Neten Dorji

For the past four decades, Dechen Peldon, 55, and her family, originally from Sherimuhung in Mongar, have been the silent workforce behind the cleared roads and open highways in eastern Bhutan.

From Yongbaree to Sherichu and now residing below Rongthong village in Kanglung, Dechen Peldon’s life has revolved around road maintenance. For six days a week, she wakes up at the crack of dawn, prepares meals, and sends her family members off to work, tirelessly building walls, cleaning roads, and clearing obstacles, all while managing the household chores and overseeing the DANTAK store at Rongthung.

Dechen Peldon mostly looks after the store

Starting at the tender age of 18, Dechen stepped into her mother’s shoes, shouldering the responsibility of road construction work. “Despite the gruelling hours and challenging conditions, the compensation was meager, with the government offering only Nu 3,000 a month for tasks like landslide clearance and drain cleaning.”

Back in Sherimuhung, promises of land and housing from the government in 1990 remain unfulfilled, leaving Dechen and her family with only a 50-decimal land. But much of the land cannot be cultivated. Land documentation, misplaced over time, adds to their worries about securing a future for their children.

“My mother lost the land documents. As my children grow, I am increasingly worried,” says Dechen.

Working an average of 70 hours a week without permanent job security or benefits for sick leave, Dechen and her family face uncertainty about their livelihoods. With limited land to inherit and insufficient resources for education, the prospects for their children are equally challenging.

Despite the hardships, Dechen remains steadfast in her commitment to keeping the roads open and providing for her family. She brushes off societal judgments, focusing on the importance of her work and the dignity it brings.

As she approaches retirement age, Dechen grapples with concerns about her future employment with Project DANTAK and the implications for her housing situation.

Her recent application for land from the gewog administration reflects her hopes for a stable home in retirement, where she can finally rest and build a secure future for her family.

Dechen Peldon’s story is a testament to the resilience and dedication of Bhutan’s unsung heroes, whose tireless efforts ensure the smooth functioning of the country’s infrastructure, even as they face personal challenges and uncertainties.