Sonam Wangchuk born, near Alchi, in the Trans Himalayan region of Ladakh, India is an engineer, innovator, and an 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.
Sonam spent the first seven years of his childhood with his mother in a remote Ladakhi village, climbing trees, helping her with housework, and learning to read and write Ladakhi. He feels that the opportunity to learn Ladakhi was one of the best things she provided, particularly since the schools he attended later did not teach the language.
In 1988, a year after graduating as an engineer, Sonam, with his brother and five peers, formed the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL). Their first fundraising effort, a Ladakhi cultural show, proved to be a huge success. Until 1990 Sonam coached school students and offered vocational training courses to dropouts. Sonam had to get to the root of the problem, and the solution to that lay in localizing the system of elementary education. He did not think of building an alternate system because it would have resulted in a waste of resources. Besides, most of the children in Ladakh attended government-run schools.
In 1991 Sonam started his first intervention in the government school of Saspol with permission from the chief education officer of the region. The success of the model created popular demand for his training, and 33 villages came forward to adopt the model before the newly formed Hill Council adopted it as official policy.
When he saw people struggling to meet their basic water requirements in Ladakh, he came up with a solution of creating vertical ice stupas to store water for a longer time. The average stupa is 35 meters to 40 meters high and can store upto 16,000 cubic litres of water which is enough to irrigate 10 hectares of land. Read how Wangchuk plans to create 80-90 such stupas to solve all of Ladakh’s water troubles.