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<-Back to WTN Archives Lost kingdom goes online (AFP)
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Saturday, July 21, 2001



3. Lost kingdom goes online (AFP)


by Robert Holloway (AFP)
(as published in The Australian - 17 July 2001)

THE Internet is starting to change the lives of young people in one of the
poorest and remotest countries, says Sonia Josserand-Mercier, a United Nations
volunteer in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

For the past six months, she has been a computer instructor at the country's
only youth centre, at Motithang, 7km outside the capital, Thimbu.

The centre is in a former hotel, built to house foreign guests during the
coronation of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1974, not long after Bhutan
tentatively opened to the world.

"Bhutan is a tiny country, sandwiched between China and India," says
Josserand-Mercier, who comes from Grenoble in south-east France.

"They had to open up, or they might have been swallowed like Tibet or Sikkim. At
the same time, they are scared of losing their national identity. They are very
cautious about tourism, for instance," she says.

Bhutan got its first Internet connection in 1999, the same year it launched its
national television service. So far, only a few government ministries use email
Josserand-Mercier says.

But five Internet cafes have sprung up in Thimbu, another opened in nearby Paro
this spring, and a seventh has started in central Bhutan.

"It's still very new. The UN sponsored Internet access cards so kids could go
into the cafes and log on without paying," she says.

"It was a great success. Kids were queuing outside, and then teachers started
getting interested.

"We realised that the kids were very much aware of what was happening, but the
teachers didn't have a clue."

The youth centre now sets aside one day a week to train teachers to use
computers.

"Internet cafe training is very expensive. We charge a nominal fee, 300 ngultrum
($14) for 50 hours use," she says.

Josserand-Mercier looks forward to the day when the Internet can be used in
tele-medicine, saying that would help to build an electronic bridge across this
extraordinarily remote country.

"Most of Bhutan is inaccessible, it takes three days to go from Thimbu to the
eastern part of the country - a distance of less than 30Okm."

Tucked between Tibet and the Indian state of Assam at the eastern end of the
Himalayan chain, Bhutan is one of the poorest countries in Asia, with per capita
GDP of $US1341 in 1999.

Electric power should not be an obstacle to developing information technology,
since Bhutan is a net exporter of hydro-generated electricity, selling 1.34
billion kilowatt hours to India in 1998 - four times what it consumed
domestically. But its adult literacy rate of 42 per cent, and combined
educational enrolment rate, 33 per cent, are among the lowest in the world.

It is here the Internet could have its biggest impact in the shortrun.

"When kids come to us, we ask them why they want to do the course. The main
reason is to help them find a job," Josserand-Mercier says.

"There are lots of unemployed youth.

"There are no unemployment benefits, and they have no skills, no experience and
not much hope.

"In the past six months, job ads have started appearing in the newspapers asking
for CVs - that is something totally new for Bhutan.

"It's a good concrete application of computer skills, and it helps to build
self-confidence.

"Of 22 kids in my centre, three found a job and one was accepted for a training
course."


Articles in this Issue:
  1. Beijing returns to quashing enemies (Kyodo)
  2. Hu in Lhasa indicate move to rule Tibet Directly from Beijing (TGIE)
  3. Lost kingdom goes online (AFP)



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