With the aim and hope to encourage other Persons With Disabilities, four groups comprising of 45 persons with disabilities, have started four different businesses in Thimphu. The businesses include bakery called Healthy Options in Motithang, Lhagoe Tailoring in Olakha, a candy production house in Hongkong Market and Kuenphel Entertainment that also provides music tuition in Pamtsho.
The project was led by the Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) with support from UNDP and KOICA. The people with disabilities engaged in the group businesses recently received training in various vocational and entrepreneurial skills through trainings initiated by the DPO in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources.
To help them immediately utilize the newly acquired skills, UNDP and KOICA provided a set of candy manufacturing equipment, bakery and musical instruments, and 17 tailoring sets.
The initiative is expected to not only encourage and uplift the lives of persons with disabilities, but also substantially contribute towards efforts to integrate them into the labour market. It will also help in the elimination of stigma, discrimination and exclusion facing the differently abled community.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of DPO, Sonam Gyamtsho, said, “This project is expected to bring a big shift in the way both persons with disabilities, themselves, as well as the society see persons with disabilities. They are often seen as not capable of working and leading an independent life.”
He also said that they want to change this negative perception through the project, and contribute towards building a truly inclusive society where the persons with disabilities are economically empowered, and ensure that their rights are respected and realized.
The Resident Representative of UNDP, Azusa Kubota, said that the Bhutan Vulnerability Baseline Assessment 2016 identifies persons with disabilities as one of the vulnerable groups, and highlights stigma, discrimination and exclusion as key challenges facing them.
She said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the economic vulnerabilities of persons with disabilities. Coupled with the persistent challenges of gender inequality and discrimination, the empowerment of the people with disabilities, particularly amongst women and girls, is critical.”
Although Bhutan has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD), the country is yet to ratify it, she said, adding that they must do more in terms of coming up with targeted programs to enhance employability of the persons with disabilities, and ensuring sustainability such initiatives led by them.
“This all seems impractical at the time of the COVID-19 crisis, where difficult choices must be made in resource allocation. However, by consciously mainstreaming the needs of the people with disabilities in all policies and programs, and embracing the whole of the government and society approach, I can remain hopeful and confident,” she added.
IT and Communication Officer at DOP, Dorji Phuntsho, said that traditionally, persons with disabilities face persistently lower rates of employment and earn significantly lower wages compared to their peers without disabilities.
He said, “Within the disability fraternity of Bhutan, due to the pandemic, 60 percent of our beneficiaries who were working in various private sector have either lost their jobs or are left at home without salary. This was and is the greatest blow.”
Though they have been able to provide critical skills training to 45 people with support from MoLHR, ADB SET-UP and OPDs, the majority of persons with disabilities are associated with poverty, whereby without the post training support, it was difficult for them to implement their skills.
He said, UNDP, GNHC and KOICA have considered and provided equipment support to DPO, which been have been set up in respective business venues.
“The initiative will ensure the skills acquired by them through the training are immediately put to use for their economic empowerment. This will also contribute towards efforts to integrate them into the labour market,” he said.
He further added that it will also help in the elimination of stigma, discrimination and exclusion faced by persons with disabilities in the society.
A member of Lhagoe Tailoring with hearing disability, Dawa Dema, said the skills she has acquired will enable her, and her friends, to stand on their own feet.
“We will prove that persons with disabilities can work and lead independent lives, like any other person, given an opportunity,” said Dawa Dema.
In the same vein, Kuenga Dorji, a member of the candy business who has blindness said creating gainful employment opportunities for Persons With Disabilities is important. He said, “It enables us to be independent and reduce the social burden that we place on our families and the society.”
According to the Bhutan Vulnerability Baseline Assessment 2016, pervasive negative attitude, such as stigma, discrimination and exclusion remains a major challenge facing the PWDs. As per the 2017 Population and Housing Census, 15,567 Bhutanese (2.1 percent of Bhutan’s population) live with some form of disabilities.