A Little Bit of Canada in Bhutan

Over the course of my time in Bhutan I have learned about many Canadian influencers have worked with the Bhutanese to help develop their country.

I first learned that during the 1960’s Bhutan’s 3rd king invited Father William MacKey, a Canadian Catholic priest and Jesuit educator to Bhutan to establish the modern school system that Bhutan has today. The first school started in Trashigang and was in an abandoned cowshed. The school had 7 students to start. 

After establishing the curriculum and sharing the education system of Canada, it was decided that all lessons would be taught in English. Instead of bringing Canadian teachers halfway across the world, although some did come), they recruited teachers from the state of Kerala in South India. Why Kerala, because their literacy rate is the highest in India. In fact one of the teachers at Ugyen Academy, the school we visited a few days ago in Punakha, has a teacher from Kerala who has been working there for over 20 years! The school we had the privilege of visiting was surrounded by mountains, had a FIFA funded soccer field, delicious food, and wonderful hospitality.

Not only did the Canadians develop the education system here in Bhutan, I found out our country also supplied funding for the development of the Gross National Happiness survey which has been seen as a model for other countries. The IDRC (International Development Resource Centre – a Canadian Institution) allocated 1.2 million dollars towards the development of this survey in the area of understanding Indigenous knowledge in Bhutan.

And lastly, Canadians have also aided in the creation and building of the Trans Bhutan Trail. This trail was originally used by pilgrims, armies and traders for hundreds of years. Up until the 1960’s it was the only way to travel and communicate with others across the country, before roads and airplanes. Through the help of the Bhutan Canada Foundation and with the support of the Tourism Council of Bhutan this trail is now a hiking trail spanning the entire country from west to east totaling 250 miles. It begins in Haa and you can travel is all the way to Trashigang. We have been lucky to have met and worked with Karma, our host in Bhutan as he is someone who has been involved with this project since its inception. 

All in all, I feel proud to be Canadian in this country as our country continues to be a leader in the development in The Kingdom of Bhutan.

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