In every training I conduct, I introduce all my participants to the general LTLT framework – including all the sister organizations of LTLT. Due to the remoteness of Bhutan as an LTLT location, directly engaging with the rest of the network has been difficult. Indeed, only in the training in Pakshikha in 2017 and UNESCO in 2013 did I fully use them. But all facilitators are aware of the framework and know to utilise it if necessary. The LTLT ethics education framework, on the other hand, has been fully utilised in every training conducted so far. Every session is structured in a way to first teach the facilitators the purpose of nurturing a student’s spirituality and openness, then the skills to nurture these qualities, and finally to monitor and evaluate their progress.
Bhutan is a special country for many reasons. One of them, surprisingly, is its diversity. Within 160 KMs east-west and 100 KMs north-south, Bhutan is home to thousands of flora and fauna, 27 languages, 3 major ethnic groups and many minor groups. This diversity is also in the differences in development (and therefore lifestyle) in urban and rural groups, and in urban groups, in the diversity of income. You would not expect a nation that small to be this multicultural, but the truth is that it increasingly becoming so. The once homogenously Buddhist nation is accepting more of other faith and in 2017, about 10% of the population were expats. The close quarter existence of this great diversity has led to intergroup conflicts that are very subtle and internal.
The Bhutanese people, being a reflective people, carry a lot of stress and mental anguish inside their minds. They are hesitant to open to other people. So, the LTLT program, at first, seems out of place. After all, the crux of the program is to find unity with the “others” of the world through vulnerability. Therefore, to make LTLT’s case in Bhutan, first, the stigma associated with vulnerability needed to be reduced, especially amongst high school youths, where caring and being emotional can be considered “uncool.”
It was an easy task. I soon learned that what I and other people thought of as “stigma” was just a dissociative method. Our people were fine with vulnerability, but since they had always been discouraged to be that way, they showed by uneasiness by making fun of it. Once they understood the benefit of being open with each other, no one held back. A lot of my programs included a lot of emotions because for a lot of the participants, it was the first time being openly emotional. This is how my LTLT programs were “sensitive” about the local context.
Another way, my program was specialised for the local context is that it was focused on high school students. Among the deadliest killers of Bhutanese youth in the last decade are youth on youth violence and suicide. It is a national emergency that is going unattended to. The LTLT program has been a natural fix for this great disaster. The interpersonal problems that lead to physical violence is no different than the intrapersonal issues our youths face as they traverse the rickety road to adulthood and identity.
The first thing I notice in my trained facilitators is improved humility. The LTLT program helps everyone who goes through it understand the concept of “sonder,” the idea that all of us live incredibly complex lives, that we’re all the product of an equation that has infinite variables. The LTLT program allows participants to realize that other people live a life as hard as theirs. This makes them more understanding and therefore more humble.
And then they remember their added responsibility as facilitators. Now, they have to do more than just go through that experience, they have to teach it too. In my experience, the best value here is empathy. Understanding where a youth might be coming from and helping them get to the place of openness is possible only if the teacher can keep up with how the student’s emotions and expectations are changing. As most of my trained facilitators have been professional teachers, they knew to immediately adopt this sort of empathy. From what I have been told by my facilitators, they have noticed changes in themselves in the classroom. They are better able to teach their students as a group of many individuals and not as one group. So, their teaching is more nuanced and more helpful to students. They do not know if it is because they went through the program themselves first or if it is because they are facilitators who have to engage with their students at a deep emotional level, but it is clear that it is an effect of the LTLT program.
Since the start, my target demographic with the LTLT program has been high school age students. So, the most resourceful and creative thing I did, in my opinion, is to partner with many individual schools over and over again until the Ministry of Education became interested. This way, I was able to transform the LTLT program into syllabus mainstays of a lot of schools in the country.
At the end of every training, we discuss the most effective communication methods in group. By letting the facilitators pick this, as opposed to assigning one, they are more likely to co-opt the communication channels and use them. We use these channels (such as WeChat, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger) every day to discuss program notes: how they can innovate their own activities, how they can engage students better, etc. They also know that I am always available via phone call or text should they have any questions. Moreover, in the “community” of facilitators at every school, I am involved in their meetings and discussions.
I have also found a few enterprising facilitators from across the country. These are the teachers that have the potential to become TOTs themselves. I have tried to guide and mentor them by involving them in planning facilitation programs in other places. I hope to see them in the TOT program.
On a personal level, I reflect after every training. I try to remember how I was before the training workshop began and how I have changed since, and what it was that caused those changes. It is difficult to understand exactly what it is that causes these changes and if they can be directly recreated in another person by reconstructing similar situations. Whatever the answer there is, the more important thing to know is that, since I first took the LTLT program as a participant, I have transformed into a better human being. I am more compassionate and vibrant, more positive and more fun to be around. I am more empathetic.
This mindfulness and improved empathy have been beneficial in my profession as a businesswoman. Dealing with suppliers and customers have become easier and smoother. I have started to see my associates as interlocuters in the learning to live together dialogue.
The main values of LTLT are Respect, Empathy, Responsibility, and Reconciliation. As a role model of the program, I try to carry them as my default states all the time. Responsibility is knowing your place in the universe. It is knowing that you have a place, that you have a responsibility that extends beyond doing what is good for you or what is expected of you. You have the responsibility of going above and beyond, and to leave the universe in a better place than you found it. In real life, this means to understand all my roles. I understand that as a participant of the program, I am meant to feel the power of vulnerability to bring us together. As a facilitator, I am meant to help others feel that, and as a trainer, I am meant to help others teach others to feel that.
Respect is deference. It is understanding that everyone else’s place in the universe is as valuable and destined as yours. Reconciliation is accepting that no one is perfect but that we are always improving, and therefore, it is necessary to admit our mistakes and fix them. Finally, empathy is the primary feeling that allows all others to exist. It is only because we live infinite lives vicariously that we are able to see our and other people’s place in the universe and seeing where we have been wrong.
Ever since I first started the LTLT program as a participant, I have found these essential values growing in me all the time. At this point, I reflect on them in myself and find that I am more responsible, more respectful, more empathetic and more willing to reconcile than when I first started and more so than yesterday. This makes me a good role model of the LTLT values.
Even as a participant of the program, I was a strong advocate. I would recommend the program to anyone I had a deep conversation with. It is why I applied to become a facilitator and stayed on to become a trainer. I have endorsed the program with virtually every bureaucrat and politician I know as the solution to our youth issues. And as a business and community leader, I am careful to display my LTLT values at the surface proudly.