Bhutanese actor raise awareness on climate change by cycling through Bhutan

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Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk launched The Messenger: Ride for Action, planting trees and talking to everybody.

(Source: Feature image credit: Facebook)

Bhutanese actor and filmmaker, Mr Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk, recently took on a new role — environmental advocate. 

He coined his project “The Messenger: Ride for Action”. The ultimate goal is to ride through every continent until the end of the decade to demand the immediate action of world leaders and businesses to take climate change seriously. For now, he has finished the initial phase of his plans within Bhutan.

Jamyang might have only just implemented his campaign, but it was actually a long time in the making. He grew up in the east where his father served as a civil servant. There was no electricity or telephone service where they lived.

Jamyang would follow his father on village tours. As the district administrator, his father toured to advocate for issues like health, sanitisation, clean water, HIV, etc. They walked for weeks to travel to their destination. 

Even when he was not with his father, he would spend time in the jungle behind the small village where they lived, picking wildberries and digging out tree roots. He had friends come by the house with cows. Jamyang treasures those memories and sees them as the first seeds in his psyche — the beginning of his love for nature, and by extension, the start of his environmental advocacy.

In 2018, a youth movement against climate change was in full swing. Jamyang came across an article about a funeral in Iceland for the Okjokull glacier. It was no doubt a marketing gimmick, but the poignancy of the moment did not escape Jamyang. It got him thinking about glaciers and how they were slowly disappearing due to climate change. The thought pushed him closer and closer to advocacy.

Former Vice President Al Gore of the United States held a climate leadership training course through his foundation, and Jamyang jumped on the opportunity. That was how he found himself in New York on his way to Las Vegas in February 2020. 

While he was in New York, COVID-19 hit its peak, and he was stuck there, living less than 2km from the main hospital in the epicentre of the red zone. Every day, he heard sirens whizz by. It was scary.

Eight days after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, Jamyang was exposed and got infected. When he first found out, he was sitting on a couch. His heart sank. Terror hijacked him. At that moment, it was as if his life flashed before his eyes. In hindsight, he was overreacting, but it gave him clarity then.

He wondered what he would do if he survived this. He asked himself what he was passionate about. What made him smile?

During his time in New York, Jamyang read about a 99-year-old veteran, Captain Tom Moore, who did laps in his backyard to raise funds for the healthcare system in UK. At the end of his project, he had raised 33 million pounds. 

Jamyang admired how Tom had found meaning during his twilight years. He decided to do something similar back in Bhutan. The first idea was to drive around the country, but that was too easy. So since he had an old bike, Jamyang had a light bulb moment.

The moment led to Jamyang trekking to Lunana Village in Bhutan carrying his 12-year-old bike on his back. This was the beginning of The Messenger: Ride for Action, a campaign against climate change. He hiked to a glacier, walking 8 to 11 hours a day. The endeavour took 7 days. Needless to say, it was physically and mentally challenging. 

Along the way, he found a discarded plastic coke bottle. The mountain pass where he found the bottle was gorgeous, but the plastic pollution was a disappointing eye-sore. 

Jamyang picked up the plastic bottle. He used it to collect water from the glacier and carried it with him during the rest of the campaign. The bottle was symbolic. The plastic bottle represented plastic pollution, and the water inside stood for the impact of global warming on the world. Hence, the plastic bottle and the water in it symbolised climate action. 

Picture credit: Facebook

His initial intention was for a young child from the neighbouring community to scoop up the water for him. But the locals have a superstition that crossing a certain point to the lake would evoke the wrath of guardian deities and cause the child to fall sick.

This was an opportunity for advocacy. Jamyang explained to the villagers during a short meeting about single-use plastic and climate change. 

On 1 October 2022, Jamyang carried the bottle with him and cycled to Thimphu. His campaign started in his old school, where he engaged the students and created awareness about climate change. The highlight of each visit was when he planted a tree. He travelled to different schools during the campaign, cycling from location to location on his bicycle with an electric taxi as a support car that carried the film crew behind him.

His message was simple. Plant trees. Stop deforestation. Pursue renewable energy.

Picture credit: Facebook

Throughout his campaign, Jamyang talked to all kinds of people to raise awareness. In Lunana, the villagers shared that they experienced mosquitos for the first time. Others mentioned that some households were already preparing for harvest in September, a whole month earlier than usual. This was a new phenomena that was becoming increasingly common. Just like the mosquitos, it was no doubt because of climate change.

Jamyang compiled all the stories into a documentary series. He explored habitat protection through the story of the black-neck cranes. He delved into the disappearing herding culture in Haa.  

The process was physically demanding. He prepared for it by hiking and training in the gym. But at the end of the day, nothing can really prepare you for the elements.

During the first few days of the campaign, Jamyang downed protein shakes and moved slowly. He had a torn meniscus and did not want the old injury to return. There were times when he thought that he would not make it. 

On the third day of the trip, he decided to let nature take over and go with the flow. If things got too difficult, he would let the horse carry his bike. At one point, he was at a lake. It was raining and there was no clear path. He was forced to hop from boulder to boulder with his bike on his back and almost fell over once.

The campaign was a success only because of the support of Jamyang’s friends, agencies, companies, supporters, and partners. Prior to his campaign, he exhausted his channels, asking for donations everywhere he could. Three European friendship societies came onboard. The support was timely, and Jamyang is extremely grateful to everybody who contributed, no matter how big or small.

But what was the campaign really about?

Two words: the youth. 

Sadly, many youths in Bhutan still do not understand how climate change impacts Bhutan and the world — something Jamyang is determined to change. He observed that students in the 8th grade and above had some idea, but the younger ones were completely clueless.

The message of Jamyang’s campaign is two-fold. On top of spreading awareness about climate change, he also advocates for climate crisis studies to be included in the school syllabus. His goal is to ensure that the kids grow up well-informed, so that when the youth of today become the leaders and policy-makers of tomorrow, they prioritise the environment.

Now, the Ride for Action tour has ended, but Jamyang still has future plans. Previously, he only had a few minutes during morning assemblies at the schools. This time around, he hopes to return to the schools he has visited with a better presentation, complete with images and better material.

On top of that, he wants to continue the campaign until the end of the decade. Scientists have said that we have less than 10 years before the effects of climate change become irreversible. Thus Jamyang wants the message to be known across the globe; he wishes to speak of how Bhutan has been impacted by climate change. 

He wants the big corporations to take note. Big companies are responsible for 70% of greenhouse gases, yet they have taken the cunning PR approach of coining the term “carbon footprint”, shifting the blame to the individuals. Jamyang maintains that although the individuals do matter, their impact is dwarfted by that of the huge corporations.

Jamyang plans to cycle a different continent every year while making short films in between. For now, he is working on content — and encouraging his audience to live their life to the fullest, as if any moment might be their last, the way he felt in New York that fateful day. 

Reference: BBS Radio



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