The following is a direct report about a project the EUROCAN Foundation financed together with the Bhutan-Canada foundation:
“When I first met Warren, I asked him if he was an angel, because he sure had hair like one.
Golden blonde ringlets that glistened in the sun – just like those Pantene Pro-V commercials.
Apparently, I was close, very close. In the mist of climate change, 25 year-old Warren, working as a secondary school English teacher in Bhutan, acknowledged the farming crisis amongst the people of Gongthung Bhutan and dealt with it head on. Here’s my story with the Canadian hero.
Name: Warren Charles Tanner
Position: Secondary School English Teacher, Bhutan Canada Foundation
GM: How did you end up in Gongthung and what is your role there?
WT: I suppose there are both simple and complex answers to this question.
To begin simply, I found myself in the village of Gongthung, eastern Bhutan, February of this
year, having been placed in the community to teach secondary school English. The Bhutan
Canada Foundation, my employer, has been making a focused effort to help in developing the
country’s educational system through recruiting and placing native English-speaking teachers in
mostly rural areas. In addition to teaching, it’s our responsibility to provide whatever
professional development we might be able to offer. And perhaps informally, it’s up to us to act
as good cultural ambassadors in the cross-cultural exchange of living in a remote Bhutanese
On a more complex note, however, and perhaps more to the heart of the matter, I ended up in
Gonthung after experiencing a profound emotional reaction to the prospect of teaching in
Bhutan. At an international teaching workshop I attended as an undergrad, I was introduced to
the opportunity – as well as the simple fact of the country’s existence, to be frank – and I just
about knew right away that this was what I wanted to do after graduation. I think what really
captured me was Bhutan’s policy of Gross National Happiness (GNH). This remarkable
reevaluation of a country’s understanding of wealth, and the fact that GNP can neither discern
nor cultivate the emotional well being of a nation’s population, caught me hook-line-and-sinker.
I resolved then and there to make the dream a reality, and step-by-step I did what I had to do to become a teacher in Bhutan.
On a more personal note, I think my role here has something to do with learning about myself, the wider world, and my chosen profession while working in the service of the people of Bhutan.
GM: Tell us about your recent kickstarter project and how that is going to influence life in
WT: Absolutely! The inception of project “Grant Gongthung a Greenhouse” really lies in the
Bhutan Canada Foundation’s School Development Program, through which we work to provide
Bhutan’s schools with sustainable, eco-friendly resources for students and teachers alike.
Furthermore, an integral partner in this program is the EUROCAN Foundation – a charitable Body who focuses on conservation issues, particularly as they relate to renewable energies, climate change and sustainability. Through their generosity, each BCF teacher has access to $500 to spearhead one such project, which I naturally jumped at. That being said, I couldn’t help seeing the potential for even greater impact with just a slight boost in funding. After taking the time to reflect on the various needs to be met in the community, and deciding that a greenhouse would be most positively received, it was suggested to me by my brother that I give Kickstarter a whirl. So I did exactly that. To my absolute amazement, we raised $1500 with an opening goal of $600 in 30 days.
I’ve got to admit that it was pretty exhilarating to close out the fundraising campaign with
quadruple the initial donation; I’ve never been responsible for this kind of initiative before. All
things aside, however, if not for the astounding support, faith, and encouragement of family and
friends, none of this would have been possible. Many thanks and lots of love to all those who
As for the greenhouse itself, my partners and I are incredibly confident that it will bring a
number of truly positive changes to the community of Gongthung. Upon arrival in the village,
back in the dry winter month of February, I was immediately struck by the lack of fresh produce, if any at all. As it turns out, the vast majority of agricultural growth occurs within the narrow window that is the monsoon season of June, July, and August. During this time, farmers work terrifically hard to yield the crops that will, hopefully, sustain them for an entire year. In the remaining months, the local diet is limited primarily to rice, potatoes, and dried chilies, with some vegetables shipped in from neighbouring India. Needless to say, a well-balanced diet and
basic nutrition, especially in a school of growing boys and girls, can be quite a challenge in the
Compounding the dietary challenges presented above is the fact that climate change appears to
be shortening the monsoon to a nearly unmanageable length. What was already a small window
of opportunity is getting increasingly smaller. This year’s rainy season, for example, was particularly dry, with local farmers’ crops dying in the fields. Many farmers that I’ve spoken to
look to the future with apprehension. Obviously the prospect of growing substantially less food
in the sole season for it has people worried.
So, into this troublesome mix we’ve decided to throw a greenhouse. First and foremost, we’re
looking to supplement the students’ diets with year-round, locally grown produce. This alone
will be a tremendous victory. What’s more, the vegetables that don’t go toward feeding the
students can be brought to local market, simultaneously providing the outlying community with
veggies while bringing in a humble but nonetheless productive income to the school. And – I
can’t stress it enough – we’ll be capable of growing even in the winter, mitigating some of the
stresses of a lessening monsoon.
But it doesn’t end there; educational opportunities will be a big benefit, as well. With our newly
constructed greenhouse, Gongthung Middle Secondary School will be able to participate for the
first time in Bhutan’s Agricultural and Food Sufficiency Program. Students will be able to learn
first-hand a variety of alternative cultivation and harvest methods, with the hopes that they’ll
share such knowledge with their families beyond the school gates. In addition to this, and
thanks to the overwhelming support our project has garnered, our bonus funds will go toward
excursions to regional agricultural research centres, during which students will not only learn
about operating a greenhouse but the evolving career options that exist in the rapidly changing
agricultural sector, as well.
I’m proud to say that we’ve just recently finished construction, much to the students’ delight.
With only a few minor touches to be made, there’s an air of great optimism surrounding
Gongthung’s new greenhouse and the potential it carries. Only time will tell, but things are
looking pretty encouraging.
GM: Aside from farming challenges, what other climate change related issues are the people of
WT: Although I’ve addressed how the lessening monsoon, as a result of climate change, is
affecting farming, it’s also creating challenges that permeate the daily lives of the people here.
What’s the number one challenge? Water for everyday consumption.
The community of Gongthung gets its water from a source higher up in the mountains, and even though – as I’ve been told – it’s a spring from the mountain itself, we invariably lose access to water during dry spells. Usually it’s the case that in such instances we might go without running water for a day or so, but there have been a handful of such times that have lasted for days, the longest being just under a week. This is why, naturally, we store water. (Saving it for a not-sorainy-day.) Now, Gongthung has a fairly well-established rainwater harvesting infrastructure to allay some of these challenges but, ironically, the lessening monsoon is making it increasingly irrelevant. You can’t harvest rain that doesn’t fall.
I don’t want to create the impression that Gongthung experiences acute water shortage; people
are exceptionally skilled at getting by and things are far from crisis level. That being said, it’s no
small leap of imagination to think that, if climate change continues to affect the length and
intensity of the monsoon season, future residents of Gongthung will experience great difficulty
in accessing water for day-to-day consumption.
GM: As a teacher, what is your greatest concern for future generations?
WT: In approaching this question, the Arcade Fire song “Half Light II” came to mind, in which
they sing, “Pray to God I won’t live to see the death of everything that’s wild.” This lyric really
captures my fears and apprehensions about the future, summing up a kind of lingering dread
about the disappearance of the natural world.
Thinking back on it now, I’m struck by how many educational experiences, as a Canadian
student, I had outside. It seems to be a Canadian rite of passage of sorts, to get out into the
woods or onto the lakes, to learn hands-on in the midst of the wilderness, or at least the great
outdoors. This kind of education starts at a fairly young age in Canada, providing students with
the chance to bear witness to learning and life far beyond the classroom walls. It’s great.
So, naturally, the thought of such opportunities fading away into memories of a past gone by is
pretty terrifying. Students without the chance to enjoy the magic quiet of the forest, or to gaze at a sky impossibly full with stars would be missing out on such crucial elements of growing up.
These are the experiences that connect young people with a lot of the higher order questions that facilitate self-discovery, and they certainly can’t be simulated. If we’re going to continue to get children out of the classroom and into the beautiful wild, then it’s abundantly clear that we’ve got to make lasting efforts to keep these opportunities alive. But without a doubt, a future in which students are cut-off from the roots of things, disconnected from the wild, rugged beauty of life on this planet – a beauty that may cease to exist – scares the daylights out of me. I won’t even begin to address the tougher question: is this already happening?