Farmers in Uttaray village in Samtse have only one expectation from the two political parties.
They are not concerned about who wins or loses. All they want is a bus facility for their school-going children or hostel facility for the young children .
Uttaray is located about 11kms away from schools in Samtse town forcing some parents to rent houses in Samtse and leave their children to live and manage themselves.
A villager, Purna Bahadur Gurung, has two daughters and a son staying in a rented room in Samtse town.
“They have their grandmother to look after them,” he said. “We cannot live with them because we have to work in our farms.”
Purna Bahadur Gurung pays Nu 1,000 a month as rent. His two daughters are studying in class VII and class IV, while the youngest son is in pre-primary.
He said it is not only difficult for farmers like him to pay monthly rent and send rations to the children but it is not safe to leave the children on their own. “We worry about their safety.”
Purna Bahadur Gurung said a bus facility would help, as there are many children from other villages facing the same problem. People of Chilu, Thumkay, and Saureni village also rent houses for their children, as there are no hostel facilities in Samtse Higher Secondary School (SHSS) and Samtse Lower Secondary School (SLSS).
Many parents from the villages, who couldn’t afford to rent houses in Samtse say they have sent their children to schools as far as Haa and Chukha.
Another Uttaray resident, Indra Bahadur Gurung, 41, has three children who are catering for themselves.
His two daughters are in class 10 and class eight, while the youngest, a son studies in class five. They have rented a house for Nu 1,400 a month.
“I tried admitting my eldest daughter in the new Norbugang Central School (NCS) but couldn’t,” he said.
Uttaray villagers said they raised the issue with the party candidates in 2008 and 2013. The villagers say they have requested the two candidates of Phuentshopelri-Samtse constituency this time also.
As villagers are aware that a school would not be possible in their village considering the population, they expect transport facility.
Although his children are not anymore in school, Singhraj Gurung, 53, of Uttaray said this is the most pressing issue for villagers here. “We had highlighted the issue several times.”
If transport facilities are provided, Singhraj Gurung said students could attend school from home. Students could learn household chores and parents could learn Dzongkha from the children.”
There are also a few children who are fortunate as their parents own bolero pick-ups to drop and pick. Dik Maya Ghalley and her husband drop and pick up their children daily.
Kuensel also met a class five student, Karma Tshering Ghalley from Saureni (a village farther from Uttaray), who took a lift from Gurung Basti.
His father has a vehicle and drops him to school most of the time and sometimes he walks to school from a short route. “I ask for lift when my father is busy,” he said.
SHSS has about 40 day-scholars who live in rented rooms today. This is a decrease from the past years when there were 100 such students. SLSS has about 10 such students. Most have been admitted to Norbugang CS.
A SHSS teacher said they keep visiting the students’. “We also meet them in school and ask their problems. Whenever possible, we try to help them,” the teacher said.
The school administration has arranged teacher coordinators for child support program. Each teacher is given one self-catering student.
Although major issues ere not reported, the teacher said there are chances of students getting involved in substance abuse and illicit relationships.
“Absenteeism is also a problem, as students cite problems of electricity and water,” the teacher said, adding such problems are bound to occur as children stayed alone without proper guidance.
Hostel facility is a major problem in Samtse. Although new hostels are constructed in some schools, the schools are not able to accommodate all the students.
Other schools across Samtse such as Peljorling Higher Secondary School (PHSS), Tendruk Central School, and Yoeseltse Middle Secondary School (YMSS) also have self-catering students staying in rented rooms.
In 2017, PHSS had more than 400 students who rented houses and attended school. The situation has not changed today. Two 120-bedded hostels have been constructed but are not yet inaugurated.
Tashichholing gup Samir Giri said self-catering students are deprived of parental guidance and proper studying time because there is nobody to guide them.
He said children today could get spoiled mainly due to irresponsible social media content. The gup, however, said the school was doing everything to check student activities.
In YMSS, there are about 70 students who rent rooms and attend school. Many students were admitted to Norbugang CS.
Although major problems have not been reported, a teacher said there are risks.
“Students could get into have illicit relationships. Good students could also get spoiled, and not perform well in exams” said the teacher.
YMSS teachers also conduct regular monitoring. Teachers have divided into groups to check on the self-catering students. Parents’ contact numbers are also kept.
Meanwhile, behind a small hut in Gurung Basti below the Samtse-Dorokha highway, a group of boys are playing marble. Two brothers, Amrit Gurung, 13, and Em Kumar Gurung, 10, are also playing. The young boys are from Uttaray and rent a small room with their elder sister, Devika Gurung, 14.
Inside the room, a rice cooker and curry cooker is their only utensils. There are two beds. They have had their lunch at Uttaray and returned early evening to their rented room.
Devika Gurung said she wakes up at 5am and cook.
“We have rented this room from this year,” she said, adding they used to stay with a cousin sister before.
Amrit Gurung said he tried for admission at NCS but failed to avail as admissions were provided from class seven and above. “We study from 6pm to 8pm daily,” he said.
He and the siblings told Kuensel that the temperature soars up in the summer that is often worsened due to a power cut. In the rainy nights, the sound of the rain striking the CGI roof keeps them awake. Their toilet is about 30 to 40 metres away from the CGI hut they live in.
Rajesh Rai | Samtse