Unlike many parents, who look forward to the winter vacation, a time to be with their children, a resident of upper Kheng in Zhemgang is worried.

For the 49-year-old man, who works as a school cook, winter vacation means extra mouths to feed on his meagre salary, as his children, niece and nephew will all be home.

During summer, he has to feed seven people when the students leave to boarding schools. “In winter, there are 12 people in my house.” Five children, studying in classes seven to 12, stay away from home in summer.

The father of six had to look after his sister’s children in 2015 after his sister, who faced difficulty in feeding her four children and parents in a remote village in upper Kheng committed suicide. The late sister lost her husband when a boat capsized in Mangdechu while ferrying construction materials in 2014.

The man gave away one of his daughters to a neighbour and one of his nieces to a relative. “I thought they would have a better life with them.”

Living in a temporary shed made of CGI sheets on someone land, he said it is difficult to make ends meet.  

His wife works for others whenever there is work and brings home some cereals.

But it’s not just the children he has to look after.

His 80-year-old father stays in a temporary shed without walls below his hut. Vision-impaired, the old man relieves himself in the hut. “He refuses to stay with us in the hut saying it is suffocating,” the man said.

His wife’s aunt, who is in her late 60s, stays in a tent made of tarpaulin sheets below that hut. She doesn’t have children or any immediate relatives to look after her.

The man said he goes to bed every night, worrying if he would be able to feed everyone the next day. “As long as I live, I have to bear this responsibility. It is my fate.”

He said he would work as a cook until the children grow up and complete their studies.

He has a house in his village, which is a day’s walk from the school. “If I go home, I will not be able to educate and feed them well,” he said.

A civil servant in the gewog confirmed that the man only has a house in the village but his arable lands are far away.

Bardo gup Kinzang Jurmi said there are about five to six families that live in extreme poverty in the gewog.

He said the gewog administration submitted a report for welfare for the family. “The eldest nephew of the cook, who is in class 12 received scholarship.”

He said the gewog office is hoping other nieces and nephews of the cook would also receive help. “There is another family in a village, who has six children and couldn’t construct a proper house. The gewog and dzongkhag administrations are planning to initiate the construction.”

Meanwhile, the cook’s eldest son, who is 19 years, dropped out of school.

The father said his son claimed he wanted to help the family. “He went to learn driving in Dagana. I don’t know if he will get a job.”

Editor’s note: The name and details of the cook is withheld in the interest of the children he looks after

Tashi Dema  | Zhemgang