It’s 7am and Dorji Khandu is all set to leave his cosy house in Merak to join his friends at the early childhood care and development (ECCD) centre.

The temperature outside is around two degree celsius but the four-year-old doesn’t mind the cold as long as he gets to see his friends at the centre.

He is almost two hours early. The centre opens only at 9am.

Dorji Khandu sits near a bukhari sipping on a cup of butter-tea, growing impatient.

Not every kid in the community is fortunate enough to go to the centre. Since its establishment in July 2013, the ECCD centre in Merak has received a lukewarm response from the community in terms of enrolment.

According to one of the facilitators of the centre, Thinley Wangmo, the enrolment is decreasing every year.

A total of 23 children were enrolled this year, but only around 15 of them come to the centre regularly.

The lack of interest among parents to send their children to the centre is because most of the parents take their children along while they migrate with their cattle.

Thinley Wangmo said that the number has been decreasing ever since she arrived in the gewog two years ago. “When parents don’t send their kids to the centre, our work plan for the year remains incomplete,” she said.

The facilitator said that the matter was discussed on several occasion with the gup and community representatives.

Merak Gup, Lama Rinchen, said that since a majority of the people in the community are nomadic herders, they are out with their cattle most of the time without anyone to look after the kids back home.

“People stay for just about four months in the village, and for the rest of the eight months they are out with their cattle,” he said. “It is not because they don’t want to enrol their kids in the centre.”

The gup, however, added that awareness campaigns and meetings are held with the parents on the importance of education.

But for those parents who don’t migrate, having an ECCD centre has allowed them to get some time to do other chores at home.

Pema Yangzom, 25, who sends both her kids to the centre, said that while the kids are gone, she gets time for chores and also to weave. “Once the kids are at the centre, we don’t have to worry.”

Apart from the low enrolment rate at the centre, the ECCD centre in Merak is confronted with other challenges.

Kinley Deki, also a facilitator, said that without a heating system at the centre, children are left freezing most of the time.

“We proposed for a room and water heating system two years ago,” she said.

She also said they asked for a jute carpet for the centre because it gets very cold in winter. “We haven’t received any response so far.”

Kinley Deki also said most of the toys at the centre are broken and they were not provided with new toys  since it started four years ago.

She said that there is no television facility like other ECCDs to show educational clips to the children.

Unlike the rest of the civil servants in the gewog, the two facilitators do not enjoy the altitude and difficulty allowances.

“We are also working for the community here, but we do not get benefits like others,” Kinley Deki said. “It’s not easy working in such conditions.”

Younten Tshedup | Merak