Tuesday, January 25, 2011

YDF Spotlight

This whole program was made possible by the great people and facilities at the Youth Development Fund. It is a beautiful facility complete with housing, classrooms, music rooms, and sports courts. They have a full time staff and work with hundreds of youths from across the country. If you are interested in sponsoring YDF or just want to learn more, please see their website: www.bhutanyouth.org.

Thank you again to YDF for all of the amazing support that you have given us.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Reflection by Karan, the founder of Saffron Education

There are a few times in your life when you feel you have done something truly meaningful - changed lives, touched someone, or actually made a difference to the world in a very small way. Today, thats how I feel.

I feel, great pride - Watching 6 undergraduate students, from Harvard between 18- 22 years old fly around the world and brave the cold, and eat spicy food, never complaining, always smiling and leading from the front has been inspirational. Reid's energy, Sheba's drive, Emily's quiet sense of confidence, Ujunwa's maturity, Akansha's smile and of course D's speeches, I think won all of Bhutan's hearts over.

But even more so,watching 20 Bhutanese volunteers dancing, singing, speaking and confidently leading has been truly moving for all of us facilitators. The number of times, I have been hugged, congratulated and cheered by people here has been incredible. Gross National Happiness is alive and well in Bhutan and truly the country is in safe and good hands with wonderful people set to lead it as it dances into the future.

Today, standing around the circle where people spoke about the highlight of the camp for them - I was truly moved by how many people spoke straight from the heart and the deep bonds that were developed over 10 days. The ocean of tears, where almost every person broke down and cried after speaking in many waves for me signified greater success then any of the words that were said.

I know many of us will be great leaders but after today am convinced that all of us have been inspired to be better human beings. Today, I realized that life is not really about achievement , applause or accomplishment but is simply about attitude, belief, passion and celebration - How a little will can go a long way.

Bhutan 2011 - Youth Lead the Change has been incredible - and I hope all the people involved will take some of this energy and spread it amongst their communities whereever in the world they may be.

Tashi Delek!

Karan Maheshwari

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day 3: Vision, Mission, SMART Goals, and Timelines

Monday in photos:
Meeting with our sponsors from DHI (Druk Holdings and Investments, Inc.)
Students present timelines for their social change projects

Students playing the game "ichi mini hoi" in teams

Students gathering the attention of the large group

Students discussing the vision and mission of their social change projects

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ethnographic Local Wisdom Trip & Buddha Point

“To gain knowledge, one must study. To gain wisdom, one must observe.”

Today we had the opportunity to visit a small village on the skirts of Thimpu. We had a fantastic day conducting an ethnographic study: interviewing locals, churning butter, milking cows, boiling local rice wine, and crushing rice grains. We learned a lot of new things including how the villagers boil garlic to help cure indigestion and stomach pains. Preserving culture and tradition was also a theme we discussed throughout the day. After visiting the village, we took the bus to Buddha Point, one of the world's largest Buddha statues. Overall, it was a great learning experience.

A few photo highlights from the day:

Trainers discussing local wisdom with the villagers

Emily having fun with the local children

Visiting Buddha Point with “Youth Lead the Change” trainers
Chai and crackers before our ethnographic research in the village

The team on our walk through the rice fields to reach the village

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Meeting Her Majesty, the Queen Mother and Minister of Education

On Saturday, we had the great honor to meet Her Majesty, Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuk, the Queen Mother of Bhutan. Her Majesty arrived at Nazhoen Pelri, the venue for our program in the afternoon. We welcomed her with song and dance and presented a Bhutanese dance to her, together with some of the young people we had trained (our dance was shown on national television later that evening). Clad in Bhutanese national dress (kira for the ladies and gho for the men), we told her about our program and our experience of Bhutan so far. She awarded us with certificates, which we accepted in the elaborate Bhutanese fashion fitting for a Queen. Indeed, we were inspired and encouraged by Her Majesty's warmth and support for our work.

Here are a few pictures from our meeting with Her Majesty:

The team with Her Majesty and members of the royal family.

Her Majesty with some of the trainers.

The team in gohs and kiras.

After meeting Her Majesty, we were invited for dinner by the Minister of Education, Lyonpo Thakur Powdyel, at his residence. We had an interesting three-hour conversation in which we discussed Bhutan's and USA's education system in their current and potential future states. We also discussed our program and its implications for Bhutan's young people. Beyond our program-related discussions we talked about our experiences and impressions of the country, his role as Minister, and about our own aspirations. We absolutely enjoyed the home-made meal, particularly the delicious kheer we had for dessert.

Here is a picture of the team with Lyonpo and his beautiful wife:

75+ students arrive for Youth Lead the Change!

Friday marked the first day of our "Youth Lead the Change" Leadership Camp. While we expected expected 60 students to attend the camp, over 75 students showed up and we had to turn away 20 more at the door, as we could not accept more with the number of staff and materials available.

The focus of the day was on understanding oneself as a leader. We were immensely impressed by the students who came to the camp, as well as the trainers who stood up and led the campers through the curriculum. We look forward to the days ahead!

Below are a few photo highlights from the day:

When we walked out of Nazhoen Pelri (the venue for our program) the night before our first day with the participants, we were met by a huge poster advertising our program and welcoming participants to the four days of training.

Many of the participants enjoyed group discussions and opened up to share their life experiences in them. At the end of the day, most participants appreciated how their life experiences so far had influenced their views on and approches to leadership.

Our day usually has two tea breaks where participants can meet new friends. On our first day with them, we (trainers) took the breaks as an opportunity to meet as many of the participants as possible.

This is part of the group of participants who had gathered to offer their definitions of leadership. They shared profound reflections on feedback. One that appealed to many was, "Leadership is not about making followers; it is about making new leaders".

Friday, January 14, 2011

Famous People in Bhutan!

Below are four photos of some of the important people that we will/have met thus far on our adventure:

Llama taught us an important lesson about Buddhism and the idea that it is not a religion but rather a lifestyle. It is possible to a Buddhist Christian or Buddhist Muslim as long as your intentions are right. We have meditation every morning in order to be mindful of ourselves. We are all Buddha and therefore in Bhutan, we all have the potential to be enlightened.

(Llama leading a morning meditation)

Below is one of the trainers leading our group in a lesson. The trainers have grown so much in the last three days and their confidence is amazing. As Harvard teachers, we have been able to sit back and let the students lead each other and it has been truly inspiring. These are important people because they represent the future of Bhutan and all of the many great qualities that it possesses.
(Rajesh leading the trainers in a teachback)

Outside of our hotel window, we can see Planet Gym. It is one of a very few gyms in Bhutan as weightlifting isn't a big part of their culture. Planet Gym is the home of many big time weightlifters. We have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Mr. Bhutan, who has competed in international body building competitions. He is one of the first bodybuilders in Bhutan and is about to have a documentary written about him by a former Harvard student. He has taught us a lot about different ways to train the mind and body.

(Reid with Mr. Bhutan Olympia)

Her majesty, the Queen, is coming to watch us perform on Saturday. She is the President of YDF (Youth Development Fund) our sponsor program, and is a huge proponent of the youth. All of the Royal Family is very dearly loved here and are the most important people in Bhutan. We will be putting on a cultural show, mixing American and Bhutanese culture, as well as presenting on our program. We are extremely excited to have the honor to meet such an amazing woman.
(Ugyen, a trainer and famous singer in Bhutan, and Emily preparing "Stand by Me" which they will be singing for Her Majesty)

Tomorrow starts the first day of teaching the students and we are all extremely excited. The opportunity to meet the above people has really played a big role in effecting our understanding of the community.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Training of Trainers (ToT) Continued

Leela’s eyes were bright and energized as she looked around at our group. When she began to speak, her voice was melodious and she spoke softly:

When I was younger, maybe in the sixth standard (grade six), I became a very naughty girl. Even though I was small in size, I had no problem picking fights with kids who were much bigger than me. When given the opportunity, I successfully stole from shops around my school. When my mom was not looking, I even took money out of her handbag. In sum, I was a naughty girl.

Leela pointed to the next drawing on her paper and continued:

But now, I am different. Looking back from the vantage point of maturity and experience, I can see that there were many reasons for why I had become naughty. I think that I now understand the most fundamental reason for the decline in my behavior… the passing of my Grandfather.

My Grandfather was a great man; he was great inspiration to me. He cared for my family, our community, and this country. But even more so, he cared for me. Without him, I was lost. I did not know myself well enough to be something, to be someone - grief took over me. And I chose to be no one.

There was a pause. And then a group member wondered, “Well, you are quite a different person now than who you just described. What do you think brought about this transformation in you?”

Well, after a year, my mother wanted to make more money for me and my siblings. She left our home to work hard in America. I was the only girl in the house because my sister was attending a university – which meant that I was responsible for making meals for my brothers and for cleaning up. Of course, this gave me much more responsibility. I did not have time to wander at the shops near my school. I had no energy to fight with others because I was so tired by the end of the day.

On the whole though, in the absence of my mother, I became more grateful of what I did have, rather than what I had lost. I became mindful of the people I loved so dearly. I became mindful of how hard the people I loved worked. And through the increase in my own responsibilities, I became mindful that I, too, had the potential to be someone.

- - -

For Leela, this story is her motivation to be inovled in Youth Lead the Change. She later told our group that this personal narrative exercise helped remind her how fundamentally she believed in the values of this program. She is now more mindful of her motivation than ever.

In this personal narrative exercise, all the trainers, including Leela, were asked to draw the path of their lives. They made a terrain unique to their life by adding in, for example, houses and places for where they have lived and including people who are involved in important events. Some even divided up their path into chapters.

Then, we spent some time sharing our stories within our teaching groups. Having spent time building our team dynamics and safe space through previous activities, the honesty and openness of this acitvity was quite amazing.

Note: Stories are combined and summarized for the sake of brevity. Names are changed for the privacy of our trainers and youth.

A few photo highlights from the day:

A Bhutanese Adaptation

On the third day of our Training of the Trainers (ToT) program, our team taught lessons on service, realizing one’s vision, ethnography, and creative-problem solving. This was perhaps our most challenging day so far because we had to completely rethink the content of that day’s lesson plan. Truly, being here has been a memorable exercise in adapting to the demands of working in a completely different culture. During each morning of our ToT, we walk into the classroom with a lesson that was constructed, edited, and continuously re-edited about 2 months prior. By the end of the day, after 7 hours of teaching and constructive criticism from our Bhutanese trainers and staff, we leave with the intention of revising the curriculum for the youth camp using the cultural insights of our trainers.

This was especially true this Wednesday. Our discussions with the trainers led to us simplifying half of our student workbook and rethinking just about everything else. Half of the day’s lessons even had to be redesigned due to impromptu changes in the format of our leadership camp. But despite these hurdles, our third day ended up being a great success. We were really able to pull together as a team to figure out the best approach in the midst of new circumstances. And the insights that we received will be indispensable in making the approaching leadership camp very meaningful for Bhutan’s youth.

In addition to cultivating our ability to adapt, we are also learning enormous lessons in compassion and sincerity from our trainers. Probably the most striking thing about the brilliant group of young men and women with whom we are working is that they are a community. Even on day one, when many of them were not yet friends, they were destined to be a community. The thing is, each of them is strikingly compassionate, earnest, eager, and receptive in the way that they treat each other. Being in their presence inspires a sense of joy. It drives each person on our team to want to be a better leader and to strive to set a worthy example for them. It is inspiring to see how devoted our trainers are to the improvement of their country and the enrichment of themselves. There must be something embedded in Bhutanese culture that leads these young people to live so harmoniously and be sincerely invested in each other’s wellbeing.

A few photos from the day:

(Some of the trainers practicing a game before the students come)

(Working late into the night; our average day goes from about 6 a.m. - 11 p.m. teaching and planning for the next day)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reflections from Bhutan thus far

Being in Bhutan for the past few days has been one of the most remarkable experiences we have each ever experienced. Here are 5 brief reflections that we wanted to share from our journey thus far. While some of these things may be broad generalizations, they are some of the initial impressions that we have had.

1) Trust: There is a huge element of trust here that is very tied to the country’s priority of Gross National Happiness (GNH). People trust that you will tell the truth and do the right thing. For example, they do not have stop-lights here but instead have round-abouts and trust that people will respect one another on the road. There is very little honking and people are very compassionate and trusting of others on the road. In addition, the prisons here are more like rehab clinics and allow in-mates to go home for holidays to be with their family. They trust that people will come back and they do.

2) Solitude: People seem very comfortable being alone and can sit and wait for hours, peacefully. For example, we went into a prayer room and the friend who took us there just stood outside and waited for us, though we were in there for over 45 minutes. She simply waited patiently outside at the door in the cold for us with no complaints.

3) Compassion & Serving Others: There is a great element of compassion and serving others here that we have not seen in many other places. For example, on our first night in Paro it was a rather cold night and our friend who was taking care of us at the hotel came in and put a heated hot water pad in each of our beds before we went to sleep. It was a small gesture that really meant a lot to us.

4) People of devout faith: We have been struck by the devout (primarily Buddhist) faith of the people here. It has led to a lot of conversation in our team about faith and what we each believe, as we all come from different religious backgrounds.

5) Intentionality & Mindfullness: Intentions are everything here. War is only okay if the intention is to protect oneself, but it is not acceptable if the purpose is to hurt others. There is much in this culture about mindfulness and taking control of the thoughts that fill your mind. As one friend here told us: “You cannot fully control anything in this world but what goes on between your two ears – your mind. No matter what happens in your life, no one can take your mind from you. Control your mind, don’t let it control you.” It has been powerful for us to be more mindful about our actions and intentions.

A few photo highlights below:

First Day of Training at the Youth Development Fund

Monday marked our first day of training at the Youth Development Fund (YDF), the organization that we are partnering with to deliver our program in Bhutan. YDF is an impressive organization in Bhutan with the mission of “enabling youth to realize their full potential as productive citizens of the world”. They run a host of programs that are centered around youth development.

(Playing an icebreaker outside with the Bhutanese trainers for our Youth Lead the Change program at YDF. We will be training together for four days before our 60 students arrive on Friday.)

In the morning, we gave a formal presentation to members of YDF about our program and purpose in being here. Our presentation was followed by Madame Dorji-Om presenting YDF and a showing short video on their many programs for youth.

(Madame Dorji-Ohm giving us a presentation on the Youth Development Fund.)

For the rest of the afternoon we then met with the 30 trainers that we will be training in the coming four days. We will be working to train-the-trainers before we all work together to teach our 60 students for the Youth Lead the Change Leadership Camp next week. It was amazing to finally meet the trainers in person and hear about who they are and why they are here.

We worked on setting our group norms for the coming 10 days, and also spent a while discussing what success would look like for our youth leadership program. It was powerful to work on these exercises together and come together on our goals for the program. We also played a number of fun icebreakers that we really great for getting to know one another better.

At the end of the day, we went around the room and each gave a reflection of the day. It was amazing to hear what people said and how excited everyone was for the program. Overall, it was a very positive first day and made us all very hopeful for the coming work ahead!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Trekking to Tiger's Nest

Tiger’s Nest in Paro (Paro Taktsang) is a monastery that seems impossible to access. Indeed the story is that Guru Rinpoche (also known as Guru Padmasambhava, meaning “born of the lotus”) flew up the mountain on the back of a tigress.

But when we climbed up Tiger's Nest, which is 500 meters above ground, we made the impossible possible. Although it was a steep climb that strained our muscles and lungs, we were able to make it all the way to the monastery - and all the way back down - and marvel at how far we had come, both literally and figuratively.

We wouldn’t have been able to make the impossible possible without each of us leading and guiding each other. It was amazing to see the different kinds of leadership at play as we climbed together. Some of us were pioneers, exploring the way through the difficult terrain for the rest of us and inspiring us with their initiative; some of us were mood-setters, keeping up team morale and setting the pace; some of us were healers, looking out for the needs of each other and how to address them; and some of us were guides, keeping us focused and on-track. The very best part was that each of us exhibited these different qualities at different times; we not only played to our strengths but tried to lead us each other in the best ways possible.

The trek also helped us grow stronger as a team, from our discussion on religion and spirituality that began in the car ride over to remarking on how far we came in our hike. We are more comfortable questioning and challenging ourselves and each other. We learned about our team on a much deeper level, and as a result, the bonds between us have become much stronger. It’s just one way being in a new country and a new society –even for such a short period of time--has transformed us.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Our Vision

Today starts the first day of the training of the trainers. We will meeting with 30 teachers from across the country to begin prepping them for the camp so that they will be able to teach it to the children next week. As we continue to pursue our mission and goals, we wanted to share with you our vision so that you can begin to understand the purpose of our program. We will also soon be posting our incredible pictures from our hike to Tiger's Nest yesterday.

Here is our vision:

At the Leadership Institute at Harvard College, we believe that all worthwhile education is powerful. Its impact must always start at the student, but must never end there. When placed in the right hands, its effects proceed to reverberate across the ­­­­­­­­intricate windings of society, picking up momentum along the way, and leaving individuals and communities forever altered.

Our Youth Lead the Change curriculum derives its value from this philosophy. We begin the program by guiding the students along a path of self-discovery and reflection in which they identify their interests, passions, strengths, and weaknesses. Then we cultivate an appreciation of service leadership so that students can comprehend that outstanding leaders are those who are devoted to compassionately satisfying the needs of others and addressing injustice.

Essentially, our goal is to inspire then empower. We help students to realize whom they want to serve and how they want to lead. We equip them with the skills and tools that they will need to navigate a complex society so that they can diagnose community needs and fulfill them. Then we help them to align their visions with those of different people to form a single driving mission. Students thus leave the program with the ability to both unite and work harmoniously with others, in the contexts of a team, a community, a nation, and a world.

As they find purpose in their communities and nurture their capacity to contribute to society by refining their leadership skills, students reach a new level of peace and happiness as their sense of self-worth soars to new heights. These students emerge from the program as confident leaders; this means that some of them will be at the forefront of movements within their communities and policy-making within the Kingdom of Bhutan. Formal service leadership training through Youth Lead the Change will leave students sincerely invested in the prosperity, wellbeing, and governance of Bhutanese citizens. Therefore, students will be devoted to achieving the four pillars of Gross National Happiness, and they will harness the lessons of our teachings for the development of their nation.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What an Amazing First Day!!

After a minor setback of being held in the Indian airport for a few hours because of missing paperwork, we were able to board Druk Air for the most beautiful flight in the world. Our 50 minute flight was filled with an amazing view of Mt. Everest.
(The peak is hidden in the clouds in the left-middle of the picture)

We picked up some of our teaching partners including Karan and Sid in Bhutan and also made some new friends including Yngcku (our tourguide), young teens playing Carams, and a really friendly group of monks.
(A picture with some of the monks at Paro Dzong)

For our first night, we stayed in Gangtey Palace in Paro. Here, we had lunch with a Bhutan delegate who is one of the most powerful and respected men in Bhutan. He is the son of the first Bhutanese Prime Minister and had so much to share with us. Tobgye Dorji told us about the history of the country and the religion of the Bhuddist faith. One the coolest things he showed us was his most prized possession: the Dalai Lama's handprints on the back of one his painting in his family's temple.
(Tobgye Dorgi's Temple)

We made two short hikes on the first day to see some of the landmarks of Bhutan. The first visit was to Paro Dzong monastry. It was a beautiful white stone building that was built around 1638. Then we stopped at Drukial Castle, where the Bhutans hid from the invading Tibetan army in the 16th century. It was an amazing castle ruin.
(Paro Dzong on the hillside of Paro)

The day ended with dinner being held for us in a local Bhutanese restaurant. We were visited by the Speaker of the National Assembly, which is similar to the Speaker of the House of Representatives in America. He had intriguing stories and was very excited about our leadership program in Bhutan.
(A view from Paro Dzong of the city of Paro)

Bhutan is such a wonderful place. The air is so fresh and the people are so friendly. The food has been delicious as well. Tomorrow, we are off to Tiger's nest and then Thimphu to get ready for teaching on Monday. Stay tuned!
(Our group on top of Brukial Castle)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Guten Tag! (Hello) From Germany

Our team in front of the Frankfurt Airport sign...

A much needed nap...

After arriving in Frankfurt at 5:30 a.m., we had a five hour layover in the airport. We met up with two of our team members who flew on a seperate flight, leaving just one more who is already in India.

A recap of our expensive but nice stay in Germany:
Breakfast McGriddle from McDonalds...$8
A German Deck of Playing Cards...$23
Finally on our next leg of the trip to Kolkata...Priceless!

Next time you hear from us, we'll be in Bhutan!!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A HUGE Thank You To Our Sponsors!

As we head off to Bhutan tomorrow, we wanted to give a special recognition to the people who allowed this trip to happen. It was through their generous offerings that we were able to fundraise the necessary budget. As we continue to receive more support, we have become very close to our goal. We have raised $4,275 just short of our initial goal of $5,000. Thank you so much to the following people for their support of our mission.

Our wonderful sponsors:
Patricia Adams
Erika Allen
Jerry and Terry Averyt
Nancy Barry
Michele and Tim Breene
Barbara Burkett
Steve Clary
Deborah Douglas
Fred & Susie Harburg
Ben Harburg
LIHC Challenge Innovation Grant
Nilesh Manisha
Keith Martinez
Vicki Mullins
Linda Nelson
Mary & Sherif Nada
Susan and David Smith
Carol Toler
Kay Wilson

Thanks again for all of your support. You are not only changing our lives but also the students and people of Bhutan who will be forever grateful for the opportunity that you have helped provide. We can't wait to share with each of you our experience in Bhutan.