A family on the brink of extreme poverty

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

In Jala, Wangdue, lives a couple.

The wife has difficulty walking; the husband suffers from constant headaches, dizziness and memory loss—they were both injured in two separate accidents in the past.

They have five children—the youngest is four.

Except for their 18-year-old daughter, who studies in Gaselo Central School, none of the children have been registered as Bhutanese citizens.

Without citizenship documents, it has been difficult for the couple, local leaders and the school authorities to admit the children to the school.

“We’ve requested the school authority to admit the children while we’re trying to get citizenship for the children,” Jala Tshogpa Kado said.

Gembo, 35, was an RBA soldier at Lungtenphu, Thimphu.  In 2007, Gembo met with an accident on the way to Paro.  He never made a full recovery.

In 2010, Gembo’s wife, Pem Cheki, met with a car accident injuring her leg.  This makes physical work difficult. “Although difficult, I sit and drag myself to do vegetable gardening,” Pem Cheki said.

Over years, daily exercises and running as part of the armed force routine were becoming difficult for Gembo.

He decided to resign from RBA in 2012.  With Nu 230,000 in retirement benefits, he returned home.

“Sometimes, I get a terrible headache and I can’t remember anything,” said Gembo.

Not long after he returned home, Gembo found a job as a security guard at one of the construction companies at Punatsangchu Hydroelectric Project II.

In 2013, Gembo had gone home for lochoe.  His stay home prolonged to two months due to his illness and his mother’s insistence.  When he returned after a long stay at home, Gembo found that his house was broken into and everything, including furniture, stolen.  He also lost most of the important documents such as the children’s health cards.

The couple’s younger sons, aged 4 and 6, were recently provided health cards with the help of the local leaders and medical staff in Wangdue.

Gembo said that for younger children going to school, the neighbours helped with uniforms.

“But for the eldest daughter, as she is the eldest, it means more expenditure. But my daughter doesn’t even ask for a single money after she leaves for school.”

When she is home for vacation, she works for others so that she can pay for her education expenses.

With just about 23-decimal land, food is scarce for the family of seven.  The land was provided by Gembo’s elder sister to cultivate paddy.  Even the house they are living in is not theirs.  Gembo’s sister lets the family live in the ground floor of her house.

“We have to buy rice, cooking oil, salt and other necessities. It isn’t enough,” Pem Cheki said.

Inside the house, it is dark and dingy.  The mud floor is uneven.  On one side of the wall are stacked boxes and all manner of things.  On the other side is a bed with just a coverlet over it.

Local leaders are aware of the difficulties facing Gembo and his family.

Tshogpa Kado said that the leaders were trying to get the children registered as citizens.  However, without health cards and other necessary documents, it has been very difficult. 

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