We actively seek out communities in our destinations that might benefit from tourism so we were delighted when we came upon Rukha.
Rukha is a village of just twenty households located within the Jigme Dorje Wangchuk National Park. Often the small hamlets and villages neighbouring this village are known under the umbrella name of Rukha.
The Oleps are sub-ethnic group of the Monpas – believed to be the first inhabitants of Bhutan. They occupy the village of Rukha, under Athang Geog in Wangdue district. The Oleps have been hunters and food gatherers since time unknown and have over millenia lived and moved around the Black Mountains area of Central Bhutan practicing tseri (slash and burn) cultivation. Many within this community still follow shamanism as their religion and because of this traditionally, unlike Buddhists, they hunt and fish – and for this reason are considered sinners by many Bhutanese. There are thought to be only 16 individuals still speaking the Olep language.
In 1982 the Royal Government settled them in the present day Rukha on the land belonging to the Monastic Body. However, Oleps couldn't switch easily to farming or livestock breeding. This drove them to extreme poverty and hardship where food scarcity, malnutrition, short life expectancy and high infant mortality were a norm.
Since 2005, with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Oleps have executed a trial project to introduce a warm water fishery in Samthang, Lawa and Rukha villages. The project has proved to be a success with Samthang fishery supplying smoked fish (nga-do-tsem) to Thimphu on an ad hoc basis.
In 2006, Rukha was the site of an Integrated Community Development for Poverty Reduction project. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Volunteers programme (UNV) supported the project, which was executed locally by the Tarayana Foundation, a non-profit organization. A Foundation Village Volunteer Committee (Tshokpa Tshokpa Tshokpa) was set up to ensure the smooth and effective implementation of the project.
The Tsokpha represents the Olep community as a whole and is a coordination body for self-help development activities. It comprises of six members (four men and two women). The Tarayana Foundation has funded carpentry and masonry training of the villagers – male and female – who were then able to construct their homes and gain skills in the process that will later enable them to have a steady income.
In 2007 The Royal Government of Bhutan supported the construction of a Community Primary School which now accommodates Pre-Primary to Class II students from five villages, including Rukha. In recent years, many community members have taken literacy classes – a unique learning opportunity for the first time in their life for most of the villagers. Naturally children are doing better than their parents; picking up faster. However the adults are also trying hard to be able to read and write their national language, Dzongkha. Some of the trainers who came to the village of Rukha to teach carpentry skills organised English lessons. Now most of the children know some basic English and a few of the adults have some words too.