Walking towards brighter future
Yeshi Nidup, TsirangDec 3 2013
During the darkest hour of the night, when children in other parts in the country are in a deep slumber, snugly tucked away in their warm beds, they start walking to school. Armed with books, pens and pencils, the 11 students, aged between 11-16 years, are ready by 4:30 AM for the battle of the day that awaits them.
The students from Nimazor village form Rangthangling Gewog in Tsirang walk through dense thicket, for three hours, to their school, Mendrelgang Primary School. Their tiny legs and feet cannot escape the onslaught of leeches; the narrow path that leads them to school is strewn with, in summer.
One of the students, Meena Kumari, said their uniform gets dirty and wet by the time they reach school. “We feel very cold inside the classroom.”
They also have to cross two, old and rickety, suspension bridges. “During rainy season, the bridge becomes wet and dangerous,” said one of the students, Robin Dahal. One of the parents said no child will survive if they fall off the bridge. “The bridge is 50 feet high from the ground.”
The parents, who spoke to BBS said, their children cannot eat well as it is too early in the morning and that their pack lunches get spoilt in summer.
When the heat is at its peak, they sometimes encounter snakes. Parents worry they may encounter wild animals bigger than the reptiles. “Bears, Monkeys and other wild animals ravage our crops. There are chances of our children getting attacked by the animals. The thought worries me,” said Gyan Bahadur, one of the parents.
Before reaching the school compound, about 20 minutes walk away; the children enter their relative’s house. There, they polish their shoes, rearrange their cloths, and freshen up, a routine that has become an integral part of their lives. The relative, Santa Maya, said since the students suffer a lot, she helps them in her own little way.
The students manage to reach 15 minutes ahead of the morning assembly.
Many teachers at the school say the students are bright and hardworking but they are not able to compete with other students residing nearby.
“They are very eager and enthusiastic to learn. But they have to walk for long and can’t concentrate properly in the class,” said Gyeltshen, one of the teachers.
After the classes are over, it is yet another three hours hike back home. They carry torch light to guide them in the dark. Exhausted and hungry, they reach home at 7.30 PM.
Given the long walking hours and the exhaustion thereafter, the students study for about an hour, before they go to bed.
A hostel facility at the Mendrelgang Primary School was discussed several times at the Dzongkhag Yargye Tshogdu.
“The Dzongkhag Education Officials told us that with the support of international organizations support food facilities phasing out, the hostel facility was not possible,” Rangthangling Gup, Bal Bahadur Tamang, said.
The Mendrelgang Gup, Yeshey, says the authority concerned should come up with alternatives.
We are concerned but we have to follow the policy,”
The Officiating District Education Officer, Pema Thinley, said that 70 percent of students studying in Primary and Middle Secondary Schools in Tsirang walk for hours.
“We are concerned but we have to follow the policy,” said Pema Thinley.
He said the education sector builds extended classrooms or primary schools depending on population and yearly enrollment but not hostel facilities.
“What about primary schools in Gopeni, Shemjong and Phuentenchu? They are also located very far.” The education officer said people should understand and know the policy.
According to the Principal of Mendrelgang Primary School, with World Food Programme assistance phasing out, some measures need to be in place. He gave an example of introducing boarding facilities, where parents need to pay for meal.
Tsirang has 10 primary schools, four higher secondary schools and four extended classrooms in 12 Gewogs. Three schools have hostel facilities and assistance from the World Food Programme. There are close to 5800 students in various schools in Tsirang.
Meanwhile, the 11 students, who walk hours to Mendrelgang everyday, have big dreams. Some want to become doctors, some engineers and some teachers.