Outliers 21: Sonam Wangchuk wishes people more problems, so they can learn

Pankaj Mishra June 14, 2017 2 min

The first time I heard about Sonam Wangchuk was in Jalgaon, Maharashtra, last year. I was meeting a top executive of Jain Irrigation, and he mentioned an innovative use of the irrigation pipes and drip technology in Leh.

I actually missed Wangchuk by a day in Jalgaon where he was visiting to seek help for his Ice Stupa (artificial glacier) Project. After some digging and asking around, I realised that Wangchuk has been more famous for being a real Outlier. He’s been helping school dropouts and those who’ve ‘failed’ in conventional learning environments become real life achievers.

In 1988, he established The Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL), an alternative school that helps dropouts and those considered failures in the conventional education system, become achievers.

“I’ve failed in more than half of the things I’ve tried. I wish people more problems, so they learn” — Sonam Wangchuk  

And he’s been doing all this in Leh, Ladakh, which is clearly among the toughest places to survive in because of its extreme winter and dry, sub-zero temperatures.

“Over the years, I’ve realised that it’s the system that has failed them (the school dropouts); they haven’t really failed,” he tells me as we sit down in a cosy hut-like room with a cowdung ceiling.

Wangchuk is best described as an innovator, education reformist and, of course, an Outlier.

“I’ve failed at more than half of the things I’ve tried. I wish people more problems, so they learn,” he tells me at the SECMOL campus in the Phey village, Leh.

This podcast is the first in a series of three stories we’ve managed to capture during a two-day trip to Leh. Next week, we will publish a multimedia narrative from ground zero about how Wangchuk is building artificial glaciers to solve another real-life problem of water scarcity in the region.

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Podcast produced by Anand Murali. Lead image: Rajesh Subramanian