Thank you Aum Pek for the introduction. Well, I am a civil servant by day and a citizen volunteer after my office hours and on weekends and holidays.
2015 has been a very special year for the Bhutanese in so many ways. Firstly, we just celebrated the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo on 11th November 2015. Secondly His Majesty announced the most grandest of news of an heir to the throne- the 6th hereditary King of Bhutan to His Majesty and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen.
While Bhutanese celebrated the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty The Great Fourth, we are equally aware that it is the 50th anniversary of the two International Covenants on Human Rights: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both of which were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966.
Today is the international day of Human Rights and the theme adopted by the world is “Our Rights. Our Freedom. Always.” I am particularly happy to note that our organization in Bhutan has adapted the theme to suit in our context in bringing the theme as, “Rights and Duties in a GNH Context.”
We are so fond of speaking about our rights but we shy away from talking about our duties. Even as we look at our Constitution, the Article 7 spells out 23 fundamental rights and Article 8 spells out only 11 fundamental duties. This is a clear indication that citizens are given more rights than asked of duty.
Today I will be talking about civic rights and duties and citizen volunteerism is all about knowing our duties vis-sa-vis our rights.
Well according to me, Civic rights mean so many things starting from right to life, liberty, family, education, freedom of press, equality before law, freedom of speech and conscience, right to basic sanitation and hygiene, right to clean public toilets, right to accessible trash bins in and around the city and so on.
Civic rights are necessary for an individual to lead a happy, contented and progressive life in society.
However, my talk will focus only on rights to basic sanitation and hygiene and clean public toilets because these are subjects close to my heart and I have firsthand experience of cleaning public toilets in Thimphu as a volunteer in Bhutan Toilet Org.
Bhutan Toilet Org. is founded by Mr. Pasang Tshering, a teacher at the Royal Academy in Paro. He is not only a prolific blogger but also an active social activist. I coordinated the cleaning of six public toilets in Thimphu as a volunteer. We have had about 30 plus volunteers.
While we had so many dreams and wishes, all we could do was clean the 6 public toilets in Thimphu. We were working on zero budgets. I had to look for sponsors to fund us so that we could buy the cleaning materials and treat the volunteers to tea, refreshments and lunch.
It is not easy looking out for fund when you are taking an initiative to improve the lives of public. We get about 2 fund givers when we knock about 200 doors. Our very own Chief Guest today was gracious to grant us fund in Lynpo’s capacity as the President of Bhutan-Denmark Friendship Association. And yes, there came some good souls who donated fund. During the time of our volunteer service, we realized that while the state and the government has provided good facilities in terms of public toilet, it was the users who had not maintained well. For instance, the public toilets at the Memorial Chorten were in very good shape. But still the toilet was in very bad shape. There was 24×7 water supply and a cleaner or toilet manager on duty. But when we interviewed the manager, it was found that the users were very unfriendly. On the other hand while there was a good structure in terms of toilet facilities, they were not found user friendly to senior and elderly citizens.
My favourite spot is the toilets at the cremation ground. That is a place people go out of despair and not out of choice and I found that the public toilets there cannot be used by people. I had to be at the cremation ground at the time when my mother in-law expired and I felt a great need to relieve. When I went to use the toilet, I noted that there was not a single place to place your feet because poops were out everywhere and the entrance was blocked by the poops. I took the pictures of the toilet condition and posted them on face book telling people to look at the situation. The next day I found that a huge fire fighter truck was there and the toilets were spic and span. That one incident inspired me so much. I just realized that we can make a difference if we take actions and not wait for the government or agencies to do things.
Anyways, we presented our verbal reports to Dasho Thrompon of Thimphu and Hon’ble Lyonpo Dorji Choden of the Ministry of Works and Human Settlements. They were very positive of the reports we presented and encouraged us even more when they said they will follow up on all the recommendations when we present them with a written report. Now that’s what I would call a citizen volunteerism and civic duties to our community, society and the nation. While providing good and adequate facilities are the civic rights of the citizen, it is the civic duty of every individual to maintain good user habits and maintain the public properties like that of our own.
Similarly, going out and reaching the certain sections of people who are left in poverty is being a responsible citizen. People have the right to dignity in society, they have the right to earn their livelihood, they have the right to basic necessities and so on. In my capacity as a citizen volunteer, I have been doing other social services like doing book drives, shoe drives, clothes drive and even attending to senior citizens who are lonely and want of friendship and affection. I derive the life’s greatest satisfaction doing these works.
Therefore, as I see many young faces here, I would like to urge you all to volunteer your service whenever you can. Look out for agencies, organization or an individual or group of people who organize such activities. Be a part of them. And whatever you do, do it out of your heart without any expectations. You know, volunteerism is all about giving your time and labour with the expectation of any reward.
For our toilet volunteers, the Bhutan Toilet Org. is giving a very unique and beautiful certificate that has not been given so far to anyone. It is called Citizen Volunteerism. You see such kind of certificates will help you in your career or when you apply for your studies. But do not do things just for certificates. Do it for yourself. Do it for your growth. Volunteering is where you will learn new skills and talents and build your social circles and expand your circle of influence. Do it for the community, society and the nation as a give back. Some day you will see your service rewarded.
That is all I have to say for now. Thank you.