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									NGO 301 - Roles and Functions of NGOs   Tokyo, 25th March 2008

Sensory Disabilities and Access to Education

                in the Kingdom of Bhutan

          Roles and Functions of four NGOs

Joyce Boucard                  
Brief Facts about Bhutan
Bhutan is a beautiful land-locked kingdom located in the eastern Himalayas between India and Tibet
comprising a land area of 47,000 square kilometres. Seventy-two % of the country is forest. Its official
population is estimated to be 637.000 (2007). The two official languages are Dzongkha and English.

Bhutan is an absolute monarchy developing into a constitutional monarchy. The current head of the
state is the 5th King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck. The first general elections were held yesterday
and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (Bhutan Harmony Party) has been formally declared as the Ruling
Party few hours ago.

After centuries of isolation, Bhutan opened its doors to the world in 1961, under the 3rd King Jigme Dorji
Wangchuck (known as the father of modern Bhutan). The Bhutanese understood that in the pursuit of
economic prosperity, many countries had lost their cultural identities, spirituality, and destroyed their
environment. This was a clear message to realise that economic growth alone does not bring
contentment. Bhutanese politics are based on Gross National Happiness (GNH), a philosophy that
attempts to put people’s welfare and happiness first, as opposed to Gross National Product (GNP). GNH
was introduced by the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972. It aims to serve Bhutan's unique
culture based on the spiritual values of Mahayana Buddhism. The concept of GNH is based on the idea
that true development of human society occurs when material and spiritual development exist side by
side to complement and reinforce each other. It suggests that happiness is the ultimate objective of
development, where development is viewed as a continuous process towards achieving a sustainable
balance between the material, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs of the people. The four pillars of
GNH are: the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and
promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good
governance. The development of the country, which is decided in Five Year Plans, is strictly based on
these principles. As a result, education and health are provided free of cost to all Bhutanese even
though the country is still poor.

Bhutan was the last country to introduce television in 1999. Foreign influences and tourism are heavily
regulated by the Government. Advertising, plastic bags and tobacco are banned.

National Policy on Disability
In 1961, the 3rd King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established an organised modern and free education
system. Prior to that time, there were virtually no education facilities apart from the traditional education
given in monasteries.

In less than four decades of development, Bhutan has made remarkable progress in every aspect. From
the beginning, balanced and equitable development with people’s participation and preservation of
cultural traditions have been the base of the modernisation process. NGH states that the disabled
persons shall enjoy equal rights with other citizens in political, economic, cultural, social fields, in family
life and other aspects. Their needs have always being addressed by the Government and social
services provided free of cost. Bhutan is a signatory to the proclamation of the Forty Ninth Session (April
1993), of the ESCAP Commission on Disability, on the full participation and equality of people with
disabilities. Bhutan further committed to the proclamation of Biwako Millennium Decade (2003 – 2012)
for Persons with Disabilities that outlines issues, action plans and strategies towards an inclusive,
barrier-free and rights-based society for persons with disabilities.

Since 1998 (9th five year plan), the Bhutanese Government has accorded highest priority for disability.
All relevant ministries are incorporating disability related programs into their development plans.

Surveys have estimated that there are about 21,000 persons with disabilities in the country (3.5%).
The hearing and visually impaired constitute the largest group of disabled persons. There is an estimate
number of 400 people with hearing impairment and about 1.000 visually disabled.

Disabilities and Public Awareness
Traditionally, disabled people have remained at home in their villages, and education was not
considered to be a viable option. The establishment of the National Institute for the Disabled (NID) in
1972 has helped to change notions about the potential for blind children to become educated and
integrated into schools and communities. However, a more direct approach has been taken concerning
public awareness in disabilities. Since 2002, a strong effort is being made in public awareness focusing
in changing negative attitudes, stereotypes, misconceptions and superstitions about disabilities. It is
common to believe that the disability of a child is a consequence of the bad karma (s)he is carrying from
the previous life. This child can be rejected from the family and society and never given a chance for
integration and rehabilitation.

The target audience for the awareness raising are persons with disabilities and family members,
community leaders, school authorities, employers, traditional healers and all sectors of the

The methods employed include special events such as World Disabled Day, parent education
programs, group discussions, use of persons with disabilities as advocates and role models, use of folk
arts, posters, audio-visual media, advocacy meetings, networking meetings, sharing information and
reports between different sectors.

The outcome includes: changed attitudes towards people with disabilities, increased opportunities for
persons with disabilities, increased attendance at rehabilitation centres, increased number of disabled

children in schools, increased number of persons with disabilities in employment, increased participation
of persons with disabilities in community life.

Disabilities and Education
An education program directed to provide educational opportunities and special needs for the disabled
persons was established in 1998, under the 9th five year plan. Apart from providing basic education, the
program includes efforts to make the disabled acquire special skills in order to become gainfully

To meet this goal, there are some essential needs to be addressed. For example, teachers’ skills must
be upgraded through teacher training. The schools’ infrastructures must be modified in order to provide
the classrooms with special equipment as low vision devices, Braille material, computers. And building
facilities as schools and hostels need to be constructed.

The Government's strategy is based on integration of disabled children into regular classrooms, instead
of taking them away from their families and communities. However, this approach does not always work
for the blind and deaf (sensory disabled). Special centres are needed, at least at the beginning of their

There are mainly two centres directly involved in special education: The National Institute for the
Disabled (NID) and the Deaf Education Unit in Drukgyel.

The National Institute for the Disabled (NID)
The National Institute for the Disabled (NID) was founded in Khaling (East of the country) in 1972 by
Einar Kippenes, from the Norwegian and Swedish mission. The mission had since 1965 worked with the
visually impaired together with the Royal Government of Bhutan. In 1987, the Bhutanese Ministry of
Education took over the school.

The NID is currently the only facility educating and training visually impaired children. However, it is
being diversified to include programs for children with other disabilities. The NID provides instruction in
reading and writing Braille with the objective that children skilled in Braille be integrated into regular
schools toward the end of the primary cycle, and that they are prepared to become productive members
of the society.

There are currently 51 visually impaired students in the NID.

The Deaf Education Unit in Drukgyel

The Deaf Education Unit was established in 2003 by the Ministry of Education. It has been remodelled
this year. It is located near Paro (2nd city of Bhutan, in the West of the country).The school includes a
research unit currently in the process of creating a unified Bhutanese Sign Language.

The school actually hosts 22 deaf students aged from 7 to 15.

Education for the Visually Impaired
The program on visual disabilities of the Education Sector for the 9th Five-Year Plan was determined as

            1.1. Development of NID (Khaling)
                     - Civil works
                               - 2 hostels
                               - kitchen
                               - dining hall
                               - academic facilities
                     Budget: 31.180 million Nu / 505.000 EUR / 780.000 USD
                     Donor: GBHFA (Pro-Bhutan), UNICEF, YDF
                     - Human resource development
                               - Management of special education (2 weeks)
                               - 4 month O & M Instructors course for 2 instructors
                               - Production of teaching materials in Braille
                               - Computers and software for the blind
                               - Maintenance and repair of equipment
                               - Integrated education
                     Budget: 2.880 million Nu / 47.000 EUR / 72.000 USD
                     Donor: CBMI
                      - Equipment and resource materials
                               - Computer, embosser, software, tape recorders
                               - Reference books in Braille
                               - Talking books
                               - Low vision equipment
                      Budget: 3.600 million Nu / 60.000 EUR / 90.000 USD
                      Donor: CBMI

            1.2. Development of the Braille Production Unit (Drukgyel)
                     - Human resources
                              -Training in resource centre management for coordinator
                              - Production of talking books
                              - Production of low vision materials
                              - Standardization of Dzongkha Braille
                              - English Braille Standards
                              - O&M instructors course
                     Budget: 1.200 million Nu / 20.000 EUR / 30.000 USD
                     Donor: CBMI

                       - Equipment: furniture/computer
                                -Talking book production
                                -Tape recorders for loan
                                -Reading stands
                                -Low vision devices for loan
                                -Software programs for loan
                                -White canes
                                -Raw materials for production
                       Budget: 2.400 million Nu / 40.000 EUR / 60.000 USD
                       Donor: CBMI

The NID in Khaling has been refurbished and expanded with the addition of two new hostel facilities, a
kitchen and dining hall.

Children have been provided with new equipment such as low-vision equipment, learning materials in
Braille, computers and relevant software, tape recorders and other professional support.

The NID staff is following specialised courses for producing teaching materials in Braille, large print and
audio-cassette as well in ICT for the blind.

A specialised teacher training in ICT was organised by Media LT in Norway in February 2006. Five
visually impaired teachers attended the training in order to improve computer technology and skills for
the visually impaired. The idea that follows is to establish a national computer training centre for visually
impaired students in the future.

At the unit in Drukgyel, a new translation software has been introduced by IIT Kharagpur, India. The
software makes it easier for the teachers to translate Dzongkha text books into Braille and consequently
teaching and learning are substantially improved. New text books are now easily available with no need
for teachers to punch the Dzongkha text books into Braille and the students do not need to share text
books anymore. The software will clearly play a positive role concerning the integration of disabled
children in normal schools. As part of the program, a teacher training orientation for 18 teachers was
funded by the Royal Government of Bhutan and UNICEF.

Education for the Hearing Impaired
The program on hearing disabilities of the Education Sector for the 9th Five-Year Plan was determined
as follows:

             2. Program at the Deaf Education Unit at Drukgyel (Paro)
                      - Building facilities
                                - Academic facilities
                                - Hostels
                                - Kitchen
                                - Dinning hall
                      Budget: 15.500 million Nu / 250.000 EUR / 385.000 USD
                      Donor: GBHFA (Pro-Bhutan)
                      - Human resource development
                                -Technical advisor (2 months for 2 years)
                                -Training on Sign Language development
                                -Short courses (2 weeks for the instructors)
                                -Diploma in teaching the deaf
                      Budget: 2.400 million Nu / 40.000 EUR / 60.000 USD
                      Donor: CBMI
                      - Equipment: furniture/computer
                                -Teaching learning resources
                                -Office equipment and furniture
                      Budget: 3.600 million Nu / 60.000 EUR / 90.000 USD
                      Donor: CBMI

The school for hearing impaired children in Drukgyel is combined with the Lower Secondary and the
Higher Secondary School. The objective is to integrate the hearing-impaired children with the non-
handicapped children after a period of transition.

The first classroom was opened in September 2003, with three deaf students. In 2005, they were 14
students, split in two classrooms (first and second grade).

In order to provide hearing impaired children with better services, a new school building has just been
constructed by the German NGO Pro-Bhutan together with 2 hostels with capacity to accommodate 50

Special learning materials and equipment as well as specialized training on hearing impairment are also
being provided.

At present there are 22 students aged between 7 and 15 years old and are supervised by five deaf
adults, two hearing teachers and a Sign Language researcher.

Before 2003, there was no Bhutanese Sign Language. The Royal Bhutan Government, ordered to
develop a Bhutanese Sign Language for the hearing-impaired. This important project was funded by
UNICEF and the German NGO Christian Blind Mission International (CBMI). To create a new national
Sign Language, five deaf adults were reunited and tried to establish a way to communicate. They were
asked by the Sign Language researcher to create basic signs for concrete words such as "fruits",
"vegetables", etc. The word creation process was partly influenced by the researcher's knowledge of
American Sign Language. United Nations Volunteers (UNV) has also offered a workshop for that

The school also includes vocational training like knitting, tailoring, basket weaving and bakery.

Education and Disabilities: NGO participation

In part because of the extremely high infrastructure costs in its mountainous geography, in part because
of its still narrow national financial resource, the Royal Government of Bhutan accepts development
assistance to enhance the quality of people’s lives. However, great attention is given to the participating
organisations. These must have maximum respect for the Bhutanese culture. Apart from that, the
organisations are of all kind, with different approaches, visions and motivations.

The following are the main organisations involved in the field of education and sensory disabilities.

Human resources development (teacher training):
          Media LT
          UNV Bhutan
          UNICEF Bhutan

Equipment (computers, furniture, braille, low vision devices):
          UNICEF Bhutan

Building facilities (hostel, kitchen...):
          GBHFA German-Bhutan Friendship Association, Pro-Bhutan
          YDF Youth Development Fund for Bhutan
          UNICEF Bhutan
          Save the Children

In the following paragraphs, I will introduce four different organisations working on the field of sensory
disabilities and education.

Christian Mission for the Blind International (CBMI)

CBMI is a Christian German humanitarian organization aiming at improving the quality of life of people
with disabilities, preventing and curing blindness, educating and rehabilitating the blind or disabled, as
well as promoting inclusion and awareness for their needs. CBMI provides assistance regardless of
religion, nationality, race, or gender.

The NGO was founded in 1908 by the German pastor Ernst Jakob Christoffel who built homes for blind
children, orphans, physically disabled, and deaf persons in Turkey and Iran.

It is considered one of the world's oldest and largest religious organisation serving the blind and disabled.
The institution supports more than 1,000 projects (EUR 57.9 million) in 113 countries with 126 co-
workers. It has member associations in 10 countries of Europe, North America and Australia and covers
about 3% (18 million) of all disabled people in the world (400/600 million). CBMI works with 763 partner
organisations: different mission agencies, local churches, self-help groups and relief agencies (UN,

CBMI founded and launched "Vision 2020: The Right to Sight". The goal of Vision 2020 is to eliminate
avoidable blindness by the year 2020.

CBMI in Bhutan

CBMI participates in the national program of Inclusive Education for blind and deaf children in
collaboration with the Bhutanese Ministry of Education and UNICEF Bhutan.

Within the program for the visually impaired, CBMI supports teacher trainings, refurbishment, equipment,
materials for Braille production and devices for low vision students.
CBMI supports as well the two Braille production units in Drukgyel (in the West of the country) and
Khaling (in the East of the country).
Budget: 7.600 million Nu / 125.000 EUR / 190.000 USD

Within the hearing disabilities program, CBMI supports teacher training and the Sign Language research
for the education for deaf children. In 2003, a research unit (one primary teacher, one Sign Language
researcher and five deaf adults) started to collect the existing Bhutanese signs to compile and edit them
for a common use in Bhutan. United Nations Volunteers (UNV) offers a workshop for that purpose.
Budget: 6.000 million Nu / 100.000 EUR / 150.000 USD

Media LT

Media LT is a Norwegian IT company founded in 1999 by Morten Tollefsen and Magne Lunde.

The NGO works to help improve access to computers and information to a wide range of disabled users.
This includes an easier access to study, work as well as leisure. Their work focuses on ICT training,
software development, adaptation of existing software for people with special needs, consultancy
services for web accessibility, production and adaptation of digital audio books and multimedia.

The group has previous experience in developing software for the production of electronic picture books
allowing blind and partially sighted to communicate about pictures via sounds and text descriptions.

Research and development is their cornerstone.

Media LT in Bhutan

MediaLT is involved in a five year project in collaboration with the Norwegian Agency for Development
Cooperation (NORAD, directorate under the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the Bhutanese
Ministry of Education. The project started in February 2006 and is designed to improve computer
technology and skills for the visually impaired.

Five blind teachers were trained on ICT fro visually impaired in Norway. In Bhutan, they continue
receiving assistance to establish a national computer training centre for visually impaired students.
The initiative for the project came from Kuenga Chhoegyel (a blind former pupil now teaching at NID).
He contacted MediaLT in 2004 about computer technology and training for the visually impaired.

The Norwegian and Swedish Mission has since 1965 been in close cooperation with the Royal
Government of Bhutan concerning the visually impaired. E.g. building of a school for blind in Khaling
(that became the actual NID) in 1972.

Pro-Bhutan - German Bhutan Health Friends Association

Funded in 1992 by Harald N. Nestroy, Pro-Bhutan is a humanitarian charitable association dedicated to
assist the development in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.

In 1987, in order to help a seriously ill and desperate German friend. Harald N. Nestroy visited Bhutan to
ask the advice of the chief doctor of the Bhutanese Traditional Medicine Institute. The healing of his
friend through Bhutanese traditional medicine impressed Nestroy so deep that, together with six friends,
he donated a small hospital to the Kingdom of Bhutan where traditional Bhutanese medicine and
Western allopathic medicine could be integrated. He founded the non-profit organisation “German
Bhutan Health Friends Association – Pro-Bhutan”

Since 1993, Pro-Bhutan plans and executes the construction of buildings in the health, education and
culture sectors. After construction, the buildings are handed over to the Royal Bhutanese Government to
make use of them in an exemplary way for the benefit of the people in need.

The projects are financed through donations from generous private donors and other humanitarian
partners. E.g. German NGO “Star hours – We help children”, the Bavarian Television, Save the Children,
UNICEF, Youth Development Fund, Royal Bhutanese Government.

A little actual difficulty is the exorbitant rise of the construction costs in Bhutan.

One of the projects in which Pro-Bhutan is involved is the construction of the first school for hearing-
impaired children with hostels for the students in Drukgyel. The project agreement was signed in
November 2002. The construction started in April 2006 and inaugurated by Her Majesty Ashi Tshering
Pem Wangchuck and Nestroy in November 2007. The corresponding dormitories for the children are
expected to be completed in April 2008.
Budget: 15.500 million Nu / 250.000 EUR / 385.000 USD

Another project consists in the rehabilitation of the NID in Khaling as well as the construction of a hostel
for 30 blind children. This was inaugurated in November 2004.
This project was funded in collaboration with the Royal Government of Bhutan, Youth Development
Fund, Save the Children, and UNICEF.
Budget: 31.180 million Nu / 505.000 EUR / 780.000 USD

Youth Development Fund (YDF)

The YDF is a Bhutanese organisation launched in 1999 by Her Majesty Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck.
YDF is an important institution since it provides grant management services to national and international
donors for youth development activities.

The main goal of YDF is to establish a sustainable funding system within Bhutan for youth development
and empowerment activities. This includes youth programs focused on environmental conservation,
health and hygiene, reproductive health, agriculture, scouting, games and sports, basic skills and
vocational training, advocacy, research and education. Another important point is to raise awareness
among youth about the importance of their role as future adult citizens of the country.

Youth is important in Bhutan as 59% of the population is under the age of 24 and 21% between ages 10
and 19.

YDF’s special target groups are the disabled, school drop outs, juvenile delinquents, economically
disadvantaged youth, unemployed youth, and youth from areas difficult to reach.

The Royal Government of Bhutan invested one million dollars as its initial capital. The Sources of Fund
in 2006 included the Royal Government of Bhutan (25%), various fund raising activities/donations (19%),
collection from the Bhutan National Lottery (3%), interest income from the fixed deposits (13%) and
projects linked funds (40%). All together, in 2006, YDF collected Nu.174.149.742 / 2.800.000 EUR /
4.350.000 USD.

The total expenditure of 2006 was of Nu. 108.812.571 / 1.700.000 EUR / 2.700.000 USD. This was
distributed as follows: development of facilities (26%), empowerment through education (2%), resilience

building (1%), skills development (3%), sports development (<1%), project linked (63%) and support to
secretariat (5%).

In the education sector, YDF has a large scholarship program for all levels of education, especially
targeting the rural families living below the poverty line.

YDF also supports the Draktsho vocational training centre (DTVTC) for the disabled.

Draktsho vocational training centre (DTVTC)

Draktsho was created in 2001. It is the only vocational training facility for children and youth with
physical and mental challenges in the country. There are 30 students aged 14 - 30 in the centre.

Draktsho is a non-profit organization aiming at enhancing the living standard of the disabled youth
through empowerment and integrating them into society. The activities enhance independence and
confidence through vocational skills' training. The greatest challenge is to erase the deeply embedded
stigma of being less fortunate and a useless member of the family and society.

The activities include traditional art and painting, tailoring, making dolls and toys, singing and playing
music, making postcards, weaving, basket weaving, embroidery, sports. Along with these, basic
numeracy, literacy and life skills are also taught.

Although Draktsho is not specialised into sensory disabilities, it is an important vehicle for accessing the
specialised facilities. Many parents bring their disabled children to Draktsho. It is from here that children
are directed to the specialised schools for sensory disabilities such as NID or Drukgyel.

Apart from the support of YDF, the centre generates a small amount of funds from the sale of products
made by its students.

The Kingdom of Bhutan is developing in an exemplary way for the benefit of the people in need. Bhutan
has a large net of organisations working together in the development of a good infrastructure to provide
access to education for the sensory impaired.

The fact that this special little Himalayan Kingdom came out of its self-imposed isolation only four
decades ago gives Bhutan the advantage of a late beginner. Good care is taken to ensure efficient and
well organised programs directed to enable the sensory disabled to access education. This comes along
with the policy the country is committed to, ensuring happiness through not only material but as well
spiritual development.

When looking at the different organisations working on the field of sensory disabilities, one sees that
they are all different in their structure, approach and motivation. For example, CBMI is considered as
one of the biggest organisation committed to the fight against blindness in the world. This NGO works
with 763 partners in 113 countries. Obviously, blindness is seen as a global issue and its prevention a
world-wide mission. The creation of “Vision 2020: The Right to Sight“ is a clear example of how big this
organisation sets its aims.
On the other hand, when looking at Media LT, one sees a small and concise NGO specialised on ICT. In
contrast with CBMI, the goal of this organisation is very specific: to improve access to computers and
information for disabled users. This enables Media LT to focus on only one aspect of sensory
disabilities: its access to information. Their motivation to work in Bhutan has its roots in the history of the
collaboration between the two countries. Actually, they only work internationally in Bhutan. This is again
not the case of CBMI, which seems to focus in many countries without a clear distinction.
Pro-Bhutan has also a special motivation for working in Bhutan. This time, the motivation comes from a
personal experience with the country and its traditional medicine. While CBMI provides human
resources and equipment, and Media LT knowledge, Pro-Bhutan contributes with the construction of
From within Bhutan, YDF is the main institution directed to organise funds to be distributed among the
youth, and especially the disabled. Not specifically an NGO, but linked to the Government, YDF is
extremely important as it provides the country with the possibility to work for a better future for the youth.
In the field of sensory disabilities, YDF and its vocational training centre for the disabled (Draktsho) play
a fundamental role directing sensory disabled children to the appropriate schools where the above
organisations are working.
Definitely, every organisation contributes in its own way. Working differently for every aspect of a
problem is what makes possible to reach a common goal.

The way Bhutan looks after education for the sensory impaired is exemplary. However, there are some
little issues I came across that I think should still be considered to implement a more practical strategy to
reach the sensory impaired.
For example, the development of a common Bhutanese Sign Language is essential for the deaf to
communicate. However, for a more effective integration into the community, hearing impaired persons
need to learn the lip-reading method in combination with the Sign Language.
Likewise, access to education is a primary need and right. However, one cannot forget that access to
communication, to transport, the habilitation of public buildings are also steps to take in order to fully
include the disabled into the society.
The beautiful but difficult geography of this Himalayan Kingdom makes it difficult to reach schools that
are often too far. Effort has been made to include hostel facilities for the children at the centres for the

hearing and visually impaired; however, more schools are needed. This should be part of the priorities in
the future. This issue concerns as well the nomad population.
To finalised, I would like to raise the issue of public awareness about disabilities. In the Buddhist country
of Bhutan, religion has a very strong influence. Very often, children with disabilities are automatically
rejected because it is believed that the disability is a consequence of the bad karma (s)he is carrying
from the previous life. The Government is actually making a big effort to prevent rejection of
disabled children by changing negative attitudes, stereotypes, misconceptions and superstitions
about disabilities. I hope compassion, as one of the core quality of Buddhism, will be stronger than
the concept of bad karma.

On the following day of its first general elections, I wish the people of Bhutan all the best for the
continuity of what the Monarchy has achieved until now. Tashi Delek.

About Bhutan:

Government of Bhutan: collecting Sign Language (Asia Pacific Development Centre on
Disabilities) (Bhutanese search engine) (very useful forum)
Special Education Program of the 9th Five-Year Plan on Education Sector, Ministry of Education.


Christian Blind Mission International:
Vision 2020:
Norwegian Agency for the Cooperation: www.norad
Youth Development Fund:
Draktsho: -


Yasuyuki Mori (former director of JICA in Bhutan and vice-president of the Japan-Bhutan Friendship
Kezang Chenzom (Bhutanese living in Tokyo with experience in the NGO sector)
Deki Dorji (journalist at Bhutan TV)
Sonam Lhaden (moderator of forum


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