It was in the summer of 2013 when a woman in Bumthang heard residents discussing about a rape of a nine-year-old student in one of the schools.

She approached some schoolteachers and health officials, who denied having any knowledge.

She didn’t give up but probed further, sending messages to teachers to help her. She learnt that the school administration knew about it and made an agreement with the perpetrators not to repeat the crime.

After writing several messages, a teacher, on the condition of anonymity, told her the details of the child.

She then went to Bumthang police and lodged a complaint. “The police called the school authority and asked them to cooperate,” she said. “The school authority claimed they didn’t know about the rape but I found out that the girl was staying with her guardians. The school had called the guardians since the girl was not bringing lunch and was always lost in class.”

The woman then met the girl, who confided in her how her uncle sexually abused her every night.

The uncle, a meat vendor, was arrested and the girl rescued. She took care of the girl for about 20 days and then brought her to Thimphu at night. “The girl’s mother and aunt charged us and the police,” she said.

The woman, Pem Choki, is a RENEW volunteer in Bumthang.

The 39 year-old from Samtse has been volunteering with RENEW since 2008 and has not only created awareness on domestic violence, gender-based violence and violence against women but helped many survivors.

She started volunteering in Sibsoo and continued in Bumthang.

On November 25, Pem Choki was among the 11 volunteers who received a certificate of appreciation from Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck in recognition of their continuous selfless community service to reduce gender-based violence and supporting RENEW to strive for a violence-free society.

The other certificate recipients are Karma Wangchuk, Ambika Neopaney and Yeshey Yangdon from Gelephu, Chang Chung from Samdrupjongkhar, Yeshey Pelden and Kuenga Norbu from Paro, Jigme Choden, Yangzome and Namgay Thinley from Thimphu and Dil Maya Sharma from Phuentsholing.

Karma Wangchuk is a senior forest ranger in Sarpang and he said he spent the last 10 years creating awareness and providing counselling and mediating whenever necessary.

He said he volunteered for RENEW since his sister suffered as a victim of domestic violence for almost 15 years and succumbed to injuries she sustained from her husband.

“I couldn’t do anything to save her then but I felt I should protect others like her,” he said.

Karma Wangchuk said men are also victims of such abuses and some men in the locality approach him for help.

“A driver in the locality came to us, claiming his wife was always drunk and doesn’t shoulder any responsibility,” he said. “We went and took the wife to the hospital and even gave counselling.”

He said he also learnt to listen to both sides of the story while dealing with the clients before drawing any conclusions. “There was an incident where the woman made accusations of being tortured by her husband but when we studied the case, we found out it was totally different.”

The forester said he could not come personally to receive the certificate but requested other senior volunteers to receive it on his behalf. “It will motivate me to work hard.”

Dil Maya Sharma, 49, from Phuentsholing said the certificate means a lot to her, as it encourages her to contribute more to the society.

“When Her Majesty recognises my little contribution, I felt all the things I sacrificed for is paid off,” she said.

Dil Maya Sharma cited how a 72-year-old woman from a remote village in Lhamoizingkha called her for help when her husband abused her.

“She got my number from her children and with the help of Phuentsholing and Lhamoizingkha police, we counselled the husband and they are now leading a peaceful life,” she said.

She said based on her experience as a volunteer, she creates a friendly atmosphere at home, as home is where volunteerism should start. “My two daughters also have a strong sense of volunteerism.”

RENEW officials said besides the 11 volunteers awarded with certificates this year, five volunteers were also awarded certificates last year.

RENEW has a total of 677 volunteers as of last year of which 323 are female and 354 are male.

The volunteers are members of a community-based support system (CBSS), which is a network of community members focused on the prevention of violence.

Meanwhile, Pema Choki said RENEW has created an opportunity for her to contribute to the society and the certificate of appreciation reignited her dedication and commitment to bring positive change in the community.

“A simple housewife like me could do a lot for the needy because of RENEW,” she said.

Tashi Dema