Born in a small village of Ladakh, Wangchuk has gone all the way to prove what one can do with a visionary mind coupled with solid grit and determination. He has designed artificial glaciers, ice stupas, and an alternative education system. A living example of how one can change the world by being a part of a solution rather than worrying about the problem itself. His aim to resolve the issues that people from his region face has brought a major positive impact not only in his region but inspired many across the globe.
If you have watched Aamir Khan’s ‘3 Idiots’ movie, you will get a clue of whom we are talking about.
Humble beginnings and struggles ahead
Born in 1966 and home schooled till 8, Wangchuk recalls it as his best days of life being taught by mother and nature around. His intellectual maturity soon allowed him seats beside elder kids in higher classes. But like all stories, glory, and success follows only after a necessary amount of struggle and hardships.
Wangchuk was soon moved to a school in Srinagar and with a different language of the medium, he was unable to understand much. He was often stepped back as he was unable to be much responsive and often laughed at. Wangchuk calls this as the darkest phase of his life. He then moved to Delhi in 1977 to plead to the principal for his case. After enough encouragement from teachers, he started coming out of his shell and soon was excelling in academics and as well as extracurricular activities.
In 1983, Wangchuk made his way into NIT (then REC) Srinagar to pursue Mechanical Engineering. There was disagreement with his father over engineering stream (his father wanted him to pursue civil). Many would find this as an obstacle. Instead, Wangchuk took this as an opportunity to test his capabilities. Wangchuk started to teach and finance his own education.
The Deciding Moment & journey after
Wangchuk saw that many who had great wisdom and knowledge failed to clear their academic exams. It was then the thought of on how and what the education system was lacking. There is no betterment of adding engineers to the society if they cannot do what they love or have learned.
After graduation, Wangchuk formed Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) along with his brother and friends.
Real life skills are imparted and students are made to chart their own course, instead of usual rote learning followed elsewhere. Wangchuk calls this model, “Bright Head, Skilled Hands and Kind Heart.” In 1994, they launched Operation New Hope to bring educational reforms with their alternative model.
Soon after that program success in 10th-grade exam results shot up from 5% to eventually 75%.
The recent project of Wangchuk is Himalayan Institute of Alternatives which engages youths from different countries into research and innovation. They tackle the issues faced by mountain people in areas of education, culture, and environment. It acts as a source of empowerment that will be relevant to people’s lives and focuses on encouraging by applying knowledge in a practical manner.
Awards and honors that followed
In 1996, he received Governor’s media for educational reform in J&K. In 2001, Wangchuk was appointed as advisor for education in Hill Council Government, Ladakh and also got “Man of the Year” cover story by The Week. In 2004, he became a member of the National Governing Council for Elementary Education in the HRD ministry of Government of India. In 2006, he was invited to the Asia 21 Young Leaders’ Summit in Seoul. In 2008, Wangchuk received Real Heroes Award by CNN-IBN TV. From there on there are many more awards which Wangchuk received for his great works for the welfare of the society and environment.
In 2009, Wangchuk was on invitation by Prime Minister of Bhutan was part of an international advisory group for the introduction of Gross National Happiness in Education.
In 2014, Wangchuk participated in framing the J&K State Education Policy and Vision Document.He gained global recognition after bagging the coveted Rolex Awards for Enterprise last year for his project, ‘Ice Stupas’. He is second Indian to receive this.
From overseeing the construction of several solar mud buildings in mountains to creating Ice stupas to solve the water crisis in his region, the list is long and impressive. Wangchuk’s solar powered school built with rammed earth keeps students warm even in -30 degree Celsius. Low-cost traditional techniques which run on principles of passive solar architecture were used to build the campus. It won International Terra Award for best building in 2016.
Farmers of region faced water problems and project Ice Stupa was started with an aim to find a resolve. By February of 2014, a team had successfully build two-storey of ice stupa prototype with the capacity to store roughly 150,000 liters of winter stream water.
In 2016, Wangchuk went on to apply disaster mitigation in glacier lakes at high altitudes. Sikkim government invited his team to apply siphon technique for a dangerous lake there.
His idea of Ice Stupa came under the notice of authorities of Swiss Alps and was invited to do a similar thing there as they wanted to add Ice Stupa as tourist attractions. Last year in October, Wangchuk and his team went and started building the first ice stupa of Europe together with Swiss authorities.
Wangchuk was also part of the fundraising initiative for first ever Indian Nation Women’s Ice Hockey team. The team participated in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women Challenge Cup Of Asia in Taipei last year.
Wangchuk opines “In the universe, there is no top, no bottom, no right and no left. These are but creations of our own mind, based on what other people have told us. As long as we see things through our conditioned minds and colored glasses, we won’t be able to see things as they really are. Welcome to Wangchuk’s world, preferably without your glasses!”
And a man of his word he has created such a world in the trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh. Alongside his commitment to better the life of people in his region, he is inspiring and helping people to solve similar issues. His mission and vision have crossed boundaries of Leh-Ladakh and spreading to different states and countries. From Ice stupas to alternative education model, his ideas are making ripples across, which is evident from a number of invitations he gets to speak about it. The world we live needs to know and learn from Wangchuk’s world.
Today he is undoing the impact of global warming in his region by through ice stupas. With a big disliking for rote learning model of education, he runs a school in Ladakh with a totally different approach. A holistic education model centered on the idea of bright Head, skilled Hand & a kind Heart. He is also building Himalayan Institute of Alternates in Ladakh by using the prize money he received from Rolex awards for the enterprise.