In their absence, students have to rent rooms and live in dire conditions 

Education: It’s 4pm.  Mindu Wangzom, 18, is back from school.  The class XII arts student is working hard to ensure that she gets through the board examination.

She is among the 811 girls studying in one of the country’s most populated schools, the Peljorling higher secondary school (PHSS) in Sipsu, Samtse.

The school has 1,622 students, but no boarding facilities.

In the absence of hostels in the school, students like Mindu have rented a room some 20m away from the school’s main gate.  She shares the room with her brother, a class XI arts student.

The room, they call home, reeks of sweat.  Its walls are dirt-stained and there is no study table, or chairs.  The light of the clear day doesn’t light the room that has turned humid.

Mindu Wangzom said summers were worse. “The power goes off often due to heavy rainfall, thunder and lightning,” she said.

The house owner provides them firewood at times to cook but, most of the time, the teen said she managed with noodles.  There were many times last year, she recalls, when the siblings had gone to bed on empty stomachs.

But this life isn’t her story alone.  It’s the story of more than 500 Peljorling students, who have rented rooms, some close to the school, some far.

Three to five students share a room each, and pay between Nu 1,000 to Nu 1,500 as monthly rents.  Each room has an electric rice cooker and curry cooker.

But none of the students owns an LPG gas and stove for alternate cooking, in case of power cuts.

In one such room, close to the school surroundings are two brothers, Dikraj Ghalley, 18, and Dirga Singh Ghalley, 16 and their friend.  The brothers share the room with two class VII girls, their cousins.

Two beds occupy the entire room.  The girls share the smaller bed, while the three boys share the bigger one.

A class X student, Gyan Maya, is also sharing a room with her sister.  Her room, like those of many others, has no ventilation.  Dinginess keeps following right from the entrance.

Most students said they miss breakfast and lunch, when they have no power.

To feed deprived students during such situations, the school principal and staff have personally initiated “a day feeding programme.”

Attempts to construct hostels were made in the past, but their status remains unsettled, because of a problem with land acquisition.

A survey team had inspected two private lands in 2013.  Although one of the private lands (87 decimals) has become a government land, with the owner absconding following a rape charge, the owner of the other land is not willing to give her 30 decimals to the school.

School principal Sonam Jamtsho said the owner was adamant about her decision.

“She wanted substitute land along the roadside, which the government didn’t have,” the principal said. “The only solution was to find an area within the school surrounding.”

Last December, the dungkhag engineers inspected some portion within the 16 acres campus to construct a hostel.  The current location was feasible for two hostels that can accommodate 100 beds each.

While the school is yet to hear from the education ministry on their proposed budget, the school authority said that the rented rooms were crammed and not conducive for living or studying. “Some of the rented rooms are pathetic,” a teacher said.

Lack of timely meals during summertime, not studying due to lack of supervision, and unhygienic conditions, the principal said, are three main problems, the school faced.

Given the school’s proximity to the thick jungle, elephants also frequent outside the school surrounding.

But more than these issues, the main problem of not having boarding facilities is the fear of young girls getting exploited, teachers said.

However, boarding facility is not only a problem in PHSS.  Other schools in Samtse face the same situation.

Of the three higher secondary schools in Samtse, only Tendu HSS has boarding facility.  Only Dorokha MSS among the three middle schools in the dzongkhag has boarding facility.

In 2014, THSS screened 46 students as boarders from more than 400 who qualified for the government school.  The school continues to face huge admission pressure annually.

Initially, boarding facility in schools in the south was not allowed due to security concerns.  However, people said things have become better now, especially, in Samtse, for the government to start constructing hostels.

“A boarding facility would solve most of our problems,” a teacher said, as a class IX girl student nearby tried going to sleep.

She had a stomachache and had skipped classes and lunch that day, her friends say.  As others opened their books to do their homework, she stayed curled up, in pain in her dark room.

By Rajesh Rai, Sipsu