A fundamental part of our project was to meet and interview experts who hold special expertise on themes related to our project. We had thought of a list of topics to discuss beforehand and although this preparation was somewhat helpful, we were a bit unprepared how significantly the meetings can alter our perspective towards the project.
A good moment in our project for the expert meetings was when we had gained some insight on the situation with landslides in Bhutan but still needed a push to crystallize our ideas and really reflect what is actually possible with our project. Hence the meetings served as an activator for developing our project into new directions and motivated us to challenge the overall sustainability of our project.
Because of the pandemic all meetings were conveniently arranged in Zoom and were held in March-April of 2021.
Meeting with a landslide expert
The first meeting was with Philipp Schmidt-Thomé, who is an International Operations Director of the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) and also an expert in landslides. His background is in environmental geology, natural hazards, climate change adaptation and land-use planning – and in his own words: mainly in communication.
Because of Mr. Schmidt-Thomé’s wide experience on working both with landslides and international projects, he right from the start got a clear overall picture of our project and could start to lead the conversation. We had a long conversation with him about landslides and how to raise awareness on the hazard within the local communities.
He easily saw the weaknesses in our work but luckily enough – also the strengths. Our project is very important, we just have very limited resources especially with these special pandemic circumstances. Hence, we needed to carefully evaluate what is feasible. His opinion was for us to still proceed with the GIS (if we want to) but in addition to that turn the focus more on the leaflet – or the handbook – as we now call it.
After the meeting we were a bit confused but in a very positive way; Before the meeting our project was revolving around GIS, now we could also see the educational side in it more clearly.
Meeting experts on Bhutanese culture and society
Second meeting was with the staff from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. We were honored to meet the roving ambassador for South Asia Harri Kämäräinen, an assistant to the ambassador Annikki Hakala and Liisa Folkersma, a Desk officer at the Unit for South Asia.
Both Mr. Kämäräinen and Mrs. Hakala have visited Bhutan and shared some of their professional knowledge on Bhutanese community and their perspective on the situation with landslides. All of the experts were very excited on our project and were happy to see students from Bhutan and Finland working together in a project promoting for sustainability and raising awareness on climate change.
Mr. Kämäräinen recognized a lot of potential in our project and he also thought that the handbook comes in just a right time as there is a need to build resilience towards landslides in Bhutan within the local communities. He had also quite an ambitious vision to develop our project furthermore and engage more organizations to the project such as Red Cross and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
With this meeting we gained a lot of insight of the Bhutanese people and communities but also the connection these two countries have tied together.
After the meetings
Both Mr. Schmidt-Thomé and Mr. Kämäräinen visited our intensive three-day workshop with the Bhutanese students and were happy to share their wide expertise and know-how with the whole team in a brief lecture.
Work with the handbook continues. In the coming weeks we might still need to engage one expert to our project to support the design of the handbook as infographics and simple yet educational visual material is planned to be published in the handbook.