Roughly inspiring the famous character of Rancho aka Phunsukh Wangdu from 3 Idiots, Sonam Wangchuk is a Ladakh-based engineer and genius who has truly revolutionised the way we look at learning and education! Wangchuk is also an educational reformist and an environmental activist and the founder of the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement in Ladakh which he started in 1988. Bringing skill-based and learning-oriented education in Ladakh, Wangchuk has transformed the educational sphere to help children find engaging ways to learn and soar towards better employability. Here we bring you the inspirational story of Sonam Wangchuk, his cutting-edge inventions and educational reforms!
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Education and Early Career
Sonam Wangchuk did not attend school till the age of 9 because of the unavailability of a strong schooling system in Ladakh. After completing his secondary schooling, Wangchuk studied his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the National Institute of Technology Srinagar. He used to teach Class 10 students to pay for his finances as his father did not support his educational aspirations to study engineering. Later on, he completed his higher education from Earthen Architecture at Craterre School of Architecture in Grenoble, France in 2011.
Before becoming an innovator or educational reformist, Sonam Wangchuk was an editor of Ladakh’s only print magazine Ladags Melong. Advisor to the Hill Council Government, Wangchuk was appointed as a member of the National Governing Council for Elementary Education in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. He has also been an education Advisor at Danish NGO which works to support the Ministry of Education for education reforms and many other projects.
Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) was founded by a group of Ladakhi students including Sonam Wangchuk with an aim to bring educational reforms in the government school system of Ladakh. A mix of counselling, introspection and experiential learning, this educational movement welcomes those students who failed at conventional schooling. By focusing on life skills and engaging learning methods, it incorporated new ways for schooling such as setting the time zone as one hour ahead of Indian Standard Time to ensure that students sleep early and wake up at sunrise.
SECMOL has its newspaper called Campus times and radio too. It also has a hockey rink and the women team of SECMOL became a national level champion. The school has its little government. The students elect their leaders every 2 months and those leaders give responsibilities to other students like managing animals, solar cooking, garden, food production, electricity supply, etc.
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Inventing Ice Stupas
Addressing the issue of the water crisis especially in Ladakh, Sonam Wangchuk came with the idea of Ice Stupas which are artificial glaciers. Wangchuk built a 64-foot-tall ice stupa so that when people use less water in winter, the wasted water can be used by the Ice stupas. The water comes out of a big fountain using gravitational forces using no machines and when it falls at -30 degrees it freezes taking the shape of a cone & building a mountain of ice. It melts late in spring when farmers need water the most. This innovation has been eminently covered internationally!
World’s Solar Heating Tent for Indian Army
Sonam Wangchuk’s latest invention is the world-first solar heated tent for the Indian army. He came up with this brilliant idea after he came to know that around 50,000 Indian troops were deployed at high altitude areas in freezing winters and stay in tents made of cloth or in iron containers. The solar tent is a mobile solar-powered tent that can accommodate upto 10 soldiers in one tent. The tent has two chambers, a greenhouse & a sleeping chamber. Both the chambers are divided by a portable wall which is known as the heat bank. Sonam Wangchuk designed this tent with close cooperation from the Indian army.
Amongst the many inventions by Sonam Wangchuk, FarmStay Ladakh is an exclusive initiative to invite tourists to stay at local homes in Ladakh with the local families. It is aimed at boosting employability amongst the local people of the region and let tourists delve deeper into understanding the culture, food and the real Ladakh. The project was inaugurated by Chetsang Rinpoche on 18 June 2016.
Innovative Learning Methods
Having seen the loopholes in the conventional schooling system of India, Sonam Wangchuk has consistently tried to bring a change in the educational system. The foundation of SECMOL has a larger role in this because this movement has brought newer ways of learning and asks students to plan, set goals, execute and report back. Studying through SECMOL, students learn economics and commerce through real-life business experiments like selling their own jams. They talk about their inventions and projects on the campus radio and are also provided the opportunity to mentor their next batch.
“In the unfortunate environment, even the stars are made discarded as failures and in the supportive environment even so-called failures can shine bright like a bright star.”
Sonam Wangchuk is known for its out-of-the-box inventions which are also eco-friendly! SECMOL is made entirely of mud with no cement used in the construction, and is a passive solar heating building. The school also uses solar energy for water heating, water pumping, natural lighting, cooking, greenhouse & electricity. They also have biogas and bio cooking. As mentioned above, Wangchuk also created a solar ten to help army soldiers when guarding borders at high altitudes. His Ice Stupas Glaciers are also aimed at resolving the water scarcity in the areas of Ladakh.
Also Read: 10 Accidental Inventions You Must Know!
Awards and Achievements
Sonam Wangchuk received the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2018 for helping students of northern India with unique systematic, collaborative, and community-driven reform of learning systems. He has also been honoured for his Ice Stupas and is the second Indian to win a Rolex Award for Enterprise & received 100,000 swiss francs with one of the world’s most expensive watch with his name engraved on it. Here are the major awards and achievements of Sonam Wangchuk:
- Honorary D.Litt by Symbiosis International, 2018
- Eminent Technologist of the Himalayan Region by IIT Mandi, 2018
- Indians for Collective Action (ICA) Honor Award 2017, San Francisco, CA
- GQ Men of the Year Awards, Social Entrepreneur of the Year, 2017
- Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, 2017
- State Award for outstanding environmentalist by J&K Govt., 2017
- International Terra Award for best earth building, 2016
- UNESCO Chair Earthen Architecture, by CRATerre France, 2014
- Real Heroes Award by CNN-IBN TV, 2008
- The Green Teacher Award by Sanctuary Asia, 2004
- Ashoka Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurship, by Ashoka USA, 2002
- Man of the Year by The Week, 2001
- Governor’s Medal for educational reform in Jammu and Kashmir, 1996
With his aim to bring inclusive and engaging learning methods as well as eco-friendly inventions to save our planet, Sonam Wangchuk is an inspirational real-life superhero! The world truly needs more educational reformers like him and we salute him for his amazing inventions and ideas that made our world better! For more such informative reads, stay tuned to Leverage Edu!