The Thuenpa Puen Zhi is a symbolic image that is commonly seen in the Kingdom of Bhutan in places such as temples and on home altars. It shows four animal friends – a bird, a hare, a monkey and an elephant – which together benefit from the fruits of a tree and help to ensure that new trees grow. A painting of the image, an allegory on the value of cooperation, was presented to Hanspeter Ueltschi, owner of BERNINA, yesterday by a delegation from the Choki Traditional Art School (CTAS).
The image shows that in a society, everyone can fulfil an important role, regardless of their origin, type and size, said Sonam Choki, Head of CTAS.
The teaching at her school is based on this philosophy. The school is situated in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. It gives young people from under-privileged backgrounds the opportunity to take free courses in traditional craft skills lasting several years. In this way, the team, led by Sonam Choki, increases the young people’s job prospects and creates the right conditions that allow them to take their place in society.
Bhutan attracted international attention in 1979, when its King coined the term “Gross National Happiness” and ultimately enshrined it in the constitution. The aim is to increase Gross National Happiness by creating a socially just society, by protecting the environment, by observing good governance and by promoting and preserving cultural values. One result of these political aspirations is that traditional culture is greatly valued. This is evident in everyday life in the architecture, the clothing and the ceremonies and festivals, for example.
In Bhutan, there are 13 different traditional crafts. Of these, CTAS offers courses in wood carving, weaving, embroidery and painting. By arrangement of the Fontana Foundation in Zurich, BERNINA was able to make a small contribution towards the success of the school project by providing sewing machines. “With the sewing machines, we can turn woven fabrics and embroidery into finished products, such as clothing and accessories,” said Sonam Choki. This rounds off the training offered, enabling a higher level of added value to be achieved and thus a higher degree of self-financing of the school.
The sewing courses, which now feature in the CTAS programme under the title of “BERNINA Classes”, are extremely popular. “We are even getting requests from people who only want to take the sewing classes,” says the head teacher. Since the machines went into operation in 2012 and 2013, there has not been a single technical problem. “The people who sit down at the machine are by no means experienced users.”
The aim of the two-week stay in Switzerland by the CTAS delegation, consisting of Sonam Choki, a teacher and three students, was cultural exchange. The programme included workshops with the company Foa-Flux at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK), organised by two ZHdK lecturers. In connection with Zurich Museum Night, craft demonstrations and painting workshops were held at the Ethnographic Museum of Zurich. In addition, Sonam Choki also gave a lecture about CTAS at the same venue. Finally, the group visited the Woodcarving School in Brienz.
At BERNINA, the guests from Bhutan observed the process of producing a sewing machine. They began in the so-called Flextec department, where individual components are manufactured …
… then went on to the Logistics Centre …
… and finally to the assembly plant, where longarm machines were being produced:
The group wore striking traditional clothing. The men’s robe is called a “gho” and the women’s dress is a “kira”. The gho is intricately wound and also conveniently serves as a bag: the men use the loops of fabric on the belt to hold all sorts of things, from eating utensils to mobile phones.
The group pictured in front of the Creative Centre …
… where they talked to the company’s owner, Hanspeter Ueltschi …
… and were introduced to new sewing machine models:
Sonam Choki (top centre) was impressed by the high level of organisation at BERNINA and the passionate “spirit” that she felt in our company. “No wonder the machines are so robust!”
We are very grateful for the compliment, for their visit and especially for the valuable work carried out by the head teacher, teaching staff and students in the Himalayan kingdom. The sewing courses at the Choki Traditional Art School are literally taking our brand name to new heights. We hope that the BERNINA machines in the Himalayas carry on purring for a long time to come and that our company continues to play an important role in CTAS’ projects, be it as a bird, a hare, a monkey or an elephant.