Tarayana Foundation and MyBhutan

A Partnership in Benefit

“Tarayana continues to promote the concept of enhancing GNH [Gross National Happiness] through socioeconomic transformation... Our investment in true empowerment of the people is one of the main ingredients for the positive change.” Her Majesty the Queen Mother
Ashi Dorji Wangmo WangchuckFounder of Tarayana Foundation

By booking your trip with MyBhutan, you are directly contributing to bettering the lives of marginalized Bhutanese: MyBhutan gives proceeds from your trip to the Tarayana Foundation, our nonprofit partner. Tarayana Foundation is a registered CSO (Civil Society Organization) that works to uplift and enhance disadvantaged communities in Bhutan. Some 70% of the responsibility for reducing poverty countrywide has been outsourced to Tarayana Foundation by the government.

Yet as a CSO, Tarayana receives no government funding. They are reliant on occasional small grants and private, one-time donations, and this sporadic funding makes it difficult to sustain long-term projects. Exacerbating this is an irony of progress: donors are pulling out because the nation no longer falls under the lowest category of poverty, mostly due to the rapid economic growth that has so benefited Thimphu, the capital city. But many rural communities in Bhutan remain in dire need ofw support. To continue backing projects that benefit vulnerable communities, Tarayana needs a steady, reliable source of funding.

That's where you come in. By planning a journey to the Kingdom of Bhutan on MyBhutan’s platform, you can benefit those in need while simultaneously accessing the most intimate and authentic experience of Bhutan for the best price with the greatest ease.

This philanthropic vision is the beating heart of MyBhutan. Together, let’s work to benefit the beautiful, kind, strong citizens of the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

Tara is a prominent goddess in the local Himalayan Buddhist tradition, an embodiment of the divine compassion of enlightenment, and yana means her path or vehicle — the Tarayana Foundation seeks to create this kind of extraordinary beneficial influence in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon.

Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck established Tarayana Foundation after traveling the country on foot and being deeply moved by witnessing many small, remote communities in need of support for their basic living necessities. The Foundation was formally launched by His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck the Fifth Druk Gyalpo in 2003. Also involved in guiding the vision were board members Her Royal Highness Ashi Sonam Dechan Wangchuck and His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck.

In some of these villages, which may be two to three days’ walk from the closest road, a gap existed in their governmental support. Despite the government’s best efforts in assisting the poor countrywide, some needs went unaddressed in remote areas. For example, education was nationally covered, but children couldn't afford shoes and stationery. Water shortages or infertile land made subsistence farming difficult. A lack of safe housing made it challenging for communities to raise themselves out of poverty.

Her Majesty committed to covering the gap and ensuring that these people were properly cared for and supported. Thus, Tarayana Foundation began.

The first two programs targeted children and the elderly: supplying clothing, shoes, stationery and the like to over 1000 students, and helping older citizens without a family support structure.

With time, Tarayana’s initiatives merged with His Majesty’s programs and expanded into the Comprehensive Community Development Model — an integrated approach to addressing the whole spectrum of basic needs in vulnerable communities, such as housing, education, sanitation, and income generation. After 12 years of testing, the foundation found that this integrated, holistic model was the best way to aid vulnerable communities and help them bring themselves out of poverty in sustainable ways.

Under this model, Tarayana so far has built about a thousand community buildings, used for income generation and safe housing. It promotes green technologies, such as fuel efficient stoves, Eco San dry toilets in water-deprived communities, and solar driers to help preserve food. In the communities where Tarayana creates income generation programs, it also offers financial literacy trainings so that the groups can save collectively — each person gives a portion of their earnings to a group fund used for purchasing new equipment, expanding production facilities, and covering business expenses.

Generally, Tarayana’s interventions run for 2–3 years in order to establish businesses, and then continue as ongoing hands-off assistance. The foundation deploys workers on the ground throughout the country to compassionately oversee and monitor its programs.

Having long been one of the leading CSOs in Bhutan, Tarayana is now being globally recognized for its innovative approaches — most recently as a finalist in the 2015 World Habitat Awards.

Ongoing projects

One project being pilot tested is the Gravity Goods Ropeway, a simple, passive system that uses a carrying container attached to a long cable strung from a remote village to the nearest road. So far, it has been installed in two villages. Without this system, villagers must trek enormous distances with heavy goods on their back, and their produce may spoil by the time they reach the market, rendering it unfit for sale. With the ropeway, they can send goods down the mountain in minutes. The system reduces the need for new roads, cutting costs and eliminating pollution and deforestation issues. Tarayana needs additional financial resources to expand the ropeways.

Tarayana Foundation is piloting micro-hydro power generation systems on small streams, which produce enough electricity for entire communities to use lights, rice cookers, food processing machines, and the like.

In Sarbang, a town in the south of Bhutan, a community resettled in an area with infertile land and had trouble sustaining itself. Here, Tarayana Foundation set up a brick processing facility — the necessary materials are available locally, and the villagers were able to create a sustainable income through selling the bricks to the construction industry. The facility compresses the bricks rather than firing them, as is common elsewhere, making it an environmentally responsible initiative as well. Now, the facility has been handed over entirely to the community — Tarayana merely helps to market the product.

Because nationally-funded schools in Bhutan are only established down to the gewog (like an American county) level, and are set up in the center of each gewog, extremely rural communities far from the center do not have access to these schools. The ECCD (Early Childhood Care and Development) project creates facilities in these remote areas, and staffs them with women without college educations. The teachers are trained for three months in the capital city and then employed. To date, 25 such centers have been created, with six more on the way.

For communities with severe water shortages, Tarayana Foundation implements measures such as installing rooftop rainwater collection systems, improving water storage equipment, and establishing plant species that raise the groundwater table in order to create an additional accessible water source.

In Thimphu, the capital city, the Tarayana Rural Crafts shop sells traditional handicraft products directly from rural communities, and gives the entirety of its profits back to them. It helps with marketing, designing new products, improving quality, and facilitating sales. The products sold here are made the traditional way, with natural components. For example, the shop offers nettle fiber fabrics, made painstakingly by hand and colored with plant dyes; carved items; and yak-hair toys for children. The shop is having difficulty sustaining itself, because it must compete with the many handicraft stores in town selling cheap imported goods and giving commissions to guides for bringing tourists there (as the shop takes no profit, it can’t offer commissions).

The yearly Tarayana Fair in Thimphu sees representatives of all assisted groups coming to the city to market their products, connect with vendors, and exchange information.

Until recently, Tarayana had a micro-loan program that allowed impoverished citizens to create their own businesses — for example, by purchasing the starting materials for cash crop farming, such as cardamom rhizomes. Recipients pay back the loans at rates far lower than those offered by banks or other community members, and get back on their feet financially, long-term. This program remains in high demand by those in need, but additional financial resources are required.