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In the press
Skills of Ronaldo, Zidane help Bhutan people gain skills
by John Kluempers

Olep children are looking towards a brighter future. (Tarayana Foundation, Feb 2007)Olep children are looking towards a brighter future. (Tarayana Foundation, Feb 2007)Poverty alleviation via skills development in Bhutan: Olep community members digging new house foundation. (Tarayana Foundation, Feb 2007)Poverty alleviation via skills development in Bhutan: Olep community members digging new house foundation. (Tarayana Foundation, Feb 2007)
27 February 2007

Thimphu, Bhutan: The Olep people of Bhutan almost certainly do not know much about the soccer heroes Ronaldo or Zinédine Zidane. It is also highly unlikely that AC Milan striker Ronaldo and former French captain Zidane are familiar with the Olep, an ethnic group in the remote Himalayan countryside. Yet, as UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors, the two footballers have proven to be important allies of this Bhutanese minority by participating in the high-profile fund-raising Match Against Poverty.

Part of the proceeds from the Match Against Poverty 2005 has been allocated to assist the Oleg minority group in a remote area in the west central part of the Kingdom of Bhutan. With this project, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Volunteers (UNV) programme are supporting the efforts of the Royal Government to reduce poverty in remote minority communities by providing access to education, better nutrition, sanitation, skill development training, and improved agricultural techniques. This is in line with the Royal Government’s commitment in its Tenth Five Year Plan (2007-2012) to alleviate poverty particularly in the countryside where as much as 38 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

The project is executed locally by the Tarayana Foundation, a non-profit organization supported by UNDP and UNV. The Tarayana Foundation has reached out to the Olep community in the small village of Rukha to improve health and sanitation, facilitate social inclusion and support building local capacities for sustainable livelihoods.

The UNV Programme Officer in Bhutan, Junko Taguchi, knows the rigors that the Olep community endures. She is in regular contact with the Tarayana Foundation and will soon follow the steps of school children in their routine two-day walk to the nearest school.

“The Royal Government of Bhutan is determined to reduce poverty,” Ms. Taguchi says. “But fighting poverty in remote areas is extremely difficult. The children are needed at home to assist in farming and other domestic and income-generating chores. Girls are particularly vulnerable and receive little education, meaning that a high percentage of women are illiterate. That’s why we are supporting Tarayana’s efforts to mobilise community volunteers for participating actively in planning their local development and building basic skills.”

Sonam Pem from the Tarayana Foundation has observed the first fruits of these efforts. Tarayana Foundation is currently supporting all the children enrolled at Sha Taksha school by providing them with uniforms, shoes and stationery.

“With this financial support, families can now afford to send their children to school,” Ms. Pem said. “Once the Bhutanese New Year celebrations are over (in the last week of February), we will begin training community members in basic carpentry and masonry,” she said.

Other planned activities include diversifying agricultural productivity by providing improved, open-pollinated seeds in order to diversify dietary intake and supplement nutritional value. This model project is expected to be replicated elsewhere to support poverty-reduction across Bhutan.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)