Bridging Health and Tradition: Empowering Monastic Communities

In a picturesque corner of Punakha, nestled within the serene walls of the Wolakha Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery, a transformative event unfolded on June 22. Led by dedicated volunteers from JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), in collaboration with local monastic leaders, a pioneering health and hygiene program ignited a wave of learning and empowerment among Bhutan’s monks and nuns.

For many like Shacha Wangmo, a 29-year-old nun steeped in the rhythms of monastic life, the day marked a revelation. Until recently, she, like many others, was aware only of traditional sanitary pads. However, through the initiative organized at the nunnery, she and her peers were introduced to a spectrum of menstrual hygiene products—from tampons to menstrual cups—previously unknown to them.

The program itself was a marvel of organization and inclusivity. Over 200 participants, including nuns from Wolakha Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup and monks from Tadzongang Wangrab Lobsel Sherubling Lhakhang in Wangdue, gathered eagerly for a day split into two dynamic sessions. Morning sessions engaged monks in activities ranging from aerobic dance to discussions on mental health—a critical focus given the unique psychological challenges of monastic life.

“It is my first time attending such a program, and I am happy that I could attend. Otherwise, I would not know the importance of health and hygiene,” remarked Tandin Tshewang, a 16-year-old monk from Rinchengang, Wangdue, reflecting the sentiment of newfound awareness among the participants.

The afternoon session was equally impactful, focusing on the nuns’ specific health needs. Divided into groups, they received comprehensive education on menstrual hygiene, sanitation practices, and the benefits of a balanced diet. This segment, lasting over 45 minutes each, provided practical insights that resonated deeply within the monastic community.

Namgay Dema, hailing from Kabjisa, shared her thoughts on the day’s revelations: “With the additional knowledge about nutrients, we are more careful about maintaining fitness and what we eat.”

Kuenzang Dorji Tangbi, the JICA program officer, underscored the significance of this initiative beyond its immediate impact: “If successful, similar programs will be extended to other regions, starting from Haa. The feedback and participation from monks and nuns are crucial for understanding their unique needs and ensuring the sustainability of health interventions in Bhutan.”

Indeed, the event marked more than just a day of learning—it represented a bridge between tradition and modernity, enriching the lives of those who uphold Bhutan’s spiritual heritage. As Shacha Wangmo expressed her newfound enthusiasm for incorporating aerobic dance into daily routines, it became clear that this initiative had not only imparted knowledge but also ignited a spirit of holistic well-being among Bhutan’s devoted monastic communities.

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