Sustainability in Bhutan

Visiting the Country of the Gross National Happiness Index

Globalization is affecting the life of Bhutan. About eighty percent of food is imported from India even though the country has the capability of growing all its own food. The people are being adversely affected by TV and materialistic values. Mr. Lhundup Dukpa, program director of the School Education Division of Royal Education Council (REC), had been searching for an alternative education system and a more sustainable way of life in keeping with the intrinsic values of natural resources and culture. He was invited to the annual GENOA meeting in Malaysia in 2013, and became a representative of GEN-Bhutan. Michiyo Furuhashi, former President of GENOA, shares her impressions of a recent visit to Bhutan.

I have served as a president of GENOA in the last three years, and I am also a member of Japanese community, “Konohana Family” for eight years. This well-established spiritual community has achieved more than 800% of food self-sufficiency by growing food without any chemicals. We are vegetarian, and grow more than 260 variety of vegetables, grain fruits and tea, and 10 varieties of rice. Recently, we started to apply the Universal Circulation Method that works together with the energy of the universe. This method is not only applicable to farming, but also to our life in general.
We also apply appropriate technologies, such as the installation of solar panels to generate 30% of the electricity that we use, and the odorless composting toilets to reduce water usage, and grey water loading that reduces the pollution of water. Also, we share cars, rooms, tools, clothes, work space, and all living expenses. As a result of this way of living, our ecological footprint (an indicator to describe the impact of human living on the earth), is found to be 0.8 earth whereas the average ecological footprint of Japan is 2.4 earths and America is 5.3 earths.

The quality of Konohana family life is very high compared to other communities in Japan. In general, people in Konohana family live as a nuclear-family and each household has its own electric appliances, tools, cars, and so on. We believe that if we share household items within the communities, it does not only reduce negative impact on the environment, but also makes our lives more convenient. Generally, people tend to think that accumulating more personal things and consuming more will make their lives richer and more convenient, which is not at all true. It is just an illusion. Living in a community life style through sharing of resources (not individual ownership), is more beneficial to the society.

People in our community happily share work, such as raising children, cooking, cleaning, farming, constructing a house, and operation of the organization. The community shares the income that is generated in the community which reduces stressful living. According to the National Livelihood Survey 2004 in Japan, the income, family finance, debt, and income after retirement became the main causes of stress for the both female and male.
When we are no longer worried about making money for living and our work becomes part of life, we become healthier and stress reduces significantly. A person's life becomes much more enjoyable when they work to support their community, when they do not have to compete in business to make more money, and work for something they really believe in; and work with passion. The term sustainability is not only used for environment protection, it can be applied for economy, mental, physical and spiritual health and a harmonious society. Having a global ecovillage network and expertise of practicing a sustainable living, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share this resource with people in Bhutan.

My Mission to Bhutan
I had three main aims in my mission to Bhutan for this visit: To promote sustainable (ecovillage) living in Bhutan; to find possibilities of applying the Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) to education in Bhutan for creating sustainable living that embraces the valuing of the traditional living of Bhutan; to understand the life of the country based on “Gross National Happiness”, and find ways of mutual support with the Global Ecovillage Network.
The first mission was achieved by visiting two schools as described in the next section, with the arrangement of Mr. Dukpa.

The second mission was discussed with Mr. Dukpa and also shared with Ms. Dolma, the Principal of the Rinchenkyenphen Primary School. Through the discussion with Mr. Dukpa, we suggested modification of the curriculum by adapting more local elements that are based on practical practices. Since Mr. George of GEN-India has started such a program in the local schools and received good responses, six Bhutanese teachers were sent to learn the program for one year. When these teachers return to Bhutan in March 2015, a team will be formed to create a program for Bhutan.

The third mission was also achieved by home-staying in the local community and talking to the host of the house, relatives, and neighbors, and also visiting monasteries and observing the spiritual and cultural values in Bhutan. People in Bhutan seem to be happy and GEN can learn the sense of community-living and reconnecting to the nature by staying in the country. What GEN/GENOA can offer is sharing the information with successful examples in this region for a sustainable future.

Visiting Schools
I have visited two schools: The first being Rinchenkyenphen Primary School in Thimphu, and the second was Kuenga Higher Secondary School (private school) in Paro with the arrangement by Mr. Dukpa.
At the Rinchenkyenphen Primary School, the Principal, Ms. Dolma, showed us around the eco-projects and school garden. Seven students in grade 4 to 6 made a presentation on ecology. What impressed me the most was the competency of English language of these children. They presented the current state of the Earth and their practices at the school level. They were very fluent in English.

I also gave a presentation on the ecovillage, and the students and teachers were very interested in this concept. They expressed their interest and the willingness to learn more about the ecovillage concept. They want to implement the ideas in their school program.
At Kuenga Higher Secondary School in Paro, I had an opportunity to give a presentation to 200 students. None of them have heard about the word “Ecovillage” before. However, the school Principal, Mr. Chogyal Tenzin, said that they plan to have a vegetable garden next year in order that students can grow their own food. Many of the students knew where their food comes from; however, they do not seem to know about the impacts of globalization.
This made me realize that education on a sustainable way of living must be introduced at an early age, such as with the children in the Rinchenkyenphen Primary School. Unlike the high school children, the young students in this school were naturally connected with Nature and they seemed to understand their roles well. It is so important to encourage these good values right from a very young age so that the values of living with in harmony with Nature are embedded in them when they get older and are ready to take up a responsible position as a member of the community in society.

After I observed and listened to the Principals and students of the above two schools, I came up with suggestions and recommendations.

The Rinchenkuenphen Primary School had already started a variety of good projects in terms of raising the awareness of students and improving the environment. If they can also apply permaculture principles to their activities, it will help them to integrate their learning and practices. Involvement of parents in these activities is also important to raise their awareness. (Illustration is excerpted from

The Kuenga Higher Secondary School is located in sub-rural area in Paro. A total of 215 out of 300 students reside in the school hostel. If they can learn about Ecovillage principles and practices, their lives will be well balanced because ecovillage is a way that humans and Nature can coexist happily in a community. By engaging the teachers and people from the local community, the students can make a small ecovillage by themselves. However, it did not seem that the teachers and students are motivated for this kind of activity at the moment. The key here is that the teachers have to be motivated first so that they guide the children. Teachers need to know the purpose of doing this because, if they know that they are working for a larger purpose and they are the ones who need to do the work, then people will feel the motivation to participate.

For example, if they can start a vegetable garden for the next season and have students take leadership roles and design the garden through a participatory approach, then they can cook their daily meals with what they have harvested. By doing so, their motivation will naturally go up. With this kind of application, teachers can apply the participatory approach in order to have their students motivated to do the job. For example, the students can plan a harvesting festival with the local people by showcasing the harvest in the community with the villagers. They may exchange the crops, or cook together, and have a ceremony for thanking Nature and the universe. They can use this opportunity to connect with local people to get information on growing vegetables and on cooking varieties of food. In this way, they can make natural connections with the local people and the environment. This is how young people can be motivated, with the added benefit that such interactions also bring energy to the local community.
In future, they can also learn the medicinal effects of the plants and create their own natural therapy box for the school. Some of the elements can be taught in science classes, so that when teachers teach these classes, they can connect to the theory and actual practices through experiential learning in the community farm rather than through giving a lecture about the topic.

There is a lot of room for improvement towards nationwide sustainable practices. I came away with three recommendations, as follows:
1. Introduce sustainability education such as Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) or Permaculture Design Course (PDC) to schools.
The program follows holistic approach to education. Even though the word Ecovillage sounds like it is putting more focus on the ecological aspects, the EDE encompasses four primary dimensions of human experience – Worldview, Ecological, Social and Economic. These aspects are the descriptions of GNH index in the form of different languages. The EDE program describes a concrete approach to achieving Gross National Happiness (GNH), and also addresses the issues related to the current situation such as globalization and its influences on Bhutan. In particular, I am confident that broadening the worldview of both the teachers and children is necessary in this world era.

2. Provide information and also connect with people who actually practice sustainable living.
There are so many people in the world working for the emergence of a sustainable world. Set up an on-line platform for how they may do things in a more sustainable way and make this information available to teachers. Also, organize regular face-to-face study groups/workshops by inviting actual practitioners from the region, and learn from those people.

3. Set pilot projects at schools and/or a demonstration & education center
As teachers and students learn, set pilot projects. Actual hands-on practice will give opportunities for both teachers and students to learn. Knowledge does not mean anything if it is not applied and used. The successful practice encourages others and gives a positive influence to the local community. For example, setting up a food growing project using compost from their kitchen at school (if they have school meal, if not, bring kitchen waste from home).

Possible Future Collaboration with GENOA
GENOA holds many experts who have practiced sustainable living in actual communities, and some of them are well-known teachers in their regions. When REC organizes these workshops for teachers in Bhutan, many of them will learn this holistic approach and the fundamental principles of sustainable living. These principles can be applied to their general teaching, their personal life as a citizen of the country of GNH, as well as giving opportunities to students to feel and act. The Rinchenkuenphen primary school already has a good base to pursue this kind of program. “Feel, Imagine, Do, Share” are their key words. If REC can set up a model school such as this at all levels of schools, it will greatly encourage other schools to go in the same direction. As the representative of GEN-Bhutan, Mr. Lhundup will be your guide and source of information, and even though I am about to step out from my position, I am happy to continue working with you as a nation of this planet.