Rainbows of Colour – Bhutan

Quin is one of those wonderful people, a gorgeous intelligent dynamo whose get up and go, positivity and entrepreneurial enterprise is making such a positive impact on remote communities. From a desire to support a traditional weaving industry Quin not only teaches them Forex but has developed a creative photography workshop programme to motivate and educate their children which also provides images for the online sales platform for the finished products. Bhutan has been on my radar and in my heart for years now, I have a yearning to go. I hope very much to be able to head out and help myself, but as you will read below, there are opportunities for photographers and film-makers to head out too. If you can’t go, there are always the stunning hand-woven scarves to treat yourself and friends too, to bring a little Bhutanese love into your home.


Photography Workshop - Ana by Karma Photography, Bhutan

Photography Workshop – Ana by Karma Photography, Bhutan

First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do for your day job, where you live, what you’re passionate about?

My name is Quin SQ Thong, I qualified as a Chartered Accountant and has always been working in the financial field. I am the CEO Asia of a UK listed company in the finance industry. I was born in Malaysia and have lived in Hong Kong since 1998.

I love personal development and learning, also coaching others to reach their potential – even in small ways – like helping them set up goals, or giving feedback more effectively. My favourite quote is Mother Teresa’s “Not everyone can do great things, but everyone can do small things with great love”. With this project, I feel the small small things I am doing are really making a difference in the lives of the children and their mothers. It is exhilarating.

It’s a great project you are running in Bhutan. You have lots of magazine coverage which is great. I quote from one here:

In June last year, a tourist friend of mine recognized Karma’s unique talent for colour and patterns and encouraged her to weave Bhutanese scarves for others. Using the Facebook page “Weaving Butterflies to Life” and other social media, Karma received more than 40 orders for her scarves.

With these positive developments in the loop, Karma felt her lifelong dream to create beauty for this world come true. It was something she always wanted to do in order to help supplement her family income. Over time, she also received capital to buy a sewing machine worth US$ 200. Since Karma always wanted to create unique and beautiful scarves for her Anas around the world the shop and brand name became Ana By Karma. In Tshanglakha, an eastern Bhutan dialect, ‘ana’ means sister.

The Social Enterprise Ana By Karma has over 70 weavers aged from 25 to 65, living in Thimphu and remote villages like Radhi, Galing, Khoma etc. In January this year, Ana by Karma funded 60 of the weavers to a workshop to teach.”  Business Bhutan Vol.6, Issue 33.

Photography Workshop - Ana by Karma Photography, Bhutan

Little Photographers – Photography Workshop – Ana by Karma Photography, Bhutan

Tell us how you came about supporting this initiative with photography?

Working with the weavers who form Ana by Karma Social Enterprise, I asked them how else I can be of assistance. They all asked me to do something for their children, as everything they are doing is to help secure their children’s future. I was thinking – teach English? Teach maths? Teach creative thinking….teach focus….and then it struck me, when I teach photography, we can teach them creativity and patience at the same time, two seemingly opposing traits. We can also make them more active (running around to take photos) yet stay focused and still, again opposing traits. Bingo! Teach Photography

 So I asked my friends if they have old digicameras lying around in their drawers and we collected over 20, then we bought 5 new computers (to upload photographs monthly for my on-going comment and training) and added some small funds (to cover venue rental, bus rental for site photography, lunch for the kids, photo printing, etc), we launched our first Bhutan Kids Photography Workshop on November 2015. 20 kids were invited to participate, for a three day course.

It was a huge success (based on the happiness of the children) and three local Bhutanese newspapers covered our workshop with great enthusiasm.

How are you supporting the Photography Workshops?  Can you also describe the photography project and how it will help the scarf project?

100% of the funds for the Kids Photography workshop come from Ana by Karma Social Enterprise, where the latter thrives on selling scarves handmade by Bhutanese weavers. The core policy of Ana by Karma is all revenue comes from selling weavings, we insist ZERO donations. We are proud to earn our own living with our two hands and stand on our own two feet. It is the mothers of these kids (participants of the Photography Workshop) that make the scarves, so in fact, it is the mothers who are securing the spot and opportunity for their children to learn this skill. Proceeds of sales goes back to the women, to development programs for them, financial literacy for children in Bhutan, photography workshops for their kids, and a Trust Fund for them (set up in July 2016).

We don’t wish to call it charity as it makes the kids sound pitiful. In fact the kids have to earn the right to keep the camera, by sending photos every month for six months.

We encourage the public to sponsor their old cameras. In turn they can go to https://www.facebook.com/ana.kids.photography/ to view the photos taken by the children using their cameras. The satisfaction of seeing their old cameras resurrect to active life is great.

Photography Workshop - Ana by Karma Photography, Bhutan

Photography Workshop – Ana by Karma Photography, Bhutan

How do you see the photography project developing? How can people get involved?

So far, three sessions are held, with 30 kids trained up. Nov 2015 and April 2016 sessions were photography training. July 2016 was training in professional videography for more advanced kids (although most of them came to attend anyway). We plan to hold another two in Oct 2016, with about 40 participants and this time would include monks from a remote monastery.

We need good old digital cameras. As some children as getting really good, we are giving them better cameras now, including a number of DSLR and teach them aperture, ISO etc for more creative photographs.

We also need photographers to teach technical photography (as I am not good in it, I only teach composition and basic technical such as ISO and WB)

Most importantly, Ana by Karma needs to continue to sell scarves to fund the photography training. In August 2016, we will run a crowdfunding on Next Chapter (https://nextchapter.com.hk/campaign/bhutan-kids-photography ) and we hope to receive a lot of support. The rewards include handmade camera straps with personalised names (made by the mothers), postcards with photos snapped by the young photographers and also travel to Bhutan. Please Help us get the word out there.

Why do you think photography is important? You also say you are not a photographer, I would beg to differ(!), I think your images are beautiful, they have heart, but you say you are a good teacher, can you explain how that works, how you teach the children? What inspires you to inspire them? Can you describe a typical class?

Photography is important for personal development on three counts –

  1. A photograph (like art) is a universal language that needs no words but yet communicates its message so clearly. I always ask the children to create a story with their photo.
  2. Photography trains appreciation, nurtures creativity, sharpens one’s focus and yet encourages activeness in children (and adults) (Can’t be a couch potato and photographer at same time).
  3. These children come from less privileged backgrounds, where all do not have a camera, and some haven’t even seen one. The camera then becomes something of pride to them, something precious yet useful. Over time, I have seen some becoming more confident (especially when taking photographs).

 I have been teaching children as a volunteer for over a decade on financial literacy – which is more conceptual and harder to teach than photography. With photography, I focus on telling the story with the camera. After all some of the children are only 8 or 9 years old. Getting technical with them will not help. I teach them composition rules such as Framing, Contrast, Leading Lines, Layering, Rule of One Third…etc and use pictures to teach – very practical. Often when we are on site, I hear the children say excitedly to one another – “Look look, leading line.” Pointing to a downward sloping staircase or “Contrast!!” pointing to a monk in deep red robes walking past a white washed temple wall. I feel I have given them new eyes! This time I taught them creative photography – using perspective and my goodness, aren’t they good! 


Photography Workshop - Ana by Karma Photography, Bhutan

Photography Workshop – Ana by Karma Photography, Bhutan

 A typical class would be 20 kids with ages ranging from 8 to 20 years old. Half day in a classroom with me showing ppt on the different composition techniques. Then we give them their cameras (on loan and they sign an agreement to confirm they will use it responsibly). We then have two days of a site visit, where I hire a bus to take us around Thimphu. Again, most of these children have never been to places like Buddha Point, the National Zoo, etc as their family situation may not be able to afford them to go (time or money or both). On site visit, I would give them on the spot homework. I would say “take Buddha sitting on the gate” and they have to figure out how to make the 52.5m Buddha statue “sit” on the gate that is lower in height and some 100 meters away from the statue. Or I would say “snap Buddha talking to Goddess” as the goddesses stand in a ring around Buddha, and are about only 3 meters tall. It really makes them think creatively, see different perspective and often have to get down on their knees and elbows. (Exhibit F)

 After the 3 days of workshop, for next 6 months, they have to upload photos to me for inspection and comment. If they do so, they “earn” the right to keep the camera. Each 6 months I come back, I gather them again and we go out taking photos. The old batch of children usually become my teaching assistants. (Yes they are that good!)

Has working with this Photography Initiative changed the way you work or are generally as person or how you approach life?

Working with the Bhutanese children, I have learnt so much. They have impeccable manners, always a smile and a shine in their eyes – qualities that are so charming. I may have taught them photography, they taught me how to become a better person, to connect at a heart level. I may have nurtured their creativity, they have infused me with indescribable happiness. When you come to teach them, you will know what I mean.

Photography Workshop - Ana by Karma Photography, Bhutan

Photography Workshop – Ana by Karma Photography, Bhutan

If you could go anywhere with your camera, where would it be?

I only want to go to Bhutan with my camera now. Because I want to capture the faces and smiles of these children and keep in on film as I keep in my heart. I was in Switzerland – breathtakingly beautiful – yet I was lazy to click photos. But in Bhutan, each moment is so precious, so endearing, so captivating, I bring three cameras and two smartphones and yet feel I have not captured enough of the happiness. I want to bottle it and take it home and put in under my pillow.

To find out more and get involved as a photographer or volunteer, please have a look at what they are doing and contact them direct, say you read about them here.  www.anabykarma.com

www.facebook.com/ana.kids.photography  www.facebook.com/anabykarma/        

Instagram :   ana.by.karma

Youtube for Kids Photography  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_pFBmDhm8U

Bhutan measures its National GDP through GNH, Gross National Happiness. A visit will change your life. 

Photography Workshop - Ana by Karma Photography, Bhutan

Photography Workshop – Ana by Karma Photography, Bhutan

One thought on “Rainbows of Colour – Bhutan

  1. Pingback: BHUTAN – PHOTO PROJECT | PhotoAid

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