It is lunchtime at Gelephu Lower Secondary School, Sarpang. In small groups, students sit around their lunch. A small bunch of students group themselves near the multi-purpose hall. They are the one who cannot afford to bring their own lunch to school.
With steel plates and mugs, they queue in front a table where a group of senior students and a teacher serves them their meal. They enter the next room and wait for the rest of to settle. Then the students say the grace and begin eating.
Most of these students come from broken and financially-challenged families.
The school administration started the feeding programme about five years ago after it learnt that students skipped classes and their academic performance deteriorated because they could not afford to bring in packed lunch like the rest.
The programme began with the school principal Kinzang Dorji taking upon himself to feed three students who came from a disadvantaged family. The three siblings were on the verge of dropping out of school.
“To help these children and to retain them in school we started to provide them lunch,” said Kinzang Dorji. “Slowly, other staff followed and we took turns to feed them.”
Kinzang Dorji said that the school’s student support service committee identified vulnerable students and registered them under the feeding programme. Today, there are 15 students under the programme.
He said that the programme was introduced mainly to provide every student an equal opportunity to get education and nutritious diet for healthy growth.
With student number increasing every year, the school in 2017 handed over the programme to the Tarayana Club. The club has taken various measures to seek support from the public to sustain the programme.
The club’s coordinator, Tshendu Wangmo, said residents and local business establishments provided support and made donations for the programme. One of the residents in Gelephu, Karma Jambay has been supporting the programme since September 2018.
“He provides all the necessary support to the programme throughout the year,” Tshendu Wangmo said. “Donations are made in kind. We do not handle any cash under the programme.”
Some of the parents have also volunteered to cook meals for the children. Currently, there are four women who regularly come and cook for the students.
One of the volunteers, Karma Tshomo, said she was happy to help the school feed the less fortunate students. “While I remain in the school campus throughout the day waiting for my kids, I thought I could use that time to cook for these students,” she said. “I’ve not seen most of them but I hope they like the food we prepare for them.”
Kinzang Dorji said the school would continue the programme as long as there are students who need the service. “We are concerned regarding the sustainability of the programme, but people are willing to help us,” he said.
Younten Tshedup | Gelephu