In the peak of summer in 1997, a fresh graduate from Samtse National Institute of Education, ventured on a journey to a remote school in Haa.

Little did he know then that he would come to love the people and place so much so that he would remain there for long. After more than 20 years in service today, he is still serving in the school.

Passang, 48, from Jenkana, Haa was initially posted to a school in Trashigang.  He opted for Sangbaykha Community Primary in exchange for another teacher graduate who was from Trashigang.

Not long after he began his journey towards the school from Haa, he started to question his decision for choosing the school. It took him four days to reach the school.

“There were leaches all over my body, even in my mouth,” he recalls. “When I reached the school, I almost collapsed out of fatigue.”

Sangbaykha was a remote gewog in Haa. People took almost the same time to travel up to Haa or down to Samtse. “The journey was a nightmare, both ways,” the father of three said.

Lopon Passang, as the community fondly calls him today, had with him three small pots, a bag of rice, and his bedding. He joined four other teachers in the school and taught his favourite subject, Mathematics.

He was always fascinated with numbers and topped the subject from primary to high school. Today, he is known for his expertise in the subject, even among his colleagues.

The first year in school, Passang married Pema, a local girl. “There was no looking back then. This became my home.”

Owing to the difficult terrain and journey, everything was expensive. The cost of transporting a bag of rice was higher than the price of rice.

“We used to receive letters of invitation for trainings but by the time the letters reached here, the trainings used to be over,” Passang said.

Resources were scarce. Numerous children had to share a book and sports facilities were limited. Children did not have exposure and could not compete with children from urban schools.

Passang has witnessed the community undergo change, including the school.

The gewog today has electricity, motorable road and telephone accessibility.

From a bustling school with more than 100 students in the 1990s, Sangbaykha School today has only 44 students.

“The community benefitted a lot from the school, it has today produced doctors, engineers and army officers,” he said.

In the past two years, two extended classrooms (ECRs) closed while neighbouring Mochu Community Primary School, closed in 2000. The villages had no children to enrol.

In more than 20 years of service, he had not gone out of the dzongkhag. He returned to Sangbaykha after about two years in the schools of Haa town.

As a teacher serving in a remote school, he had opportunities to attend trainings and workshops every year.

He has never asked for transfer to an urban school for he felt at home in Sangbaykha.

“It’d simply cost me more to live there and given the number of people I have to support, I prefer here.”

As a teacher, he said, it pains to see children dropping out of school. “They’re shutting the door to a lot of opportunities in life,” he said.

The officiating principal of Sangbaykha Primary School, Chophella said that the teachers benefit from Passang’s experience and expertise.

“We all look up to him as an elder member of the school,” he said.

In around half a dozen years, Passang will superannuate. He hopes to build a house in Sangbaykha, and retire there. “This will be the home for the rest of my life,” he said.

Tshering Palden