Sonam Wangchuk – Creating Scientific Solutions
‘When you have failures, your mind is more stimulated than with success’
Sonam Wangchuk (born 6 September 1966) is an Indian engineer, innovator, and education reformist. He is the founding director of the Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL), which was founded in 1988 by a group of students who had been in his own words, the ‘victims’ of an alien education system foisted on Ladakh. He is also known for designing the SECMOL campus that runs on solar energy and uses no fossil fuels for cooking, lighting or heating.
Wangchuk was instrumental in the launch of Operation New Hope in 1994, a collaboration of government, village communities and civil society to bring reforms in the government school system. He invented the Ice Stupa technique that creates artificial glaciers, used for storing winter water in the form of conical shaped ice heap.
Wangchuk was born in 1966 in Uleytokpo, near Alchi in the Leh district of Ladakh. He was not enrolled in a school until the age of 9, as there were not any schools in his village. His mother taught him all the basics in his own mother tongue until that age.
Wangchuk considers himself lucky to have been spared the pains of schooling in alien languages which other Ladakhi children were forced to learn. His father Sonam Wangyal, a politician who later became the minister in state government, was stationed in Srinagar. At age 9, he was taken to Srinagar and enrolled in a school there. Since he looked different compared to the other students, he would get addressed in a language that he did not understand. Due to which his lack of responsiveness was mistaken for him being stupid. He recalls this period as the darkest part of his life. Unable to bear the treatment, in 1977 he escaped alone to Delhi where he pleaded his case to the school principal at Vishesh Kendriya Vidyala.
Wangchuk completed his B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Srinagar (then REC Srinagar) in 1987. Due to differences with his father over the choice of engineering stream, he had to finance his own education. He also went for two years of higher studies in Earthen Architecture at Craterre School of Architecture in Grenoble, France in 2011.
In 1988, after his graduation, Wangchuk with his brother and five peers, started Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL). After experimenting with school reforms in government high school at Saspol, SECMOL launched Operation New Hope in collaboration with the government education department and the village population.
From June 1993 until August 2005, Wangchuk also founded and worked as the editor of Ladakh’s only print magazine Ladags Melong. In 2001, he was appointed to be an advisor for the education in the Hill Council Government. In 2002, together with other NGO heads, he founded Ladakh Voluntary Network (LVN), a network of Ladakhi NGOs, and served in its Executive committee as the Secretary till 2005. He was appointed to the Drafting Committee of the Ladakh Hill Council Government’s Vision Document Ladakh 2025 and entrusted with the formulation of the policy on Education and Tourism in 2004. The document was formally launched by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India in 2005. In 2005, Wangchuk was appointed as a member in the National Governing Council for Elementary Education in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.
From 2007-2010, Wangchuk worked as an Education Advisor for MS, a Danish NGO working to support the Ministry of Education (Nepal) for education reforms.
In late 2013, Wangchuk invented and built a prototype of the Ice Stupa which is an artificial glacier that stores the wasting stream waters during the winters in the form of giant ice cones or stupas, and releases the water during late spring as they start melting, which is the perfect time when the farmers need water. He was appointed to the Jammu and Kashmir State Board of School Education in 2013. In 2014, he was appointed to the Expert Panel for framing the J&K State Education Policy and Vision Document. Since 2015, Sonam has started working on establishing Himalayan Institute of Alternatives. He is concerned about how most of the Universities, especially those in the mountains have become irrelevant to the realities of life.
In 2016, Wangchuk initiated a project called FarmStays Ladakh, which provides tourists to stay with local families of Ladakh, run by mothers and middle-aged women. The project was officially inaugurated by His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche on 18 June 2016. Please click on the link below to get inspired by the wonderful Ladhaki hero.