A Revolution called the Dessups – “Guardians of Peace”

On February 14, 2011, His Majesty the King established an institution known as the De-suup, or “Guardians of Peace,” marking the graduation of the initial cohort of 124 desuups after a month-long course. While many lauded the initiative and its visionary underpinnings, few could have anticipated that the program would evolve into one of Bhutan’s most remarkable success stories, akin to a revolution, with 42,775 trained de-suups emerging over the course of 13 years.

The triumph of this institution extends far beyond mere numbers; it is evident in its remarkable growth, the diverse array of skills imparted, and the myriad national service projects undertaken by desuups. The significance of this institution was most keenly felt as Bhutan confronted the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, with thousands of desuups standing at the forefront alongside other agencies in a united effort.

Moreover, the program has dispelled certain “myths,” such as the notion that Bhutanese youth are disinclined to engage in physically demanding work. Today, we witness a proliferation of the orange-clad fraternity actively involved in construction sites, particularly in the Gyalsung project areas. We see a sea of the orange fraternity working  from dawn till dusk in other projects, too. During the Covid 19 pandemic, dessups were stationed for months at our northern frontiers. Everyone completed their duty with honour.

Equally noteworthy is the involvement of desuups in various national service endeavors, including water projects, the million fruit tree plantation initiative, road construction ventures, hydro power projects, and the national accelerated dog population management and rabies control program.

The singular force propelling the success of the Desuung Program is His Majesty, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, its founder and guiding light. His Majesty has demonstrated an unparalleled ability to inspire, motivate, effectively communicate the program’s vision, and oversee its implementation. Through frequent interactions, His Majesty has fostered a positive work environment that serves to further motivate participants. The Throne has provided clear direction and guidance, leading with example, articulating the vision, purpose, authenticity, and integrity, effectively communicating and demonstrating empathy and emotional intelligence.

His Majesty has been acknowledging outstanding performance, and providing avenues for growth and development. Inspired leaders engender heightened levels of engagement, fostering emotional commitment to the cause.

Many young desuups have expressed how adorning the orange uniform has imbued their lives with newfound purpose, rescuing them from the fringes of society and providing opportunities for personal growth and contribution to the nation. As conveyed by many the orange has given them a sense of purpose in life. There are several desuups who at one point of time did not find meaning in life. With none to support them, they remained on the fringes of society unaware of what the next day had for them. Some fell into the dark world of crime. People around them looked for opportunities and at every moment possible, ostracized them. Discrimination prevails in a small society like ours, where “the evil that man does lives after his death, and the good interred with the bones.”

Becoming a dessup has transformed the lives of this section of Bhutan’s population. At their respective training centers, they were told about the need to have a greater sense of community, harmony, and cooperation as a group and as individual members of society. They realized that everyone has and can play a role in nation building. They learned about good human traits and values such as discipline, integrity, teamwork, commitment and dedication to work, respect for elders and seniors, a sense of ownership, accountability, and responsibility. And they availed the golden opportunity that every Bhutanese looks forward to – an audience with His Majesty, which further inspired them to take on roles as responsible citizens. Today, they serve in different parts of the country, their heads high.

Every institution requires a platform for advancement, as individuals harbor innate aspirations for social ascent. While economic opportunities often drive emigration, the Desuung Skilling Programs (DSP), another Royal Project initiated by His Majesty in 2021, serves as a career ladder within the Desuung organization. Complementing the values-based personal development program of De-suung training, DSP offers a series of high-quality short-term trainings across various fields to Bhutanese youths entering the job market.

These trainings, some led by international experts, equip participants with skills ranging from arts and crafts to culinary arts and emerging technologies. Upon completion, graduates have a plethora of career pathways to explore, from culinary arts to specialized training in search and rescue and basic military skills.

In more ways than one, the Desuung program has also demonstrated the importance of a leader with vision. When the program first began, no one conceived that human civilization would be hit by an unknown foe in the form of a virus. And when this happened, Bhutan had hundreds of the “Guardians of Peace,” ready to take on tasks from guarding borders to supplying essentials and filling in gaps that rose in other agencies.

The Desuung program has transcended its initial aims and objectives, of fostering a spirit of volunteerism and charitable work and others. Anchored by exceptional leadership, it has evolved into an institution embodying love, hope, empathy, duty, and responsibility. It has instilled valor in its participants, becoming a symbol of Bhutan’s sacred Sovereign-Subject bond, a platform for civic duty, and a catalyst for social cohesion and unity.

And as the country navigates through the inflection point, with several significant projects in the pipeline, some of the “Guardians of Peace,” are ready, while others are sharpening their arsenal. The organization received the Druk Thuksey (Heart Son of Bhutan) award from His Majesty the King, in recognition of their dedicated service to the Nation. Bhutan and the world will see the “Heart Sons” contribute more and become a very vital force in chiseling Bhutan’s present and future.

Ugyen Tenzin from Thimphu