Girls have not traditionally been encouraged to go to school in the south Asian nation of Bhutan. So it takes tremendous determination to achieve what Deki, 22, has. She is the first woman in her village to have completed her education and has become a primary school teacher.
Deki was the eldest child and the only girl of three children. Cultural traditions and environmental issues, such as the need for more helping hands, often means girls like Deki do not complete school.
Although her parents were open-minded and supportive, her grandparents stood in the way of her pursuing her education. Grandparents are important in Bhutanese culture, which dictates that children must look after both their parents and grandparents.
“When I was one of the children to be selected to join school, my grandmother called out and requested the committee not to take me because I was the only granddaughter and that I had to look after them,” Deki recalls. “After a few minutes of arguing, the person interviewing me asked me, ‘Do you want to join school?’ and I said, ‘Yes’. My grandmother could not say a thing.”
What motivated Deki to defy traditional barriers was that she did not want to be dependent on someone else to read and write her letters and official documents. What she later discovered, was that through education she was able to fight the pressures of losing her cultural identity.
Today Deki teaches in Merak, a remote area in eastern Bhutan. The Merak people belong to a unique indigenous group known as the Brokpas and have a language and dress quite distinct from the rest of Bhutan. Deki has taken up a dual mission: to promote education in her community and to preserve her culture.
She makes a point to visit each household in her village to convince parents and their children about the value of education, especially for girls. The results have been remarkable: school enrolment increased by 50 per cent after her first year of teaching.
Deki has encouraged many of her female peers who did not have the opportunity to attend school as children, to participate in a non-formal education programme launched by UNICEF. The programme gives adults a second chance at education and provides them with reading, writing and computing skills. It’s not surprising that Deki’s example has resulted in many women participating in the programme.