Ladakh, the lesser known facts. Meet Sonam Wangchuk who revolutionised the life and education

When we talk about Ladakh what comes to our mind is a road trip on the picturesque mountains with fascinating colours ,high altitude passes where we like to get our pictures clicked . 85 % of any Ladakh trip has to be a collection of certain cliche pictures near Khar Dungla, Pangong Tso , Tso Moriri , few famous monasteries like Thiksey, Phugtal, its magnetic Hill etc....

Let us recognise the incredible innovation marvel formed by a local in this remote area in India which is not just self sustained campus cross all season but also imbibes a new hope in the students there. You will be amazed to know this story from Ladakh which has even astonished many authorities nationally and internationally with their innovative ideas and models.

Sonam Wangchuk born on 06 September 1965 in a very small village in Ladakh, his village had only three houses when he was growing up, till about the age of 9 he didn't go to any formal school, all what he learnt was from nature and his mother in his local language. Then later he went to Srinagar with his father and he was admitted in a school, where he was considered stupid by the others because of difference in personality and language. In 1977 he escaped to Delhi to plead his case to the principle of Vishesh Kendra Vidyalaya as he was unable to bear the treatment given to him at school.

Years passed and his passion for science grew and he decided to study Mechanical engineering but his father wanted him to study Civil, as he was denied any money for studying mechanical he decided to earn and complete his Mechanical Engineering by himself .

When he had set out on his own he went to Leh the capital city of Ladakh and decided to teach the students who were preparing for board exams, on reaching there he realised that tuition classes were a big money making institution in Leh yet the passing percentage in Ladakh was below 5%. He had decided to teach students at a lower cost. He had bare minimum money when he reached Leh , it was winters and he had decided to teach for 4 months before the board exams, as Leh remains empty in winters he booked a complete guest house and hired a staff, somehow made leaflets to be circulated for the tuition class. The response was beyond his expectation, he had to identify a mechanism to teach as more students as possible . So he started to identify students who were exceptionally bright in science and maths and apart from their regular classes gave them extra classes and empowered them to teach other students in his tuition classes . This mechanism worked excellent for every student and they got an opportunity to become better and better from where the level they started.

Failing in exams had became like a natural phenomenon in Ladakh and people usually didn't expect their children to pass the boards as you can image by the passing percentage as low as 0% in few years. Wangchuk wanted to challenge this status quo and identified the glitch in the system and worked towards to fixing the broken pieces.

In four months the money he earned was enough for the 4 remaining years of engineering. He happily says that he earned money enough for sustaining for 4 years in just 4 months which helped him overcome the mental block that people have. So now earning money was no longer the driving force for him .

He realised that fixing the broken pieces and only focusing on providing tuitions to the children would be a never ending process and he wanted to identify the source of the faulty system and work towards it because though it is gratifying to receive the love from people when you help them fix the broken pieces in the system but he was not looking at becoming some messiah for the people in Leh. He preferred working towards removing the fault from the source, he he had identified that the education system followed in Ladakh was redundant for the students there and students were not to be blamed.

SECMOL Campus

After his graduation in 1988 he along with his brothers and 5 peers formed SECMOL (Students' Education and Cultural Movement of Ladakh). SECMOL worked with school reform with govt High Schools is Saspol in their intial phase. Later launched Operation New Hope in collaboration with government education department and village population. Since then Sonam Wangchuk spearheaded different initiatives with the Indian government departments and also recognised for his work globally .

SECMOL campus is an innovative experiential learning campus build by Wangchuk and run by the empowered students, SECMOL is a self sustained learning centre where students learn science and life skills by day to day schedule at the campus. Wangchuk hasn't applied for any grants from anywhere to construct of run SECMOL, it has a unique mechanism of self sustenance. They grow their own food within the campus even during the harsh winters in Ladakh, no expense for power as is runs on solar power and because of his highly innovative and unique education system quite a few international schools send their students on exchange programs which generates money and the remaining money comes from the subsidised fees the students pay, however for the students unable to pay they contribute in other ways in the campus.The admission criteria for the students here is very unique as well , they only take students who have failed in their exams.

SECMOL is a rammed earthen big building and has won the International Terra Award for best building in July 2016 at the 12th World Congress on Earthen Architecture in Lyon, France.The campus was built using simple, low-cost traditional techniques on principles of passive solar architecture. The building comprises a big solar-heated teaching hall, along with several rooms for the students and other classrooms.

In 2014 Wangchuk started a project called Ice Stupa aiming to reduce the water crises in Ladakh in the summer months from April and May before the natural glacier starts to melt and provide water to the valley. By the end of February in 2014, they had successfully built a two-storey prototype of an ice stupa which could store roughly 150,000 litres of winter stream water which nobody wanted at the time.

In 2015 when Ladakh faced serious water crises due to the landslide which blocked Phugtal river in Zanskar and this formed a 15 kms long lake which posed a huge threat for the downstream population, Wangchuk suggested siphon technique to drain the lake and water jet erosion to safely cut the edges instead of blasting the lake as was being planned. However it wasn't followed leading to a flash flood and 12 bridges and many fields were destroyed.

In 2016 Wangchuk started to apply the Ice Stupa technique for disaster mitigation at high altitude glacier lakes ,he also also invited by the govt of Sikkim to help them with a similar dangerous situation there ,his team camped for 2 weeks in Sikkim by Lhonak Glacier Lake and installed the first phase of a siphoning system to drain the lake to a safer level until other measures were taken up.

In late 2016 he was also invited by the authorities in Swiss Alps, the President of Pontresina and the municipality of the Engadine Valley in Switzerland to create the first Ice Stupa in Europe for winter tourism there.

By 2018 a young group of local sculptors and artists from Ladakh created a 10 feet high Ice Stupa .The wondrous sculpture is made entirely of ice and it took them 25 days of hard work and dedication to complete the project in the extreme conditions. As the stupa was housed inside another giant ice tower (ice stupa artificial glacier), they had to work in very low temperature of at least −12 Degree celsius.

We salute Sonam Wangchuk for his passion and extraordinary contribution towards forming Modern Ladakh and add value to the society and his nation.

Every place has so many stories to say, we at Madcap Odyssey love to share these rare stories with you.Stay tuned for more stories coming your way.

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