Bhutan’s As­pi­ra­tional New Gen­er­a­tion Searches for Jobs

Bhutan Times - - Editorial -

THIM­PHU, BHUTAN—

In the bustling mar­ket­place of the Bhutanese cap­i­tal, Thim­phu, a group of young­sters laugh and joke as they play a game of cards out­side a karaoke bar — one of the few en­ter­tain­ment op­tions Bhutan has per­mit­ted. Dressed in trendy t-shirts and fig­ure-hug­ging jeans in­stead of the tra­di­tional loose robe called a “gho,” th­ese men in their early twen­ties have plenty of time on their hands. Af­ter fin­ish­ing high school, most of them have been wait­ing for sev­eral years for ei­ther a job or a seat in the hand­ful of col­leges in the coun­try.

Tak­ing a few min­utes from the game, 24-yearold Pema Chedup ad­mits to a grow­ing sense of frus­tra­tion as he stares into an un­cer­tain fu­ture. “I have par­ents to look af­ter by me. So if I don’t have job, I am a bit wor­ried, how can I look af­ter par­ents?” he asked.

He is not alone in call­ing for faster devel­op­ment in a coun­try that has re­mained iso­lated from the world and has set its unique bench­mark of mea­sur­ing progress in terms of Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness (GNH) rather than Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct (GDP).

On the sur­face, Thim­phu is an idyl­lic home of its 90,000 res­i­dents. Charm­ing, tra­di­tional homes dot the lush, treecov­ered moun­tains and a gen­tle river flows by the city. But the scenic beauty can­not mask the grow­ing sense of im­pa­tience among an as­pi­ra­tional young gen­er­a­tion as the Hi­malayan coun­try strug­gles to cre­ate jobs. Be­sides tourism and hy­dropower gen­er­a­tion, there is vir­tu­ally no in­dus­try or pri­vate sec­tor in Bhutan. At a cross­roads As she guides vis­i­tors through a mu­seum show­cas­ing tra­di­tional cul­ture, 19-year-old Tashi Pelden counts her­self among the for­tu­nate few. “It is so dif- fi­cult for us to search, get jobs. I am lucky. I think I am so lucky,” she said.

Un­like an older gen­er­a­tion, Bhutan’s youth are closely plugged into the out­side world. Tele­vi­sion ar­rived in 1999, beam­ing im­ages from around the world. Mo­bile tele­phones be­came more read­ily avail­able in 2003, giv­ing Bhutan its first so­cial-me­dia-savvy gen­er­a­tion.

Caught at the cross­roads, th­ese young peo­ple do not want their coun­try to be stuck in a time warp. The tra­di­tional oc­cu­pa­tion of till­ing moun­tain farms or mak­ing hand­i­crafts is clearly not a pri­or­ity with many who have stud­ied in schools around the cities.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers in the young democ­racy ad­mit that youth un­em­ploy­ment poses a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge as the moun­tain coun­try of about 750,000 peo­ple un­der­goes a so­cial tran­si­tion of a kind other Asian coun­tries wit­nessed decades ago.

Point­ing to about 100,000 peo­ple who have come from neigh­bor­ing In­dia to work on roads and other projects, the head of the Cen­ter of Bhutan Stud­ies and GNH Re­search, Dasho Karma Ura, said there is no short­age of jobs.

The real prob­lem, he said, is gen­er­at­ing the right kind of jobs.

“There is grow­ing search for jobs in ur­ban ar­eas, white-col­lar of­fice jobs,” he said. “We are un­able to cre­ate that which fits the young peo­ple’s as­pi­ra­tions.”

Some of those youth, like Sonam Dendup, are set­ting their sights else­where.

“[Bhutan] should be more de­vel­oped in terms of fa­cil­i­ties, in terms of guid­ing young­sters so they won’t be job­less like us,” he frets, ex­plain­ing his ra­tio­nale for se­cur­ing a New Zealand visa. He doesn’t just want a job, he wants a coun­try that fos­ters en­trepreneur­ship for a young, rest­less gen­er­a­tion. Ur­ban mi­gra­tion Stud­ies by the Cen­ter for Bhutan Stud­ies and GNH Re­search show that, at the mo­ment, ru­ral ar­eas are “less happy” than towns be­cause they lack ur­ban fa­cil­i­ties, fu­el­ing mi­gra­tion into the two main cities, Thim­phu and Paro.

Thirty-seven-year-old Tser­ing Dorje grows as­para­gus, ap­ples, pota­toes and chilies on a one-hectare farm near Paro. While his in­come is suf­fi­cient, he wants more money to help his six-year-old son ac­quire the skills to work in the city. “If he can suc­cess­fully study and he get a job, it’s OK. I want to give him a job,” said Dorje.

But Ura, the an­a­lyst, feels the lure of cities may be short-lived. “For the mo­ment, ur­ban ar­eas will seem­ingly look happy, but vi­tal­ity of com­mu­nity, cul­tural di­ver­sity, en­vi­ron­men­tal qual­ity, all th­ese things will be in short sup­ply in course of time in ur­ban ar­eas,” he said.

To stem the ur­ban mi­gra­tion, he and oth­ers are call­ing for more in­vest­ment in ru­ral agri­cul­ture and in­dus­try. “We have to de­velop ru­ral life, ru­ral vi­tal­ity, very quickly,” he said. “I think the win­dow is not go­ing to re­main so long, we have to get it right in next five years.”

Even as Bhutan de­bates the mer­its of city ver­sus ru­ral liv­ing, sooner rather than later, the world’s last Shangri-La will have to con­front a daunt­ing re­al­ity: how to bal­ance the ris­ing as­pi­ra­tions of its youth with its goal of hap­pi­ness.

“If we have a job we can be happy, be­cause we can stand on our own feet,” said Pema Chedup, look­ing around at his friends, for whom the wait ap­pears in­ter­minable, be­fore re­join­ing the card game.

“More jobs is very im­por­tant,” he said. “Not only for me, but for all oth­ers.”

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