Founders’ Story

It was another September, another first day of school. All three backpacks double-checked for supplies, Alix and Ruedi Laager walked outside to see their three children off to school. Karin (age 10) and Lucas (age 7) waved as they walked in the direction of their elementary school. Danny (also age 7) waited with his parents for his school bus, which he was provided because of his special needs. When it arrived, Danny ran to the bus and greeted everyone inside. Then the door closed. The Laagers sighed as the bus drove out of sight. What a milestone, they thought.

When Danny was born with Down syndrome, Alix and Ruedi wondered what the future would hold for him. But thanks to the special education opportunities and services available for them in New York, Danny is able to flourish. In fact, Danny received early intervention services starting just a few months after his birth. Services like these and the special education he is now receiving in his local public school help him to be the engaged student and sociable boy he is today.

On that first day of school in 2007, with the children a little older, the Laagers had a moment to exhale and began to wonder, what if. Alix’s family has been involved in development in Bhutan for three generations and was part of establishing the Bhutan Foundation here in the United States. Knowing the impact that special education was having with Danny, and that education was a Bhutanese priority, the Laagers wondered, What if we offered to help develop special education in Bhutan? They approached the Bhutan Foundation to see if the Government of Bhutan might be interested in receiving support to establish special education programs. The Foundation learned that it was in the country’s Five-Year-Plan to provide education to all, but that the Ministry of Education did not have any experience teaching children with special needs and would welcome the assistance. In fact, they were eager to get started right away.

As a first step, in 2008 the Laagers and the Bhutan Foundation invited three Bhutanese educators to visit the United States for a 10-day introductory tour of special education programs. This was the exciting start to a rewarding and ongoing collaboration. In 2010 the Laagers gathered a group of professionals in the field of special education to form the US Special Education Advisory Committee to Bhutan in order to provide appropriate guidance and technical assistance for the growing project.

Special education in Bhutan today is approximately where the United States was in the 1970s. However, the Ministry of Education is committed to equitable education for the people of Bhutan. The Ministry of Education, the SEN schools, the relevant Stakeholders and community awareness have grown substantially towards the goal of providing education for all. Thus parents, even in Bhutan, can look on with pride and think, like the La2agers have so often, What a milestone.