Bhutan, Part I: Tarayana Foundation and Indigenous Arts
May 26, 2014
Nettle weaving on the loom

In front of Tarayana Centre

As part of the Asia 21 Young Leaders' Initiative, a program of Asia Society's Global Leadership Initiative, select members of the class of 2013 visited Bhutan and undertook a series of consulting workshops with Tarayana Foundation.  Formally launched in 2003, Tarayana is a Bhuntanese non-profit organization whose mission is to maximize happiness and harmony among all Bhutanese people by providing opportunities for life improvement.  By helping community members learn and integrate new skills, Tarayana Foundation promotes self-empowerment and the importance of serving each other.  We had the wonderful opportunity to meet with Secretary General Chime P. Wangdi; Director of Programmes, Programme Division, Sonam Pem; Field Officer, Monggar, Passang Tobgay; Programme Officer, Head Office, Palden Ongmo; and interns to learn more about Tarayana's inspiring work.

Tarayana focuses on three core ideas in their work: (i) Life Improvement (by improving housing conditions; providing access to medical treatment; and undertaking food and nutrition programs and support for senior citizens/community members with special needs; (ii) Skills (by supporting the development of arts and crafts programs, and undertaking green technology and micro-finance programs; and (iii) Education (by organizing volunteer programs in school curricula, and providing scholarships and other educational opportunities).  Headquarters staff and Field Officers alike work to put "Gross National Happiness" philosophy into action.

"Control da speed; Blast da music n Enjoy da Drive"

We spent two days traveling by bus on a series of high-altitude, hairpin-curvy, one-way roads running right by the edge of Bhutan's cliffs with Tarayana's staff members, Passang and Palden, to visit some of the villages that Tarayana supports and to learn more about Tarayana's long-term rural development efforts.  Traveling 170 miles east of Thimphu, Bhutan's capital, over nine hours, we reached the region of Langthel in the Trongsa district where the Mongpa ethnic people reside.  There, we met community members who undertake nettle weaving, soap making, yarn dyeing, and pottery.

Tarayana has been critical in helping members of rural villages organize themselves into "co-operatives"--first, identifying the potential product to be created, then, training community members to create the product and in inventory management and accounting, and finally, to help distribute and market the final products both in Thimphu and abroad, all with the goal of self-empowering these communities.
For example, we were informed that nettle weaving is specific to the region where nettles can be found, but had been in the process of being abandoned.  Tarayana helped to resuscitate this crafts form in a marketable way to provide an additional source of income stream to the community.  Nettle weaving is an intensive and arduous process by which the thorny, coarse nettle is gathered, and then spun into beautiful, soft thread.  The thread is then woven on a handloom to be made in to fabric that is then sewn into textile goods such as shoulder totes.  Tarayana has helped to organize the nettle weaving co-operative where women participate in the sourcing and manufacturing process, with sales of the products going back to the participants.

Here are some of the women and men from the soap making and yarn dye-ing communities.  The yarn dye-ing community has just started experimenting with yarns and colors.  All of the colors are sourced from natural dyes (for e.g., turmeric for yellow).

We loved seeing one of the master potters are work.  The potter moves his own body around the stationary pot stand (rather than the other way around) to create his beautiful objects, some of which are customized for export to overseas markets.

Back in Thimphu, Tarayana Foundation has a lovely store that sells the products made by members of the communities:

To learn more about Tarayana Foundation and to support the work that they are doing, please follow them on Facebook here.

Images courtesy of Ibba Rasul Bernardo, Tania Hyde, Dhruv Kazi, Helen Zhai, and Tania Hyde.