A lama in Ura in central Bhutan says he has seen a lot of changes since the project was launched. "Monks used to chew a lot of doma (beetle nut) and smoke. The religion and health talks have drastically reduced this," he said.
Religion and health bring changes
Tashi is a pow (shaman) from a small community near the village of Tang in Bumthang in central Bhutan. He was a monk before becoming a traditional healer, having learnt how to treat the sick by consulting the scriptures.
Tashi, 35, is one of 25 participants at the religion and health workshop held in the Tang monastery. When he was 18, he became sick and the lamas advised him to become a pow to help heal others.
Hesitant at first, Tashi quickly found that people consult him for all sorts of illness, and is always very busy. His cures begin with a ritual, after which he can tell if a person is attacked by a spirit, or if it is a common disease.
If patients are not cured after the rites, he will quickly refer them to hospital. "I'm sure I will be able to use what I have learnt at the religion and health workshop," said Tashi who, together with several other religious practitioners at the session have volunteered to become health care workers in the community.
Commitment to promoting health care comes from the highest level in the clergy. The country's spiritual leader, the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot), has publicly endorsed health messages such as family planning, and promoted the use of iodized salt to prevent goitre, mental retardation and other disorders due to iodine deficiency.
The Je Khenpo has also actively discouraged the consumption of tobacco and alcohol. All these initiatives have raised the awareness and the standards of health and hygiene within the religious community, starting with the young novitiates.
Another major initiative is the plan to incorporate health and hygiene into the monastic curriculum. The religion and health programme has already improved water and sanitation facilities in 15 monastic institutions, thus equipping the religious community to be role models for lay people.
Members of the monastery are also keeping their environment cleaner and practising better personal hygiene. The programme has promoted more effective interaction between the clergy and the people, greatly enhancing their awareness of health related issues.
At the practical level, for example, a lama from remote Kunzanglindrak in the western Bhutanese district of Wangduephrodang, two days walk from the nearest road, points out the need for greater family planning efforts within his own community.
"The families there raise cattle for a living and do not have large land holdings," Lam Kaka points out. "At the same time, they have large families. We must encourage smaller families."
Meanwhile, in Bumthang, a group of traditional healers have teamed up with the district's health workers to conduct health promotion meetings among the villagers, proving the success of their own training.
According to the programme coordinator, Geylong (Monk) Tashi Dhendup, the programme has laid a strong foundation for health promotion within Bhutan's religious community. There is visible change in attitude among this influential group of monks, nuns, traditional practitioners and healers.
Apart from the project's health education activities, the monk body recently decided to take up community development work. This experiment is inspired by a visit to Thailand, where monks support communty development activities.
The Bhutanese monks decided they would also like to help poor families in a similar manner, providing more practical help apart from performing ceremonies and meditating, traditional ways monks look after the well-being of the people.
A pilot project was launched in the district of Trongsa recently aimed at expanding the role of monks in the field of social promotion. The first of its kind in the country, it would help integrate poor households into mainstream Bhutanese society with the guidance of monks.
< Previous | Continue >