May 27, 2014

Hi, my name is Hasta. I’m a resident fellow here at I-House, and I’ve had the good fortune of receiving a Davis Project for Peace grant through the I-House facilitated Davis application process. I am going to the Himalayas to engage youth in a community research and development project in rural Bhutan. Bhutan is a small country squeezed between India, China, and Nepal.  The people of Bumthang, a rural Dzongkhag (district) in Northern Bhutan, have a long history of weaving ornate cloth from wool and yak hair. Bumthap people have herded these animals across the tundra of their high-altitude homeland for generations. But recently, due to the dangers of Bhutan’s out-of-control wild boar populations (and cultural values prohibiting hunting), many communities have given up shepherding. As a result, rural livelihood opportunities have diminished greatly, sparking an increase in rural to urban migration.

Recent community development projects led by the Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF) in the village of Umsang, Bumthang have helped the particularly skilled weavers of this region build workspaces, buy sewing machines, and develop their weaving into marketable products. Building on the work of YDF, I plan to use the Davis Project for Peace grant to engage youth in Participative Action Research (PAR), build sheep enclosures with youth in a hands-on PAR project, and start a fledgling flock in Umsang. Building on the previous developments led by YDF, this project, Renewing the Source of Peace, will help revitalize the art of shepherding through re-introducing the vocation of shepherds, vertically integrating the weaving economy, and reviving the rich culture of Umsang and Bumthang through youth empowerment in PAR projects. PAR is an innovative research and development strategy – more to come on this topic in later entries.

At this point in the project, I am focused on preparations, like booking flights, getting a volunteer visa, making arrangements with my partners in Bhutan, and searching out all the supplies I will need. It’s challenging to navigate the logistics of this type of project, especially on top of the madness of finishing my MA – thesis, finals, and departure. But, it’s rewarding also. And I know, in two months, when I’m sleeping nestled between peaks, under the starry skies of sparsely populated tundra, with a full day of sheep wrangling with Bhutanese teenagers ahead of me, the stress of preparations will feel like a dream.

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