The Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD)

The mission of BCMD is to nurture a culture of democracy by strengthening media, expanding public discourse, and providing essential training and education for key persons who will have a direct impact on Bhutan's democratic transition and the creation of democratic institutions.
Oct 21, 2013

Progress Report #5: Activities at the Media Lab

What can you do to further strengthen out country?
What can you do to further strengthen out country?

Dear Friends, Donors and Supporters:

With your continuous support and well wishes, our Media Lab continues to provide not just the necessary tools and equipment for our youth but also an enabling environment for all of us to build a community. We have been able to carry out various activities over these past 3 months at the Media Lab and some of the activities have resulted in bringing about social changes and an emergence of the first ever Youth Parliament initiative in Bhutan.

These are some of the brief overview of our activities carried out at the Media Lab:

  • Community Mapping Follow up, (August-October): In an ambitious effort to map 5 different communities in Thimphu, the community mapping project which involved 25 youths earlier in July ended successfully with all of our youth partners learning the skills to map communities, find not just the problems in those communities but also solutions to those problems. In doing so, they also learnt to appreciate the good things about the communities. As a follow up on the workshop, we carried out two meetings at the Media Lab with our youth partners, the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) and the residents from the communities to work towards the formation of a Neighborhood Watch Group. We are currently working with the Royal Bhutan Police, Youth workers, concerned stakeholders and our youth to present the concept of Neighborhood Watch Group to the communities in Thimphu. Once we have developed a strategy with our stakeholders, we will be carrying out an orientation program for the residents and present to them the concept of Neighborhood Watch Group. (Check out the Community Mapping Video) We are also preparing for an exhibition of the workshop at the Media Lab. 
  • Creative writing session (August): Two leading journalists from India, Sathya Saran and Ratnottama Sengupta, led a short but insightful, creative writing workshop at the Media Lab for 12 youths, journalists and nonprofit workers. The workshop discussed how to structure articles creatively, from hooking the reader at the beginning to leaving enduring messages at the end. Participants then worked on short exercises to build their descriptive capacity to ‘show and not tell’. The participants were also encouraged to practice their writing through blogging.  
  • Building Community (August-September): As a part of our community building activities at the Media Lab, we screened a film ‘The Trotsky’ a comedy about a youth who, thinking he is the reincarnation of Russian Revolutionary Leon Trostky, tries to mobilize students in his high school to unionize. The screening was followed by discussion among the participants. We also hosted a youth discussion forum on a series of learnings to strengthen community. This focused on the first habit of the heart that recognises the interdependence of all things, persons, and situations. During the forum, we reflected on how we can create a society that embeds the truth of inter-connectedness more deeply and fully. The habits of the heart is adapted from the book ‘The Heart of Democracy’ by Parker J. Palmer and then reframed to Bhutanese context. After the youth discussion we carried on with one of our open mic nights.  
  • Commemorating International Democracy Day (September 15): We conducted a forum themed ‘Taking Social Action for Social Change’ to highlight the importance of initiative of regular citizens in addressing social needs in the country. More than 70 students and recent graduates filled the lab when they attended the forum. We had young entrepreneurs and social workers talk to our participants about their experience and the kind of work they do and why they do it. The 7 winners of BCMD’s Social Action Project challenge were announced at the forum. The challenge invited citizens to put forward proposals for innovative grassroots projects that addressed a social problem. BCMD will be learning from the projects to evluate how they help to strengthen youth engagement. 
  • Media sensitization for Gewog Administrative Officers (GAOs): BCMD conducted two workshops on ‘Media Sensitisation’ for GAOs on 29th September and 6th October 2013. Both the workshops were a three-day workshop where the final day of both the workshops were conducted at the Media Lab to sentisise the GAOs about social media, citizen journalism and creating and/or writing a blog.
  • Youth parlaiment InitiativeThe Media Lab has helped to incubate and inspire ideas for a proposed youth        parliament, which BCMD is supporting as an initiative. Two of our youth partners, Phub Dorji and Kencho Dorji, high school graduates, presented their ideas at the lab on the proposed Youth Parliament. School principals, teachers, representatives from Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) and youth social workers attended the discussions at the media lab. BCMD is supporting the piloting of the first ever Youth Parliament in the country. We will be providing the Media Lab as a space for the youths to come together and work on this initiative. A training workshop is being planned to begin in winter to train members of the Youth Parliament to give them the skills required to carry on this initiative such as debating and dialogue, mapping of youth priorities, policy planning and investigative/citizen journalism skills.

We thank you for your continuous support that has enabled BCMD to continue inspiring youth people in Bhutan to have a voice and become advocates for social change.

"Do not talk bad about something or somebody but r
"Do not talk bad about something or somebody but r
GAOs during a cafe conversation on social media.
GAOs during a cafe conversation on social media.
Jul 19, 2013

Progress Report #4: The Lab Starts to Flourish

Sawan practices his speech at the Google workshop
Sawan practices his speech at the Google workshop

Dear Friends, Donors, and Supporters: 

Since the March 29 launch, the Media Lab has started to shape up as the intentional learning space that we'd originally envisioned. Week after week, we've been able to hold a number of innovative media trainings and community building events for over 150 youth. Our experience of the past 3 months has confirmed our intuitions - that Bhutanese youth have immense creative potentials and civic awareness that can be harnessed for the good of Bhutan's democracy.

A brief overview of what we've been able to accomplish:

  • Creating a Responsive-Learning Environment. In May, we initiated two 6-week long introductory courses in photography and public speaking, both of which resulted from our consultations with youth. 25 youth from high schools are participating in the courses, which are going into their final week. (Check out some of their photos!)
  • Training Advocates and Citizen Journalists: From July 1st to 11th, we undertook an ambitious community mapping project in Thimphu - a process of exploring the issues confronting communities, as well as the strengths that keep them afloat. These stories, which include audio and photographic material, were then uploaded onto a digital map where the can be publicly viewed. 21 youth from high schools and colleges throughout Bhutan participated in the project, which resulted in a public presentation to leaders and policymakers. The data is currently being used to explore interventions that may improve the community.  
  • Offering Trainings from Visiting Professionals: In May, visiting professionals from Google led a two-day workshop on the Creative Skills for Innovation (CSI) process to improve the creative thinking skills of 15 youth in Thimphu. In June, two professional filmmakers led an intensive workshop on creating Micro-documentaries - 1-2 minute inspiring documentary video stories that connect audiences to solutions that lead to the world they envision.
  • Building Community: We regularly host Open Mic nights and discussion forums to give youth an opportunity to express themselves, share stories, and discuss important issues.

Looking ahead, we plan to further develop the Media Lab to enable youth to access the facilities on a consistent basis and take ownership of what goes on. Currently, we are in the process of hiring a Media Lab coordinator - someone who we will train and employ to keep the Lab open 6 days a week (as opposed to being open only on the weekends, as it currently is). The coordinator will help us develop the curriculum for our Media Guild program, a structured program geared towards training empowered, media literate citizens.

Your continued support will make it possible for us to hire the coordinator and reach even more youth!

Thank you and Tashi Delek :-)

Kelzang edits his micro-documentary on a Lab Mac
Kelzang edits his micro-documentary on a Lab Mac
Youth play Pac-Man using Makey-Makey
Youth play Pac-Man using Makey-Makey
Interviewing Election Commissioner for a story
Interviewing Election Commissioner for a story
Groups present findings from community mapping
Groups present findings from community mapping
Apr 10, 2013

Progress Report #3: We have finally launched!

The Minister of Education helps us open the Lab!
The Minister of Education helps us open the Lab!

Bhutanese youth seeking opportunities for engagement now have a reason to get excited – the Media Lab is now open for exploration! On Friday, March 29, we were joined by 85 of our friends in high schools, Civil Society Organizations, the media fraternity, and in government to officially launch the Media Lab, a space dedicated to giving young people a voice through digital media.

Youth members of our Media Lab Design Team began the event by sharing a few words about the origin and purpose of the space. “As of now in Bhutan, we are given the notion that creative pursuits like photography have no scope,” One remarked. “With the Lab, we hope to change that.” The vision of the Lab, after all, was a collective one born in collaboration with a number of inspiring youth like the members on our design team committed to bringing change to Bhutan.

Minister of Education Lyonpo Thakur Singh Powdyel, our chief guest for the evening, also talked about democracy and the importance of youth voice and citizen participation in a democracy. “I would like to hope that this Media Lab grows as a powerful instrument in engaging young people to discover much more responsible forums that will enable them to articulate their voice,” Lyonpo remarked. Lyonpo also cautioned youth to refrain from the impulse to “make noise”.

We then opened the Lab for a public viewing, and showed our guests around the main areas of the space – the upstairs work bench/exhibit, the reception area, the reading and discussion lounge, and the computer workspace. With everyone standing in the main hall, we surprised young and budding photographer Jamyang Yeshi – someone deeply inspired during our workshops – with a DSLR camera contributed to us by PHOTOKidz Singapore.

For youth, we announced the call for membership. To keep the space intentional, we are requiring all youth interested in using the space to go through a process for becoming a member – filling out an application, taking an orientation, and, eventually, contributing a small monthly fee. By the end of the night, all 60 of our applications were gone!

The event concluded with an “Open Mic Night” event, an opportunity for anyone to just walk on the stage, share their experiences, read a poem or a story, sing a song or play an instrument – basically, an opportunity for free expression. After a nervy start, people eventually caught the drift of the idea and started opening up. Performances included:

  • Ganchu, an RJ and Entrepreneur at Radio Valley, broke the ice by reading a personal poem about an anonymous girl.
  • Thoepaga and Yeshey, young teachers, performed an acoustic version of their song, “Mawongpi Miser”
  • Supe, an RJ, gave an amusing reading of “McCavity”, one of the rare T.S. Elliot poems intended for children
  • Tashi Namgay, a social worker and director of the Bhutan Kidney Foundation, shared touching stories about his work with kidney patients
  • Local musician Zhaw, along with Yeshey and Neten, sang two songs, including the popular “Kencho Sum”
  • Lilly, a middle school student, read a poem
  • Dechen, an architect working with the Tourism Council, sang a few songs

We had such a blast! Truly, we are blessed to have such friends, like you, who helped make all of this possible. Thanks to you, the space is now open (Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays) with programs underway. (Check out the website for more!)

However, our mission is not yet complete. As we are finding, it's much easier to start something than it is to continue and sustain it! While we are looking at ways of generating revenue through membership fees, creating a 'guild' of youth media consultants, and more, we still need your continued support. With your support, we can continue to build on the stock of equipment in the space, to cover the costs of bringing in high-profile local media-makers to run trainings, and, eventually, to even replicate these spaces throughout Bhutan. Consider giving once more to support youth voice in Bhutan's young, and maturing, democracy. 

The Media Lab Logo
The Media Lab Logo
A scene from Open Mic Night
A scene from Open Mic Night
Girls work on their photostories during a workshop
Girls work on their photostories during a workshop

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