“Our students will return to school one day”
Equipped with new handwashing stations, Zhemgang LSS is ready to welcome its students.
When schools across the country closed following the COVID-19 pandemic scare in early March, Zhemgang Lower Secondary School remained open. Not for its students but for its teachers and supporting staff.
Today, a variety of colourful handwashing stations carrying messages on hand hygiene dot the school campus.
“We divided ourselves into a groups and took up the task to build the handwashing stations,” principal Sonam Wangchuk said. “That is why they are in different colours and designs.”
The school split its 39 staff into four groups and each group was assigned an area to build the handwashing stations. Having proper handwashing facilities for students in schools is one of the conditions the government has set to reopen the schools.
“All of us have been engaged in the construction of the handwashing stations,” the principal said. “We are also building a reservoir for 24 water tanks, which when complete should provide enough water for our 490 students.” The school is keen on keeping the reservoir filled at all times.
When the schools reopened for grades X and XII early this month, the Ministry of Education had said that the reopening of other grades would depend on how those who reopened would implement the COVID-19 prevention measures.
“We are not sure of our school’s reopening but it should happen because those schools that reopened have given us hope,” Sonam Wangchuk said. “We are prepared to reopen the school and we know that our efforts will make a difference to the students. Our students will return to school one day.”
The school today has 57 tap points including the 49 new taps it installed during the closure. Water shortage was once a norm in the school. Today, no tap runs dry.
Sonam Wangchuk recalls being told about the school’s water problem when he joined as its new principal in 2016. “The first disappointing news the vice principal shared with me was that the school faced an acute shortage of water and that it was impossible to find a new water source.”
Twenty days later, he was at the water source. From the nearest road point, it takes about two hours on foot to reach the water source. “It was almost dry. So, we went further up in search of another source and found one,” the principal said.
The following day, a bigger team from the school visited the new site of the water source and in three days, connected the school’s water lines. “Since then we have been able to sustain the water supply and the school has not faced any shortage.”
After COVID-19 struck, he said, the school officials again visited the water source area to scan for new sources. “We found one, which belongs to a nearby community. If we need more water later, we will discuss with the community on sharing the source,” Sonam Wangchuk said.
The staff are today also engaged in and overseeing the construction of an ECCD centre and the renovation of a choeten ( stupa) in the campus. “These activities have kept all of occupied,” he says. “There are overgrowths that we will need to clear next.”
With the support of a team that he describes as being even more proactive than him, he says that the school is doing all it can to ensure the safety of its students. The school toilets, he says, are cleaned every day.
“My dream for the school is to provide filtered water to all and to have one of the cleanest and toilets in the country.”