Friday, October 12, 2012

A young man of poise, confidence and power

I was home, last August, when I received a phone call from my friend, Tashi Namgay. He had a good news, “Hello Riku, oye, Bhutan Kidney Foundation is certified today as public-benefit organization with the CSO Authority.” Yes, I could feel his heart exalting, reveling in his coveted achievement, his dream come true. You don’t know how much it meant to him and of course to me. By the way, it took him almost seven years to get his Foundation registered as CSO.

I congratulated him.

The Bhutan Kidney Foundation (BKF) provides a new hope for all those poor kidney failure patients who are at the jaws of death by providing quality health services and financial supports. And through its comprehensive and preventive measures, BKF works towards reducing the incidences of renal and other lifestyle diseases in Bhutan. Today, there are over 120 kidney failure patients in Bhutan and its number is alarmingly increasing.
                                    Pic: With the Education Secretary, Principal of ELC, and Lhamo Drukpa 

I’m very proud to have become associated as a friend with 27-year old Tashi Namgay, the Founder/Executive Director of BKF. This Foundation has been born out of his vision, relentless effort and sacrifice.

A Class X graduate of Jakar HSS and former civil servant, Tashi is a kidney transplant recipient since 2006. He was only 18, in 2004, when he was diagnosed both of his kidney organs failed. However, fortunately, with the help of a kind donor, and the RGoB that financed his travel, surgical and medical expenses, his renal transplant was success in April, 2006 at Christian Medical College, Vellore, India.

Through his own experience, Tashi discovered that there were many inherent problems and shortages associated with renal diseases and health services in Bhutan. This, according to him, led kidney failure patients and their family members and relatives suffering hopelessly. There was lack of counseling and moral support service for kidney failure patients, and shortage of dialysis machines and trained health staff to operate the machines in Bhutan. Also, there were lots of hidden expenses incurred (which were not covered by RGoB) while patients were sent away for renal transplant in India. Sometimes, patients had to extend their stay in India due to medical complications.  
                                                      Pic: With the patients at JDWNRH

Moreover, without Act of Law for Organ Donation and Transplant in Bhutan, many people were misappropriating money collected through fundraising activities, and the illegal commercialization of organs was growing rampant. Most shockingly, there was no proper advocacy programmes on diets and lifestyle diseases (diabetes, hypertension, obesity) which are the leading causes to kidney failure incidences. The RGoB has been spending millions of ngultrums for renal medical treatments and travels which otherwise can be prevented.

Soon after his renal transplant in 2006, Tashi Namgay started googling for kidney organizations of other countries. He was quite inspired by the way they were contributing to wellbeing of kidney failure patients and prevention of renal diseases. It was at that moment when he thought of establishing one such organization in Bhutan.

However, only after a handful of months later, this young man learned that what he was trying to do was not easy at all. This project, in fact, would cost him millions of ngultrum that he didn’t have. It, too, would require him better qualification, skills and experience. He was only 20, then, had qualification of Class X and very fresh in job. So, Tashi Namgay started looking for other kidney transplant recipients in Bhutan who had good qualification, expertise and experience to form an NGO for kidney patients.
                                                           Pic: With Amrith Bdr. Subba

Tashi phoned each of them, met them, and discussed establishing this aspiring project. In 2008, they held their first meeting where 21 interested members (all kidney transplant recipients) attended. The participating members showed great interest about establishing the Foundation. As desired, the meeting formed a Core Working Group consisting of five members to draft legal documents of the Foundation.

But sadly, the consecutive meetings miserably failed. Most members of the Core Working Group didn’t turn up for the meetings. Mail sent, but no reply. Phone calls not responded. And his requests fell on deaf ears. Just like that, a solid year gone.

In the mid of 2009, Tashi conducted a mass meeting where, again, he called all kidney transplant recipients who had attended the last meeting. This meeting discussed and resolved to form a new Core Working Group. This new group failed, too. It was same again: some members transferred to other dzongkhags; others remained busy with their families and jobs/business.
Pic: With Erika Terpstra, the former Olympic Gold Medalist for Swimming and now President of the Dutch National Olympic Committee. 

It was taking long enough. Four years had already gone, without achieving anything. Tashi Namgay had stood anxious, sad, and mostly helpless. He couldn’t sleep at night. All nights, he would be tossing and turning around in bed, thinking about his project and those people who were suffering and dying from kidney disease. Several times, he thought of quitting his project because every time, it was for nothing. Alone, he could do nothing. And no other individual was coming forward to help him in his endeavors.

But each time he’d come across people suffering from kidney failure disease, he was again rejuvenated to keep working for them, never to quit his project. Because he knew that those kidney failure patients always lived at the jaws of death, depressed, and without any means of escapism or outside interventions. And the NGO he wanted to establish would certainly reduce their sufferings, rescue them from untimely death, and prevent from the renal disease.
                                                             Pic: With the Prince of Sweden

In desperation and worried, Tashi Namgay started hunting for different senior bureaucrats, corporate employees, businesspeople and other popular local celebrities for support. He shared the problems of kidney-related diseases and his aspiring project to them. Many showed interest and assured him to provide necessary help in his project. But in reality, it’s far from that. No one did bother to support him, not at all. It’s always the same-nothing happened, nothing achieved.

By then, Tashi had expensed a huge amount of money and five years of time in his endeavor to establish NGO. Once he told me, “If I had invested such amount of money and time for a business, I’d have become a millionaire today.”
                                                              Pic: With Kelly Dorji

There was a bunch of people (including his own relatives and colleagues) who had demoralized him from working for kidney failure patients. They blatantly criticized him that he was becoming “too ambitious”, acting “over-smart”, and trying to “become popular”. Similarly, many other people questioned and challenged his capacity to establish NGO, about his qualification and experience. This had brought stunning upset in him; his hopes flickered.  

Others insisted Tashi Namgay to quit social works and this project which according to them seemed out of his reach. One person told him, he narrated it to me, “If you cannot stand on your feet properly, how you can you help others. Better quit what you are doing and prioritize your own wellbeing and family.” As he shared this to me, I saw a drop of tears in his eyes.
In fact, those people were right, matter-of-factly. Tashi Namgay had no house of his own to live in Thimphu, no car to drive, and all time his bank balance remained negative. The meager salary he earned finished before month’s end. And he could hardly treat himself with new clothes, shoes, and good meals. His family members were always upset with him because he could do or bring nothing at home. Always, he walked lonely, mostly broke and hopeless.
Ask him where he had spent his salary. Almost twice a week, Tashi Namgay would visit the Patient’s Guest House at JDWNR Hospital where about 30 kidney failure patients who were undergoing dialysis were housed in a catastrophic condition. They were poor, homeless, orphans, without relatives, and no good food to eat. More sadly, they were depressed, dispossessed and merely waiting for the death in a lamentable display. Tashi Namgay would visit there with grocery and other basic necessities for the patients.

To those patients, he seemed so rich that they imagined he could give them everything. One of the patients told me, “Many Lyonpos, Dashos and Aums promised us hope and forgot when they go back. But he is very promising.”
Here, Tashi Namgay, adorned with compassion and love, always sat happily surrounded by the poor patients. He hugged each of them, nursed their wounds and shared their plights. As he gave them tender loving care, he also cried with them. In his every visit, he counselled the patients on their diets and mental health and fed hopes and aspirations upon them.

If those people had a belief in God, Tashi Namgay was the true manifestation of God for them. I’m not exaggerating. Those patients felt that only Tashi Namgay could bring difference in their life and redeem them from their unending sufferings. All his efforts, in fact, had brought a drastic change in the lives of hundred of kidney failure patients. The faith, hope, and expectation they had upon him; however, offered a bigger responsibility and gave him a resolute confidence never to quit what he was doing oblivious to his own problems.
The year 2010 arrived, five years passed, and there were no hopes of establishing NGO this far out. The first time I met Tashi Namgay was in the mid of 2010 when I joined the office of Department of Youth and Sports. Here, I also met another friend of mine, Amrith Bahadur Subba. It was as if the fate had brought three of us together for a cause, for kidney failure patients of Bhutan.

Three of us started getting along very well. Often, especially on weekends, we would whisk out for outings. There, Tashi Namgay used to share to us about the problems of kidney-related diseases and sufferings of those patients. Sometimes, smacking on momo and over cup of tea, he used to consistently talk about his aspiring project to establish a kidney foundation.
Also, he’d take us to the Dialysis Room and Patient’s Guest House at JDWNR Hospital. Other times, he would invite us to his house for dinner where we used to always talk about establishing his project. Tashi Namgay has neither much education nor the knowledge of the Book, but he knew his mind, understood the reality and apprehended the system. And always, he delights me with his wide-ranging worldview, astute critical mind, and entrepreneurship talents. All this interested me to work along with him, in his endeavors.

In November 2010, a new Core Working Group of the Kidney Foundation amongst three of us was formed to draft CSO documents. This team, though very small, worked all holidays and weekends and sometimes after office hours. At times, we stayed late night brainstorming and drafting the documents. It’s quite surprising that none of us has missed a single meeting. And one by one, we complete drafting the CSO documents of the Bhutan Kidney Foundation exactly in six months.
                                                          Pic: With Board and executive members of BKF

Meanwhile, a few local film celebrities and other individuals came forward and helped drafting the documents. They have also supported kidney failure patients in providing financial and other contributions. Tashi’s natural talent to do the talking could convince and impress many businessmen, bureaucrats and powerful senior citizens. And people started coming forward with cheque, cash, and contributions in all kinds. Even the His Majesty Secretariat Office supported the Foundation editing and making necessary changes in the documents and processing the BKF’s CSO application to the CSO Authority. By the end of 2011, it was applied for legal registration to CSO Authority, and last August it formally got register.
                                                              Pic: With his family

Tashi Namgay proved all his critics wrong. Today, he could register his NGO and more importantly, he has become the Executive Director of Bhutan Kidney Foundation. He showed to others that a young man, without much qualification and experience, if driven by altruistic passion, hard work and confidence can become a leader and bring positive change in our society.

Lastly, Tashi Namgay’s efforts and difficulties are in service of hundreds of poor patients who are at the jaws of death and for the country. And we, even if we cannot support him in his service all time, it’s our natural responsibility to encourage and provide him moral supports, or at least, say a prayer for him. May God bless him today, tomorrow and always! 
                               Pic: With Go Youth Go members (He is also the Founder of GyG)

Pic: With Junior Chamber International Bhutan members (He is one of the Executive members of JCI Bhutan)


  1. MD247 explains that it believes in the potential life altering outcome its 24/7 telemedicine program will have in both rural and urban frontiers.

  2. Kudos to Mr Tashi Namgay. A very best wishes in every step he takes ahead.
    Inspiring Article la.

  3. This is one BIG living example of how a man with heartfelt dream can change the world. My best wishes for Tashi.
    And my appreciation for your coverage of this great man work, he deserves all the support you guys are giving and the world is offering.

  4. As I want to call him, The Wounded Healer, he deserves to be where he is now.
    I wish him the best in all his endeavours. Simultaneously, he is lucky to have you wonderful guys around.
    Thanks for posting such an inspiring post.

  5. He is a hero...and you too Riku. Heroes deserve salute. "SALUTE" to you guys.

  6. Really a inspiring one. May the founder of BKF have a long life and let the organisation have unending support for the time to come.