“I have been working in Bhutan for almost three years in total, pre- and post-COVID-19 as a JICA volunteer. I teach handicrafts at Draktsho, a vocational training center for disabled youth and children. Together with my fellow teachers and students, I make stuffed animals, card cases and other handicrafts, which we distribute to hotels and other institutions. The proceeds help to fund Draktsho’s operations. As orders have increased and production cannot keep up with the demand, graduates are also responsible for production at home.
Prior to my time in Bhutan, I devoted nearly 20 years to working in Sri Lanka. I graduated from a design college and gained expertise in dressmaking and design. I made a stuffed animal for the first time in my life when I came to Bhutan. At first, I thought I was in trouble because I was asked to do something I had no experience with at all, but the same goes for clothes, from flat to three-dimensional, so I commercialized the animals and dolls one by one as requested by my head. So far, I have made about 10 animal species, including the takin and black necked crane, which represent Bhutan, the Four Friends from Buddhist mythology, endangered tigers, snow leopards and red pandas. Some dressed in the Bhutanese attire, gho and kira.
I even had the privilege of designing the UN mascot Dinosaur for climate change, which was the most difficult one to make. As the theme is climate change, we were asked to put waste inside. It was very difficult to hold the balance as it was large in size and the waste was heavier than cotton. Some of the students I’ve taught have received financial support from the Bhutan Foundation and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment to start their own businesses, achieving self-sufficiency. This outcome fills me with immense pride as an instructor.
During the pandemic, Draktsho collaborated with JICA and distributed over 2000 masks to counterpart offices, government officials, Dessups and the public. Although I was in Japan at the time, I managed to send sample masks to Draktsho to support them. When I first arrived in Bhutan, I faced challenges because many individuals lacked basic skills. However, over time, significant improvements were made, and work is now efficiently distributed according to the abilities of each class. In Bhutan, acquiring necessary resources can be challenging. To address this, I collaborate with Fab Lab CST to make the eyes and nose for the stuffed toys.
I’ve also had fruitful collaborations with two other JICA volunteers. The first involved resizing uniforms for Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCL) workers. I made a sample of one of the garments in a smaller size and used it as a reference to have over 60 uniforms altered to a smaller size by a tailor in town. Another collaboration involved working with a physiotherapist JICA volunteer to create “empathy bellies jacket”. A friend of mine (JICA volunteer) who works in the Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck Mother and Child Hospital asked me to make a jacket so that men can understand how hard it is to be a pregnant woman, so I cooperated and made it.”

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