outreach since it would be carried out digitally through social media platforms.”
He said that RSEBL started the corwdfunding given the potential social media platforms had on the emotions of people. “Today there are a lot of posts online where people seek financial assistance from the crowd with different motives,” he said. “However, we cannot for certain say those posts are genuine and people could misuse such platforms.”
The CEO added that when it comes to crowdfunding, the RSEBL as an institution validates all the objectives through a strict criterion before making it public.
He said that RSEBL had unofficially informed relevant agencies to start a crowdfund for Covid-19 when the disease had initially entered the country. “As a platform provider, we have a conflict of interest to launch the campaign on our own.”
The company has not received any response so far.
Dorji Phuntsho said that the ultimate objective of the campaign is to reach out to all people who want to donate.
Meanwhile, he said that the company is also preparing to bring on board international donors. “We are working with the banks to open link for payment gateway. We should be done by next week or so.”