February 8, 2024, 6th Day of Bhutan Field Trip
Meetings with the Prime Minister and Queen Mother

14,500 views on Feb. 11, 2024

Hello! Ven. Pomnyun Sunim traveled to Thimphu and held meetings with the Prime Minister and the Queen Mother to discuss the sustainable-development project based on his findings from this field trip.

When Sunim visited Bhutan last August, the King explained his plan to construct a new city in Gelephu and sought Sunim’s advice. So Sunim departed for Gelephu at 3 am. 

Gelephu is an area bordering India that is designated for the Bhutanese government’s mega-city project. Named “Gelephu Mindfulness City,” this ambitious project is driven by the Bhutanese King’s vision,  to develop the region into a state-of-the-art innovation city by designating Gelephu as a special administrative region and establishing an IT center, a medical facility, a university, a spiritual center, and a hydroelectric dam, among other facilities. Sunim decided to drop by Gelephu on his way to Thimphu.

The drivers drove the cars slowly for safety arriving in Gelephu at 8 am. Upon arrival, Sunim was met by Lobzang Dorji, the governor of Sarpang Dzongkhag.

“It’s all right. You must be hungry. Have breakfast first then let’s move to the construction site of Geleph Mega City.”

Lobzang Dorji was cheerful, laughing a lot and telling jokes. He offered to drive Sunim to the site himself and escorted Sunim to his car. On the way, he showed him around the village. 

“In each village, there is a milk distributor who buys milk from each household and sells it collectively. In Bhutan, there’s a belief that encountering a pregnant woman, milk, or a milk container in the morning makes what one wants to accomplish for the day come true. I believe that what Sunim wants to accomplish today will be achieved.”

Everybody laughed. Driving further, large facilities appeared. 

“Those buildings are water-purification facilities. We’ve implemented a purification system for our water supply in Bhutan. Those facilities were constructed by adopting technology learned from Koreans.” 

During Sunim’s recent visit to the green-tea processing facility in Samcholing, Trongsa Dzongkhag, it was mentioned that they learned the technology from Koreans. Similarly, these water-purification facilities have also been constructed based on the technology learned from Koreans. We could feel the affection of Koreans who have visited Bhutan. 

After driving a little further, the car stopped at a vacant lot. Sunim descended the mountain road until he reached a vast plot of land. 

“The site you see below is for the Geleph Megacity Project.”

Standing before the expansive site, we wondered what the planned Megacity Project would eventually look like. Our hope is for the project to succeed without overly transforming Bhutan. 

Lobzang Dorji guided Sunim to downtown Geleph in Sarpang District, near the Indian border. Sunim looked around Geleph for about an hour and then departed for Thimphu. 

Sunim and the field trip team arrived in Thimphu at around 4 pm.

Following a brief meal, Sunim had a meeting with Tshering Tobgay, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, at 5 pm. 

The Prime Minister was newly elected in January this year, and Sunim first congratulated him on his victory in the election. 

After exchanging greetings, Sunim elaborated on the detailed findings from his four-day trip to Trongsa and Zhemgang. 

What issues have been identified through this field trip to Bhutan?

Deeply moved by Sunim’s detailed explanation of his findings, the Prime Minister expressed his gratitude. 

Thank you for having a genuine interest in Bhutan. 

“You are so compassionate. Acquiring insight into the residents’ lives in such a short time requires a deep compassion for people enduring impoverished and difficult circumstances. Many experts have visited villages and offered suggestions, but they were unsatisfactory. This was because they lacked true love and concern for the residents, as well as their failure to approach with humility to listen to their needs. Rather than providing solutions, they merely asked questions. To act upon your suggestions, the Bhutanese government wants to engage in partnership. Above all, your suggestions and insights are very useful. I hope you will prolong your stay in Bhutan and continue visiting more villages.”

“We’ll prepare whatever you need. Please let me know if you need any assistance.” 

Sunim promised a more thorough investigation during his next visit and took a photo with the Prime Minister. 

Sunim then hurried onward to his next meeting. 

Sunim met Dasho Karma Tshiteem, with whom he had a discussion before embarking on his field trip. He had served as the former chairperson of the Royal Civil Service Commission and secretary of the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Commission of Bhutan. He welcomed Sunim warmly. 

“Sunim, how was your field trip?”

Sunim shared the findings from this field trip, and after listening to Sunim, Karma Tshiteem gave his opinions. 

“I think the development direction you have identified is correct. Addressing the inconvenient living conditions of the residents is most pressing.”

Sunim has a keen interest in the youth education program led by Karma Tshiteem, and suggested collaborating on a project to encourage young people to remain in rural areas in connection with the youth education program. 

How can we induce young people to remain in rural areas?

After listening to Sunim’s opinions, Karma Tshiteem made some suggestions.

“I think it is wonderful that you personally observed the residents’ way of life. Your findings don’t surprise me. These areas you visited are the most remote in Bhutan. Due to their geography, farming is very difficult so they have only recently begun to engage in farming. As you rightly pointed out, it’s very important for them to be able to sustain themselves in such environments. Encouraging young people to remain in these areas is vital, but currently, opportunities for the young are severely limited, calling for the introduction of innovative ideas. For example, developing tourism products that leverage the unique cultural characteristics of the area would be a great initiative. 

“I’m glad to hear that you will prioritize addressing the most pressing needs of the residents. Meeting their most urgent needs will instill hope in them, enabling more active discussions on livelihood activities thereafter. 

“I previously operated a program aimed at reducing poverty in specific areas. During this experience, I realized that when facing adversity, people tend to prioritize sacrificing their young children’s education first. When one’s circumstances are difficult, it becomes difficult to see far ahead. Therefore, I think it’s important to encourage the residents to commit to sending their children to school in exchange for providing access to drinking water. It’s necessary to convince them that through long-term investment in education, their children’s lives can improve, even if their own circumstances remain unchanged.”

“This building was constructed by the young people trained through our education program. Additionally, we’ve provided barista and culinary skills training, and tonight they will cater to tourists. Most of these youths are students who have dropped out of school between 10th and 12th grades. As you mentioned, it’s very important to provide skills training in occupations such as construction, knitting, and cooking to help them secure a steady living.”

“I think it’s possible, but the problem is that young people don’t want to leave Thimphu to relocate to remote rural areas. So I think it would be more effective to provide training to the youths in those areas.”

“I think it’s worth trying. I will investigate further how we can go about this.”

There were more topics to discuss but Sunim had another meeting scheduled, so he bid farewell. Sunim promised to make more time for discussion during his next visit. 

Sunim made his way to the Queen Mother’s residence right away. As before, she greeted him warmly. Sunim proceeded to explain his findings from his field trip in detail to the Queen Mother. After their discussion, they enjoyed dinner together. Following the meal, Sunim presented the Queen Mother with a gift of food from Korea. 

Sunim bid farewell to the Queen Mother and quickly made his way to the Bhutan Nuns Foundation (BNF). At 10 pm, Sunim had a scheduled meeting with Cabinet Secretary Kesang Deki, whom he had met on the first day of his trip. Sunim shared his impressions from the trip with her and she responded,

“Thank you for sharing. What should we do next?”

Sunim said, 

What should we do next?

Following the meeting with Kesang Deki, Sunim convened an evaluation meeting with those who had accompanied him during this trip. Sunim tasked the JTS staff member responsible for the sustainable development of Bhutan project with compiling a report summarizing the findings from this trip and determining target areas. Sunim asked others to share their impressions of the trip. 

With everyone sharing their thoughts and feelings about this trip, the field trip came to a close.

The evaluation meeting ended at 1 am and Sunim retired to bed.

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At 6 am tomorrow morning, from Paro Airport, Sunim and his companions will depart for India, while the others will return to Korea. Sunim will fly to Bodh Gaya and then proceed to Sujata Academy, where he will conduct a week-long staff training session with the Indian staff of JTS.