Sonam Wangchuk: The inspiration behind Phunsukh Wangdu
By Yashi Jain
Back in 2013, when two idiots found out about the whereabouts of their third idiot friend, it made us happy to see Rancho doing innovative things in the enchanting hills of Ladakh as Phunsukh Wangdu. It brought a smile to our faces, seeing the unique school he had set up and the naughty yet intelligent children carrying out their conundrums. Well, next time you visit Ladakh you must meet the real-life Phunsukh Wangdu- or rather Sonam Wangchuk, doing all those things in reality that left us speechless in the theatres.
Early life in Leh
Born in 1966, Sonam did not attend school until the age of nine, as there were no schools in his village Alchi, in the district of Leh. He was then enrolled at a school in Srinagar, where he felt alienated from others. Showcasing his innovative and brave attributes from early on, Wangchuk escaped alone to Delhi in 1977 where he pleaded his admission to a Kendriya Vidyalaya principal. Wangchuk, till date feels lucky that he did not get to experience the horrors of schooling and gained knowledge in a holistic way. Being a bright child since the beginning, he started taking tuitions and earning money early on as he had to pay for his engineering education himself.
Revolutionising education through SECMOL
The man is much more than the engineer turned teacher that the 2009 movie portrayed him to be. He is a revolutionary individual who is constantly working towards reforming ways of education and engineering. He is an environmentalist who recently won a Global Award for Sustainable Architecture. When he was teaching kids in his region he had the realisation that the education system needed change and that is when he started Student's Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL). The idea behind the movement was plain and simple to re-launch the students who failed their 10th standard and give them another chance. Home to around 70-100 students, all of who failed according to the formal education system are enrolled at this school in Phey, around 12 km from Ladakh. The school is completely run by students themselves, like a little country with its own elected government. They learn by doing things, more than anything else, they farm, keep animals, solve problems that they face by themselves and work on achieving sustainable ways of life.
When a stupa quenched a 'parched' village
The farmers in his region faced an acute water scarcity problem and Wangchuk decided to come up with a solution. Sonam and his students came up with the idea of an ice stupa. Even though many engineers had come up with the idea of an ice stupa before, Wangchuk's model worked wonders and even holds a Guinness record for the tallest ice stupa in the world. The idea was to freeze the water in the winter and use it in late spring. The innovator has managed to achieve this by deciding to build a vertical ice stupa instead of the traditional horizontal one. For this simple yet genius invention, he was also bestowed with the Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2016.
Life after awards and fame
The Rolex Award winner does not really like it when people call him 'Phunsuk Wangdu'. What he does enjoy is solving puzzles. According to him, life is just a puzzle, the answer to which we need to create and work on. Just like solving a puzzle requires patience and tact, solving real-life puzzles related to your home or society, Earth or the world requires love and passion. Apart from setting up a school of failures, who he believes are "doers" and setting up an ice stupa that changed the face of water conservation in the region, Sonam has worked towards a number of educational and environment-related projects, solving a lot of problems slowly and steadily.
Featured image source: Wikimedia Commons