In November 2008, I had the opportunity to visit Bhutan as a volunteer with the Youth Development Fund, an NGO whose mission is to advance the needs of youth in this tiny Himalayan kingdom. I was delighted to discover education is free in Bhutan, even at the university level, and how well this country takes care of its young people, their “most precious resource.” For being such a strong First World nation like the US, we have a lot to learn from this developing southeast Asian nation, a country with a population smaller than my home city of San Francisco and no bigger than the state of Indiana. Their development goals put youth first and foremost, and after a few weeks there, I began to understand why.
For centuries, Bhutan had remained closed to the outside world due in part to their geographic remoteness, but developments have increasingly modernized some urban areas of the country. Progress had been slow for this mountain kingdom. The first paved roads were constructed in the 1960s, its only international airport opened in 1983, and it wasn’t until 1999 that television was first introduced. While progress has been moderately good, the Royal Government has adopted a very cautious approach to opening its borders in an effort to avoid the negative impact of tourism on the nation’s traditional culture, identity, and environment. Bhutan ranks among the most biodiverse countries in the world, with 72% of the country covered with forests and a government policy to maintain this figure at no less than 60%.
But it’s not just accessible education and lots of trees that makes this nation so unique. At its core is a government committed to building an economy that serves Bhutan’s culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. Known as Gross National Happiness, this concept is founded on sustainable development, preservation of cultural values, conservation, and good governance. It is a concept that affects even the youngest members of society, for in a nation’s children lie its hope for the future. When a country invests greatly in their young people, it always succeeds. When our children flourish, we create resourceful citizens of tomorrow who give back to their communities and make the world a better place for us all.
For now, I’ll leave you with this quote by Lee Iacocca:
“In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsibility anyone could have.”