Amidst the grandeur of the 112th National Day celebrations in 2019, His Majesty the King introduced a transformative initiative known as Gyalsung (National Service), an all-encompassing year-long training program for every Bhutanese youth upon reaching the age of 18. During this historic announcement, His Majesty outlined the program’s structure, which would comprise a three-month military-style phase followed by nine months of diverse coursework spanning agriculture sciences, entrepreneurship, computer coding, health sciences, and more. His Majesty underscored that Gyalsung’s primary objective was to guide and empower our youth, molding them into resilient, independent thinkers ready to serve their nation. Moreover, it was designed to unify Bhutanese youth, transcending economic and regional differences, and serving as a collective rite of passage.
As preparations for Gyalsung unfolded, the world faced the unexpected challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, work that could proceed did so uninterrupted. During the 8th Session of the Third Parliament, the Gyalsung Bill of 2022 was introduced, thoroughly deliberated upon, and eventually ratified on November 11, 2022.
On October 9, 2023, Gyalsung registration commenced, accompanied by the launch of the Gyalsung Portal and website. It was also revealed that the Gyalsung Training itself would commence in September 2024. For the inaugural batch, the training duration was set at four and a half months, encompassing Basic Military Training (BMT), National Education, and other pertinent activities. The skilling component would be introduced in 2025.
Gyalsung, as mandated by Article 8.1 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, represents a fundamental duty expected of every Bhutanese citizen. Unlike Dessung, which is voluntary, Gyalsung is a mandatory service, where trained citizens need to answer when the Nation beckons. This practice is not exclusive to Bhutan, as it is also observed in countries such as South Korea, Singapore, and others.
While there is a perception that the “mandatory” summons may primarily arise during crises or wartime, it is essential to note that Bhutan does not foresee engaging in armed conflicts with any nation. However, the call to duty may come during periods when the country requires its citizens to contribute to endeavors like community service, disaster relief, and other peaceful initiatives.
It is imperative to highlight that Gyalsung diverges significantly from national service programs in other nations. While countries like South Korea have instituted mandatory military service in response to ongoing security concerns, Bhutan’s Gyalsung was conceived with a different objective in mind. It emanated from His Majesty’s deep compassion, hope, and commitment to Bhutanese youth. His Majesty has consistently emphasized the need to secure a brighter future for the nation’s children and has identified the empowerment of every Bhutanese child for success as a pivotal national objective. His Majesty firmly believes that Bhutan’s future hinges on the strength and capabilities of its youth, advocating for high standards, 21st-century education, unity, and discipline.
Within the hallowed precincts of Gyalsung centers, Bhutanese youth will be provided with the opportunity to cultivate qualities that will transform them into responsible and capable citizens, poised to realize their full potential. Gyalsung, as envisioned by His Majesty, will not only impart direction but also nurture independent thinking and a profound sense of duty. It will unite Bhutanese youth, irrespective of their economic or regional backgrounds, serving as a shared rite of passage.
In His Majesty’s own words, “With this initiative, we are placing an immense responsibility on the shoulders of our children and assuming an even greater responsibility ourselves, to nurture them and ensure their success.” His Majesty consistently urges the youth to embrace challenges, reshape their mindsets, think ambitiously, and work diligently. His Majesty underscores that it is time for Bhutanese youth to stand on their own feet, compete on equal terms with other nations, and achieve success through hard work and merit.
Thus, Gyalsung encapsulates the multifaceted vision outlined by His Majesty, and is a testament to the unwavering dedication, which His Majesty refers to as The Throne’s “Sacred Duty.” Gyalsung captures His Majesty’s belief that the future of Bhutan hinges on the worth, capabilities, and motivation of today’s youth and His Majesty’s resolute in providing the youth with the inspiration, knowledge, and skills to not only pursue their aspirations but also become invaluable contributors to the nation.
Furthermore, His Majesty has always underscored the importance of fostering self-discovery and encouraging learners to actively participate in knowledge creation, rather than being passive consumers of knowledge. His Majesty consistently emphasizes that Bhutan’s survival as a sovereign state depends on the holistic development of its children, encompassing their physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual, and moral dimensions.
In a recent address, His Majesty stressed the uniqueness and resilience forged over centuries of Bhutanese history, emphasizing that this cannot be recreated overnight. While many accomplishments can be achieved within a lifetime, preserving, protecting, restoring, and reinforcing the essence of Bhutan is an enduring mission. Additionally, His Majesty articulated that Bhutan is fortunate to have a close-knit community, and the loyalty and dedication in our personal bonds, and age-old rapport, remain robust. His Majesty emphasized the need to preserve this fidelity, as it is the quintessential strength of our sovereignty, security, well-being, and happiness.
Reiterating the focus on the future and Bhutanese youth, His Majesty stressed that while there are numerous national policies and plans to prioritize, the most crucial of all is to “empower the next generation.” His Majesty underscored that in a fast-paced, high-tech world, where imagination sets the only limit, it is imperative to take charge of transitions and inevitable evolutions. Gyalsung, in His Majesty’s eyes, represents the first step in this direction.
The year-long Gyalsung training program embodies a father’s endeavor to protect, a brother’s care, and a son’s service. It captures His Majesty’s belief that within the sacred halls of the Gyalsung Centers, fidelity towards one another and the nation will be augmented. Youth will be equipped to face challenges, discover their latent talents, and become invaluable citizens of the nation. Gyalsung is the inaugural step in a journey guided by His Majesty’s vision, one that embraces the ever-evolving future with courage and determination.
Ugyen Tenzin from Thimphu