Community: As the sun starts to set, the villagers of Manthung in Kanglung hang up their spades and call it a day.

Sonam Deki, an orphan in the village is just back from school. She lives with her two younger siblings. For an 18 year-old teenager, she is wise beyond her years.

The tiny hut they live in shows its age. Gaping spaces between the floor planks allow the cold evening chill into the hut. A few blankets and two mattresses are all they can afford to keep warm.

At the age of nine, Sonam Deki lost her mother to a disease she cannot recall. Her father, who was a cook at the Sherubtse College mess died after falling from a tree two years ago.

Her stepmother, whom they depended upon following his death, abandoned them three months ago.

“Life was never easy for us,” says Sonam Deki. “After father passed away, we lost the one person who would guide us,” she adds, choking back tears. “At times, I can’t sleep at night thinking of the harder times ahead.”

Today she is the mother of her two younger siblings. Every morning, she wakes up at 6am to prepare breakfast and pack lunch boxes before heading off for school. After school, she helps them with home work.

“It is very difficult to manage everything but I don’t have a choice here,” says Sonam. “We can only study, pray and hope for a better future.”

Without any financial support, they are surviving on the little money Sonam’s younger brother Tenzin Tshering earned doing temporary jobs during the winter break. Sonam was also sensible enough to save some money the past few years.

“A group of lecturers from Sherubtse provided us with rice and groceries a few weeks back. That should last us another month,” says Tenzin, with a faint smile. “Some have bought school uniforms, shoes and even note books for us.”

Tenzin, who is studying in the ninth standard at Jampeling higher secondary school (JHSS) at one time considered quitting school to look for a job. As astute an idea it may have been to his young mind then, his older sister convinced him to continue studying.

“My sister advised me that it would help only a little in solving our problems and ruin my future,” he says. “I have now decided to study hard and become an educated farmer when I grow up.”

The youngest sister, Kinley Zangmo studies in class five. She says she likes it more at school with her friends. At home, she misses her father.

For Sonam Deki the stress is building. For a student who used to top her class, her performance has been dropping. Despite the stress, she still managed to score an impressive 72 percent in tenth grade last year and is today pursuing science at JHSS.

Through the hardship, the three orphan siblings have high hopes about the future. They are banking on education to pave the pathway to their dreams.

“Life has always tested our ability to endure its hardships. While things are turning for the worse, I believe times would change someday,” says Sonam, as the three work on their home work.

Tshering Wangdi,  Trashigang