Monday, 16 December 2013

Photocopier shopping in Bhutan ... and a hilarious pen pal letter

Now that exams are finally over and the kids are on winter break, I've had a few quiet moments to finally start spending some of the money so generously sent by donors in Australia and elsewhere around the world. So here's a report on my fantastically surreal day of school shopping and a hilarious pen pal letter at the end, just for kicks.

It all began last Thursday morning when we started the day with the completely mind-blowing experience of seeing our little baby for the first time swimming around and gawping at us from inside Lucy’s belly via the ultrasound machine at Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hopital (otherwise known as JDWNRH – the world's longest acronym). This experience left me a bit flabbergasted at the enormity and beauty of the universe and I could have happily spent the afternoon listening to Beatles songs and drawing crayon flowers BUT as fundraising duties called I instead engaged in the only slightly less surreal experience of shopping in Bhutan for photocopiers, heaters, dictionaries, water boilers and football boots thanks to the funds that you all donated.

"Mr Matt! You are suffering from jaundice, yes?"
Somehow I resisted the temptation to run off to the Maldives with the wad of banknotes I was issued at BOB (Bank of Bhutan) and as a result on Friday we had the official inauguration of the school’s brand new duplicating machine, eight oil heaters, two water boilers, 190 English-Dzongkha dictionaries and 15 pairs of football boots for the girl’s football team.  Due to winter break, there were sadly no students on hand to receive the gifts on behalf of the student body, but the principal made a big deal of displaying all the goods nicely, blessing them with a ceremonial scarf (kada) and doing some very good-humoured but deeply official inauguration work.

My inaugural inauguration of stuff
Prior to making the purchases, I was a bit worried that if we bought a new photocopier it would be much lauded and appreciated in the beginning but would eventually be deemed too expensive to run and remain a bulky, unused testament to how ‘developed’ the school had become with very little benefit going to the students. But after a few chats with staff, photocopy salesmen and this amazing thing called the internet the whole world of duplicating machines was opened up to me. These modern mimeographs can make large numbers of copies for as cheaply as $0.003 per page, work effectively with low grade ‘duplicating’ paper of which there are reams in Bhutanese schools and can produce 30,000 copies from one bottle of ink. I spent half a day nerding out over the technical details of how they actually work and if you’re a bit ‘special’ like me and want to learn more you can find out here. But all in all: happy copying days. 

Lopen Sangay - the new 'keeper of the copier' gets lessons from the master
In terms of other gear, we decided to lash out and buy some more expensive Italian-made heaters rather than the cheaper, ubiquitous Chinese ones which are fabulous if you are sitting right on top of them but otherwise don’t do much in terms of providing warmth. As for dictionaries, from February, all the kids from Class VI to VIII (Roman numerals! Remember them?) will get an English-Dzongkha dictionary to use for the year which will hopefully improve their learning and comprehension in both languages. (See pen pal letter below - they need the help!) The dictionaries were actually inspired by a fantastic Kaleen Primary school student I taught last year, a Chinese native speaker who arrived at KPS in Year 5 with almost no English and who reached remarkable levels of fluency by the end of Year 6 in part through his dedicated and enthusiastic use of his electronic Mandarin/English dictionary. Thanks Peize! 

The sign reads: 'A Token of Love From the People of Australia'
Mr Ugyen, games-in-charge, being presented with the girls' football boots
There is still about $1000 left in the fundraising account and I am waiting for another super generous donation from Kaleen Primary School (thanks guys!) to be sent over before working out how best to use the rest of the money. There is a computerised attachment ($400) available for the duplicating machine that allows it to print directly from a computer thus eliminating the need for the most expensive ongoing cost – the  printing of master copies. Buying this would really eliminate any possible ‘poverty mentality’ associated with using the duplicator and give it the best chance of being used effectively by teachers to enhance student engagement in the classroom. I’m also chasing up art classes for next year, but since school is almost finished, I may have to wait until next year to tee these things up.

I’ll leave you with a photo of a pen pal letter from one of our Class VII students that made me laugh out loud today. It was sent to me by my colleague, Kelly, at KPS in Australia, who had just received a bundle of pen pal letters from our Bhutanese students. Kelly tells it like this:

The year six students [at KPS] were VERY excited to receive their letters from their Bhutanese pen pals today. So many of them had gone to extra trouble searching for English quotes about friendship. I was feeling quite touched as I read the quotes from the backs of envelopes aloud to all the students and they were proud as punch to hear what their pen pals had written for them.......and then there was this one.......needless to say, instant hilarity!!!

And on that note, a Happy Christmas and holiday to all and another HUGE thank you to everyone who has donated – no matter how small or large – I have no doubt that your contributions will make a significant impact for the kids here. And may your friendships always be of the warm, visible, non-liquid kind.


  1. Wow Matt I didn't realise you bought all this stuff for the school! Legend! And so awesome you got booots for the girls!! Right on xxxx

  2. Yes!!!!!! Goaaaaaal! Soccer boots for the girls!!!!