It was a pain having to leave her three-month-old baby at home. Coming to school and going back home to feed her little one and then rushing to school to teach was a trouble. Not all mothers get to enjoy six-months maternity leave.

Kelzang Wangmo, an English teacher at Rinchen Higher Secondary School in Thimphu, can now bring her baby to school. As a resident of Taba, an hour’s flexibility leave to go home to her baby, feed him and then to return to class to teach, was tiring and difficult for the teacher.

She does not have to worry about this anymore. The school’s principal, Tshering Dorji, has made a special arrangement for female teachers who are breastfeeding mothers. The school has a ‘cradle room’ for the babies.

“We used to adjust the timetable among teachers, and whenever we get free time we used to rush home to feed the baby,” Kelzang Wangmo said. “It was so difficult because my husband is also a teacher.”

The school has been able to sanction only a two-month paid maternity leave for breast feeding mothers. They have the option to take an extra month’s leave, which is unpaid.

Kelzang Wangmo is not the only breastfeeding mother in Rinchen Higher Secondary School. An accountant and another teacher also come with their babies.

When it is feeding time for the babies, mothers have to run just a few steps from their classrooms.

Tshering Dema, a teacher and a mother of a three-month-old baby girl, said that the principal was kind to come up with such an initiative.

“This has made it so much easier for us. Now I’m able to concentrate on work wholeheartedly,” she said. “We could not even take a month’s leave even if we wanted to because of job security issues.”

Principal Tshering Dorji said that bringing baby to the school might sound weird to the people but what was most important was to realise the hardship teaching mothers were facing.

He added that as a private school Rinchen Higher Secondary School would never be in a position to sanction a six-month maternity leave as in government organisations. “It would entail a huge cost. But maternity leave is important for both mother and baby.”

So was the idea of ‘cradle room’ in Rinchen Higher Secondary School born.

Tshering Dorji said that flexi-leave was not helping the teachers. He floated the idea of employing a babysitter, but that did not work.

“Then came the idea of rescheduling the teaching periods of mothers so that one mother can help look after the babies,” Tshering Dorji said. “If none of the teachers are free, non-teaching staff take care of the babies.”

Fathers of the babies come to clean the room once a week.

“The ‘cradle room’ used to be an office but I thought it could be used for the babies and breastfeeding mothers in the school,” said Tshering Dorji.

The school has 13 female teaching and non-teaching staff.

One of the teachers recently gave birth and another teacher is expecting. The environment has become conducive that even other teachers bring their toddlers to school and help each other take care of the babies.

The school’s accountant, Duptho Zangmo, said that at one point of time she even decided to resign because it was difficult for her to manage time between home and work. Now that she can bring her baby to school, she has no problem.

“Without an option, I used to bring my baby to work and the principal was considerate,” she said. Then, the school had not even started the cradle room.

The teachers are now looking for a full-time babysitter.

Tshering Dorji said that he sees this initiative as a way to contribute to the society because men often do not understand a mother’s situation.

“Three- or six-month maternity leave, what is important is that options must be given to a mother to give her baby enough time to be together. It is also important that becoming a mother should not necessarily discourage new mothers to leave jobs.”

The school is making efforts to ensure that bringing babies to school does not disturb classes and school schedules.

“It has been a success so far,” Tshering Dorji said.

Yangchen C Rinzin