Posted by: ultrapopdesign | July 18, 2009

Follow a journey to the Land of the Thunder Dragon

young monks at puja

First off, I want to thank Flower of the Flower Power Hour and the folks at Energy Talk Radio for inviting me to be a contributor to their blog. I’m honored to be here and share some of my stories with you.

To me, a phrase like Land of the Thunder Dragon is loaded with mystique. It is the name of Bhutan, a tiny kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas, that inspires thoughts of exotic, little visited lands beyond the reach of most travelers. It is a country steeped in Buddhism, so much so that it permeates every facet of daily life. And that’s exactly what I envisioned when I first realized that I’d be taking a trip there to teach the enthusiastic staff at the Bhutan Youth Development Fund in Thimphu, the capital. I imagined pristine monasteries perched on cliffsides, temples with thousand-armed deities never seen outside their country, small rural villages dependent on subsistence farming, people in colorful national dress eager to talk to me. And yaks. Truth is, when I finally arrived, I was not disappointed. I even met a few yaks.

I first found out about the Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF) from a post on a networking site for women in tech that I belong to. YDF was looking for two volunteers to help with their marketing communications: a graphic designer, and a web developer. Oh, and this assignment would be on site. In Bhutan. I immediately jumped on Google Earth to make sure I knew exactly where Bhutan was. Yep, that’s where I thought. It’s far. If the volunteer could cover their airfare, YDF would take of feeding you and housing you. It almost sounded too good to be true, but I applied anyway and was chosen to work with the Director of Communications to improve and enhance their logo and design their annual report.  It’s the kind of project some graphic designers enjoy tremendously: to define the look, tone and feel of an organization, and shape their public image via their communications materials.

Over many weeks of emails getting acquainted and making recommendations, we agreed that much work could be done remotely, but that I would visit at a later date to train the staff on design and desktop publishing so they could pick up where I left off.  That date finally arrived in November 2008.

The time I spent there really touched me in ways I wasn’t quite expecting. Before I knew it, I was pledging to raise money and start an art program in one of their high schools, and that’s how I started Brushes for Bhutan, an organization aimed at providing art education to kids in remote areas of Bhutan. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll tell you about why art matters to young people, and what happens when we take a risk and go a little — sometimes a lot — further afield than what we’re used to.

Until then, I’ll leave you with this quote by Seneca:
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

And if you’d like to see more photos of Bhutan, visit my Flickr album.

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