Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

As the borders remain closed, mandarin exporters in Samdrupjongkhar deployed more than 70 students to segregate and pack mandarins at the depots.

The exporters usually employed Indian labourers.

Students said they are happy to work in the depots, as they earn Nu 12,000 to Nu 15,000 a month and get free food.

They claimed the money would be used to meet their educational expenses.

A Class IX student, Tashi Lhamo, 16, said she was doing the work for the second time. She earned about Nu 23,000 last year.

“I feel happy and proud to work at the depots because I can help my parents and sisters,” she said.

Another student, Yoenten Pelchen, 15, said that initially, grading the oranges by their size was challenging, but he has learnt the art now. “I want to do this every winter.”

He said he helped his parents and used the money to buy school uniforms and books. “Working in the depots is helpful for those who come from middle-income families.”

Another student, Nima Yoezer, 15, said there is nothing Bhutanese cannot do, but there are no opportunities for them, as the employers prefer labourers from outside. “It’s important to give opportunities to the Bhutanese labourers.”

An exporter, Langa Dorji, who owns Pin-Nga enterprise, said he deployed more than 30 students, while other exporters brought in Indian labourers.

He said it becomes expensive to bring in Indian labourers, as they have to bear quarantine expenses. “We need to follow several procedures and get rejected at the end.”

He pays Nu 15,000 a month for boys and Nu 40 per box for the girls and free food.

Another exporter, Rin-Yang Export house, employed about 30 students at the depot this time. The house also brought in seven Indian labourers.

The owner, Seyna, said students used to complete only about 85 boxes a day last year, but they are doing well because they completed a truckload this time, adding that he pays Nu 12,000 a month and free food.

He said he had to bring seven Indian labourers, paying Nu 400 per labourer this time because importers in Bangladesh didn’t accept their oranges due to the poor packaging last year.

Sherab Thuendrel export owner, Sherab Zangpo, said Bhutanese labourers are also doing better if they are given the opportunity, as they could now complete packaging about two to three truckloads a day.