Growing Up in the Happiest Place on Earth: Bhutan
Project info

During the month of February, I was fortunate to have been one of 20 students selected to participate on an interim service trip to Bhutan for a week. This service trip was in partner with READ Bhutan, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women and children in rural Bhutan receive an education. My group and I traveled to three different cities (Thimphu, Haa, and Paro), visited two READ centers and created one unforgettable trip.

Bhutan is known to be the world's happiest country, and throughout the trip, I was able to see this happiness exhibited through the environment, culture, language (Dzhongka), and food. But most importantly, I was able to see happiness the most through the people.

My submission today shares the story of growing up in the world's happiest country. It begins with an environment setting, and travels through the different stages of life, building on innocence, naivety and relationships.

The story begins with the setting: a rural READ center nestled deep within the mountains of Bhutan's rural wilderness. The prayer flags blowing in the gentle breeze represent the five main colors: red, yellow, white, blue and green. These prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, but rather these prayers will be blown into the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all areas of the earth.

The next photos in the project capture the several children I was fortunate enough to have met while I was at the Yangthang READ Center. The first was a little baby girl. Her grandmother carried her on her back wherever she went; the two were inseparable. The baby girl represents naivety and dependency. She was born into the world to discover all beautiful things, but as of right now in this stage of her life, she's dependant on other people.

The second was a pair of siblings, Small Bean and her little brother, ages 7 and 5 respectively. Small Bean and her little brother represent the purest form of innocence. Their wide eyes show that they've only known and seen the good in the world. They both have bright futures ahead of them. Small Bean and her brother represent the stages in life when one is no longer dependent on others but is still too young to truly understand the world.

The next is a little boy named Jigme; he is 11 years old. Jigme has the biggest passion for photography; unfortunately, because he lives in rural Bhutan, he is unable to buy a camera and pursue his passion and gift of photography. Bhutan is known to have very limited forms of communication and technology because the country is attempting to preserve history and live as peacefully as possible. While I was on the trip, I let Jigme borrow my camera every now and then. His photographs were beautiful. Jigme represents the limits and sacrifices of being a child.

The following photograph is Jigme with his two best friends, Som Nam (12) and Som Som (13). All three boys are photographed wearing a "Gho", a Bhutanese traditional knee-length robe. When these three boys were all together, they represented the mischief seen in all children growing up. However, they also represent the beauty of friendship and brotherhood.

The sixth photograph is one of my favourites. In my mind, I've titled it "the Bro pic". The Bro Pic captures Kinley, Sonam and Wangchu leaning candidly along a man made wooden fence. They represent three friends who have grown up with each other for a long time and know each other by heart. Their arms around each other depict the dependency they all have on each other as "brothers" and as friends.

The last three photographs in the series represent adult life and old age. The monk walking past the prayer wheels in a monastery represents how many of these boys end up becoming monks as an adult. Furthermore, the two grandmas sitting down drinking the famous Bhutanese milk tea represent camaraderie in the late stages of life. The project ends with an old man sitting by himself and spinning a prayer wheel round and round. The prayer wheel represents that life eventually comes full circle and since the main religion in Bhutan is Buddhism, the project can be repeated again and again to represent being reborn into another life.

Bhutan is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I hope you were able to see the beauty of Bhutan through the eyes of my camera lens.