Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Wheaton in Bhutan


Youth Development Fund

Posted on November 1, 2010

The Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF) is a NGO in Thimphue committed to making every youth a leader. They offer a wide range of programs and services to ensure equal access to education, employment and opportunity for the youth of Bhutan to develop to their potential. The YDF complex in Thimphu has many facilities, including a cafeteria, dance studio, gym, badminton hall, and an indoor/outdoor basketball court. As a vast organization, it is responsible for providing many other philanthropic associations with resources, including volunteers. Although YDF has many departments, Sarah and Devon work independently conducting very specialized programs for the children of Thimphu after they get out of school.

From Sarah

I decided to teach dance to high school students. Three times a week I go to YDF’s campus in Thimphu to teach dance. So far the classes have been going well. It has given me a real different perspective on Bhutanese society as the students here are used to very different teaching styles. They call me ma’am and treat me with a lot of respect, but I try to be their friend as well as instructor. To my surprise, I discovered that two of my students are high school teachers, but they treat me with as much respect as the rest of the group. Currently, I am also in the process of working with a professional group of performers including, actors, singers and dancers.

YDF has a big campus and rents their facilities out to other organizations. Therefore, even though there is a big dance studio, I am not allowed to use it for my classes as it is rented by a tae-bo class. In the beginning my supervisor directed me to a room with no music facility, no mirror and hardly any space. In addition, this room was right on top of the meditation room where Lama Shenphen hosts meditation sessions during my class time. When he asked me to quiet down a little, I was able to move to a badminton court with a lot more space. And after six weeks I found a big music system to replace the small two-speaker one I had been using. But I have learned to work with what I have and not to get frustrated by little things like that.

I have really enjoyed working at YDF and getting to know the students. Although the cultural differences sometimes cause misunderstandings, both the students and I have learned a lot from working together. I now understand that it is better to split boys and girls as both genders feel uncomfortable when working together in a dance class. I also learned what the student-teacher relationships are somewhat formal in Bhutanese High Schools. And I have learned to work independently and creatively. Although it has been a real challenge to teach the group of professional performers, they seem very motivated and enthusiastic about my classes and have taught me a thing or two about traditional Bhutanese dancing. It has been a great experience to be part of the largest youth organization in the country.

From Devon

Each year many adults and children drown in the rivers of Bhutan. As a member of the Wheaton College Swimming and Diving Team as well as a lifeguard at the Lyon’s pool, I decided to implement my experience and create a swim and water safety class. Three times a week I meet with an average of eight students at the Thimphu pool. I would teach a range of skills from being comfortable in the water, to proper stroke technique. I also tailor the lessons to inform the children about the dangers of the rivers in Bhutan and how to enjoy the waters safely. Being able to swim in a pool and being able to swim in moving water are two very different skills. So after each day of swimming, I have the students dry off and gather around for talks. A few I have done include how to identify and handle water-related illnesses such as hypothermia, as well as why it is always important to try and reach a drowning victim with a stick or flotation device rather than to risk their own life and perhaps make the situation worse. In order to keep attendance up I have the students practice lifeguard techniques in an engaging manner. Whether it is throwing kick boards to fellow students across the pool, or linking arms and dragging each other out of the kiddy-pool, I can usually get them to smile during each lesson.

Lessons were going well until one day I arrive to find a sign on the door to the pool saying that it would be closed indefinitely for cleaning. I could not blame the management, considering the pool is consistently green and too opaque to see the bottom. But due to this unexpected dilemma (a theme that occurs often in Bhutan) I was left with a bunch of kids and no activity.

Trying to be creative, I began to run a badminton class. As attendance began to dwindle, I had the kids do new activities, including basketball, football (soccer) and then finally trekking. Using the kids’ knowledge of the beautiful city surrounded by mountains, I lead a group three times a week to different mountains.

The children enjoy the activity, and I receive much praise from the Bhutanese who are glad to see the youth enjoying the environment for which their country is so well known.

Sarah and Devon

During this semester at YDF we have learned to be patient and flexible. We are in charge of our own activities and responsible for creating a programs that will attract students. We have initiated a number of activities in addition to dance and swim lessons, including ping pong, reading, and arts and crafts. Our internship required a lot of flexibility on our part. Things in Bhutan seldom go according to plan, but it was exciting and rewarding to work with the children. Our interactions with the youth of Bhutan have taught us a lot.

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