July 31, 2014

I am sitting in a café in Thimphu, writing this update while listening to my friends chatting in Dzongkha behind me. Sitting at a table nearby, is Lama Shenphen, a monk devoted to helping at-risk youth in Bhutan. He spends his days teaching meditation in the hospital, prison, and slums, to children and people of all ages. In the evenings he goes out and talks to youth who are having a hard time. Often, they moved here to the capital from small villages and are unprepared for the situation they find themselves in. The youth unemployment rate in urban Bhutan is at nearly 25%. Understanding the unemployment problem was one of the main inspirations for this project. Without real livelihood opportunities in rural areas, young people will continue to immigrate to towns that have little to offer them. Often, when their dreams of finding a good job in the city fall through, these youth turn to alcohol, and drugs. That’s where Lama comes in. He teaches them mindfulness and helps them overcome addiction and find purpose. I’m trying to work on the other side of the problem – creating a sustainable economic base in rural Bhutanese communities. When young people grow up in healthy, prosperous rural communities, perhaps they can channel their ambitions into entrepreneurial projects that raise the standard of living in the countryside, and the development of their country as a whole.

A big part of Davis Project for Peace is the youth volunteer component. One of the nationwide programs that falls under the umbrella of YDF (The Youth Development Fund) is the Young Volunteers in Action (Y-VIA) network. There are Y-VIA nodes in villages and cities all over the country. I’ve been communicating with the Y-VIA youth and coordinator in my project village about the work they’ve already done assessing the needs and strengths of the village. Right now, I’m still in Thimphu (Bhutan’s capitol) attending meetings with YDF staff, and working through documents, plans and logistics. But soon, I’ll be travelling to the village, conducting training seminars with youth, meeting with community members and starting construction!

The project of course makes being here very exciting, but there is also just something special about this kingdom, beautiful Bhutan. Here are some photos I took in Paro valley (one hour from Thimphu), and one of chilis, Bhutan’s official cuisine! The sky is so vast here. I find the valleys stretch and pull me inward, until I notice some small temple perched on a mountaintop, and realize where I am, again. Today is the anniversary of the Buddha’s first sermon, a national holiday. Everyone is off and the office is closed. Now that I’ve finished updating you, I will travel to a temple that was built in 800 A.D. One of the oldest temples in Bhutan, Kichu Lakhang, as it’s called, has an orange tree that bears fruit all year, even in the middle of the Himalayan winter.

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