Going beyond the Fair

Going beyond the Fair

Within the pristine green of the Coronation Park, an annual fair commenced yesterday – The Tarayana Fair. It may appear like any other fair. However, if one goes into the history of the fair, there is drama, compassion, empathy, love and sacrifices made by Tarayana Foundation, its founder and all associated with it.

Tarayana Foundation was founded by Her Majesty The Queen Mother Gyalyum Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck and formally launched on 4th May 2003 by His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who was then Crown Prince of Bhutan. The Foundation is a Public Benefit Organization, registered with the Civil Society Organization Authority of Bhutan.

Tarayana Foundation’s multifaceted approach encompasses four key intervention areas.

The first is community mobilization that includes diligent efforts in awareness-raising, capacity building, and fostering collective action via self-help groups, predominantly comprising women, and championing champion the ethos of volunteerism both within communities and educational institutions.

Access to basic needs and services is the next, where improving the quality of people’s life by facilitating access to essential services such as housing upgrades, healthcare provisions, and basic water and sanitation amenities.   Noteworthy initiatives include organizing annual surgical camps for individuals afflicted by cleft lip and palate issues, burn injuries, and incidents involving wild animal attacks, alongside pioneering projects like eco-san toilets.

Education opportunities are provided by extending support to deserving students, with a particular focus on empowering girls, to pursue tertiary education, thereby nurturing a generation of informed and empowered individuals.

Livelihood enhancement is the next, where income-generating activities, are fostered along with facilitation micro-credit for budding entrepreneurs, and promoting the marketing of artisanal products, we endeavor to bolster livelihood prospects and foster economic resilience within communities.

The Foundation operates primarily in remote, rural villages, and is dedicated to facilitating holistic community growth and development, with a keen emphasis on bridging the gap between national-level initiatives and local grassroots needs. Central to the approach is the empowerment of communities, wherein they play a pivotal role in shaping the development trajectory of their villages. The geographical challenges posed by the rugged terrain and dispersed settlements further underscore the importance of the Foundation’s work. Recognizing the incremental costs associated with extending development benefits to remote and isolated communities, it  remains steadfast and commits to serving the underserved populations, one community at a time.

At the heart of Tarayana’s endeavors lies a steadfast belief in the potential of rural livelihoods, underscored by the foundation’s unwavering dedication to fostering community participation in mainstream development initiatives. Through the twin pillars of social mobilization and local empowerment, Tarayana strives to catalyze positive change and drive sustainable progress in every corner of Bhutan.

Amidst the jubilant ambiance of the Tarayana Foundation’s 20th anniversary celebration in 2023, a vibrant spectacle unfolded as over a dozen stalls adorned the fairgrounds, each showcasing the exquisite craftsmanship and culinary delights of local artisans and beneficiaries of the foundation. Against the backdrop of this three-day extravaganza, attendees were treated to a sensory feast of indigenous cuisine, intricately woven textiles, and an array of meticulously crafted handmade treasures.

Inaugurating the festivities, Her Majesty Queen Mother Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck graced the gathering with poignant reflections, tracing the genesis of the Tarayana Foundation to the visionary encouragement of His Majesty The King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Recounting her impassioned forays into the heartlands of rural Bhutan, she articulated a profound sense of duty towards uplifting the marginalized and underserved, thereby laying the foundation for Tarayana’s noble mission. Amidst the throngs of participants hailing from 11 diverse districts, voices resonated with gratitude and hope, echoing tales of transformation wrought by the Foundation’s benevolent endeavors.

Similarly, this year too, all beneficiaries who are here today, say they “do not have enough words” to express their gratitude to Her Majesty Gyalyum Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck.

An observer who had attended the fair said that Tarayana Foundation is in many ways a portrayal of how involved Bhutan’s Queens were and still is in the development of the country and its people. “I do not know much about the earlier Queens; but beginning from the Royal Grandmother Ashi Kezang Choden Wangchuck, we see that our queens were equally involved in development. Apart from the preservation of culture, the Royal Grandmother was instrumental in building Gidakom hospital and thus ending leprosy in Bhutan. The other three Queen Mothers have different CSOs to look after and Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen is involved in many activities; the latest being the Pema Secretariat,” he said.

According to him, “our queens accompany the King in tours around the country.” “They get to see and recognize issues at the grassroots, which can be solved better by CSOs than the government.”

From the many projects that Tarayana undertook, one was to empower the local community called Oleps, so that they could help themselves out of poverty. This initiative focuses on empowering the Olep ethnic group in Bhutan’s western region, originally nomadic hunter-gatherers resettled in Rukha in the 1970s. Facing economic challenges, the Tarayana Foundation stepped in to provide skill development and foster self-reliance. Starting in Rukha, the project expanded to 150 villages, promoting grassroots empowerment and nationwide upliftment. Through its holistic approach, the Foundation exemplifies Bhutan’s ethos of compassion and solidarity, catalyzing positive change for the Olep community and beyond.

The Foundation has also made social development programme  as a cornerstone initiative dedicated to mitigating vulnerabilities across pivotal domains including housing, food security and nutrition, social inclusion, and the integration of green technologies. Operating in the farthest reaches of Bhutan, this program embodies our commitment to fostering resilience and well-being in communities that often face formidable challenges.

“We pray that the Foundation further grows to help the underprivileged in Bhutan,” Tenzin, a civil servant said.

By Ugyen Tenzin, Thimphu