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First Bhutanese students gain education through Pestalozzi

Dawa, Lungten and Thinley in London
Photo: Thinley, Lungten and Dawa on their first ever visit to London in September
4 November 2013

Bhutan, a small Himalayan mountain kingdom bordered by China and India, is a deeply Buddhist country where Gross National Happiness (GNH) is deemed as important as Gross National Product (GNP).

It is the only country in the world with a negative carbon footprint, while its largest export is renewable energy (hydroelectric power), in keeping with the Buddhist idea that humans and nature form a symbiotic relationship.

But Bhutan is also one of the poorest countries, economically speaking, in the world. Many people in Bhutan are economically and socially disadvantaged, and not everyone has access to adequate education. Literacy rates are under 60% for the adult population (in the UK, it’s 99%) and many people, such as subsistence farmers, live in poverty owing to the rugged landscape and poor soil. In some poor rural communities students have to walk two or three hours to reach the nearest primary school.

Another of the country’s pressing challenges is a very high rate of youth unemployment. There is a high and increasing school dropout rate after Lower Secondary (16 years old) and a lack of education facilities, meaning that young people are a particularly vulnerable group and are a major concern for the nation.

These were some of the factors in Pestalozzi's decision to open our recruitment process to young people in Bhutan.

Pestalozzi’s Partnerships Officer, Charlotte Allen explains. "Pestalozzi scholarships allow young people to complete their higher education in the UK. We select students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are academically accomplished, have a good level of English and can demonstrate their motivation to make a difference in their home communities,” she says.

"Bhutan’s rich culture, coupled with the clear need for further education opportunities for Bhutanese youth, highlighted it as a compatible country to recruit students from for Pestalozzi scholarships.”

In 2013, after two years of negotiation and a rigorous recruitment process, Pestalozzi is delighted to welcome our first three Bhutanese students: Thinley Dhendup, Lungten Wangdi and Dawa Zangmo.

The Bhutanese students in the computer lab
Photo: Lungten, Thinley and Dawa studying in the Pestalozzi computer lab
The three range in age from 16 to 19, and have already started to settle into the international community and rural surroundings at Pestalozzi in East Sussex. "Most students need quietness and a good atmosphere to study well,” Thinley reflects. "I think that Pestalozzi offers the perfect environment to study.” Thinley is one of nine children in his family and says that the scholarship has "reduced the financial burden on my parents and has made my community proud.”

Lungten, who helped clean his local river and construct houses for disadvantaged families along with his classmates in Bhutan, also speaks highly of his new environment. "My life had been really miserable, and it feels like being in heaven here in a new atmosphere,” he says. "I faced many hardships to get an education, and I think my passion for learning comes from that. I hope to eventually make a difference in my country’s economy by learning as much as I can here and imparting that knowledge to students back home.”

Dawa wants to pursue a career in medicine and "serve the people with utmost generosity”. She speaks poetically about the opportunities a Pestalozzi scholarship offers. "Maybe I can really be the change in the world that every one of us wants to see, and the ripples of my change might also touch others to make the world a better place to live in,” she says.

The three Bhutanese students joined 40 other young people at Pestalozzi, who come from a total of eight countries around the world. The ‘international village’, as the campus is known, recruits students from Belize, India, Nepal, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Tibetan communities in exile in India. "We aim to create a vibrant, safe environment in which young people from different countries, religions and cultures are able to embrace diversity and excel both academically and socially,” says Ms Allen. "The arrival of the Bhutanese students means everyone at Pestalozzi will continue to learn and expand our horizons.”

Bhutan has traditionally isolated itself from the ‘outside’ world – television was only introduced in 1999. However, Bhutanese officials and the Royal Family now delicately moderate their relationships with other countries, with an emphasis on protecting Bhutan’s rich, traditional cultures whilst taking advantage of the benefits the outside world has to offer. One of those benefits is that charities like Pestalozzi are able to offer scholarships to disadvantaged young people, allowing Bhutanese students to gain an international education and go on to make a difference in their home communities and the world at large.

Ms Allen speaks highly of the Bhutan Society (UK), Ministry of Education and Kidu Foundation (the charity of the King of Bhutan) – organisations that have worked with Pestalozzi in order to select Bhutanese students for Pestalozzi scholarships. She says, "We are delighted to welcome Dawa, Thinley and Lugten from the Last Shangri-La to Pestalozzi’s own Shambhala.”

If you'd like to support the work we do with students like Dawa, Thinley and Lungten, please consider donating to Pestalozzi.