Bhutan has many foreign friends but perhaps no one has done as much as Ambassador Harald N. Nestroy in terms of the number of projects and the funds raised by him through Pro Bhutan.
Harald who is from Germany, and the Executive Chairman of Pro Bhutan, Germany shared his memorable journey of 35 years of personal relations with Bhutan, and his contributions to the country since 1987.
Nestroy shared that he first visited Bhutan in 1987 on a culture and trekking tour. This is when he met Dungtsho Pema Dorji and witnessed some of his stunning, apparently miracles in traditional Bhutanese Medicine.
After Nestroy had shared the details of a friend’s illness to Dungtsho Pema Dorji, the Dungtsho meditated and prepared herbal medicines for the friend. Nestroy was told that the friend need not require any other medication for his illness after taking the herbal medicines.
After five weeks in Bhutan, Nestroy went back to Germany and contacted his friend to hand over the herbal medication, and later found out that his friend was healed, exactly as Dungtsho Pema Dorji had said. This healing started his urgent desire to be linked to Bhutan, and particularly, with the traditional medicines.
In 1990, Nestroy shared that he met with an accident, and where the insurance company compensated him with modest amount of money, and that gave the impulse to do some small project in Bhutan, particularly in traditional medicine.
The then ambassador in Geneva Dasho Paljor J Dorji ( Dasho Benji) and late Lyonpo Dawa Tshering, the then Foreign Minister, invited Nestroy to Bhutan and to present his idea for a medical project to build a Basic Health Unit (BHU).
Together with his brother-in-law Dr Werner Haring and five friends, they founded an NGO in 1992, which was named Pro Bhutan, Germany. When Nestroy and the founders received a large amount of donations, they upgraded their plan of building a BHU to building the Punakha hospital.
In 1993, the construction of Punakha hospital was started and was inaugurated in 1996 by the then health and education minister Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup and graced by HH Je Khenpo.
The Punakha hospital also served as a field training center for medical staff (1999), policlinic for out-patients, ward with additional 20 beds (2003), and upgraded with a canteen and new kitchen house (2013) and emergency unit.
A number of smaller additions and donations of equipment and long or medium turn secondment of German doctors and technical staff, one of them Dr John Meixner who has opted Bhutan to be his permanent home.
Nestroy said the third hospital of the country in Punakha made a great impact in those days, and the hospital’s design was used for two other hospitals in the country.
In 2003, the Wangsel Institute in Khaling was extended and built a unit of sign language research and development and contributed various equipment.
Also, various contributions (1 girl’s and 1 boys’ hostel, dining hall, kitchen house, followed by donations of equipment (cold, hot filtered water dispensers, waking sticks for blind) were made in Muenselling Institute.
He was behind the creation of the Wangsel Institute for Hearing-impaired Children in Paro, Bhutan
He shared when Wangsel Institute started, there were no structure for taking care in the learning sense of children and also there were no sign languages. “I think Wangsel institute for children with hearing impairment had a great impact because it also became for the time a subject for the public. It is also one project; I am attached to it most emotionally because I saw the children grow. It started very good long time ago, and we have the first graduates who try to do something for their future,” said Nestroy.
The most spectacular, and of international reputation, is the reconstruction of Bazam in Punakha, which was also the most challenging project.
Building the Bazam was not only an engineering feet combing traditional and modern architecture as the river had become widened after the earlier Punakha floods, but also a lot funds were raised and spent for the project.
The Bazam today is one of the most attractive features of the Punakha Dzong.
Nestroy also shared his future projects in Bhutan. One special project just has begun, a-108 Hermitage in the mountains above Punakha under the Patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. The construction of the Lam’s residence and 3 Tshamkhang, made possible by a special donation from the most generous private German major donor Dr Volker Janicke.
Other projects are mostly in the form of equipment support.
“It is my wife Angelika and mine’s 22nd visit to Bhutan, and the reward we get is an enormous satisfaction, and hopefully, in the future, that we can contribute something to maintain Bhutan’s unique culture in the world, and especially, young children with hearing impairment. Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup and Ashi Rinchen Choden also hosted Angelika and my marriage at their residence in November 1999, and were our Best man and Bridesmaid, another step to our tight emotional attachment to Bhutan. Bhutan is my second home, and we are so attached to the country,” said Nestroy.
“Also, all the projects in Bhutan were initiated by Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup and Angelika Nestroy has been very supportive and would not have been successful without her presence,” said Nestroy.
His Majesty The King recognized and honored Pro Bhutan, Germany for their philanthropic dedication to the Kingdom and the people of Bhutan by bestowing, at the occasion of the celebrations of the National Day on 17th December 2015 in Paro, the National Order of Merit (Gold) on Ambassador (Rtd) Harald N Nestroy, Executive Chairman of Pro Bhutan, Germany.
Pro Bhutan, Germany, established 1992, is a German philanthropic NGO, recognized by the Royal Government of Bhutan and, since then, has carried out humanitarian projects in the fields of health, of education (with emphasis a blind and hearing-impaired children), or for preservation of cultural heritage in Bhutan.
The project has been involved in supporting and providing equipment for Museum on the history of Bhutanese Bazams, Dechen Phodrang monastery, Bjachung Karmo Nunnery above Punakha, Central School Zhemgang, Central School Sonamthang, Panbang, Haa Valley Co-operative of unemployed Young Farmers, Build Bhutan etc.
The German Embassy in New Delhi, in particular, since establishment of diplomatic relations November 2021 also accredited in Bhutan, fully supports the activities of Pro Bhutan, Germany, including financial contributions for a number of smaller projects in various fields in Bhutan.
The total expenditure for all 15 projects carried out till end of 2022 is Nu 425 million.