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Bhutan: School shortage forces pupils to leave home

© UNICEF Bhutan/2005/Kucita
Chandra, Tika and Lela stand outside the temporary hut where they live during the school week.

By Pawan Kucita

UNICEF’s latest ‘Progress for Children’ report, on gender parity and primary education, is part of the many efforts by partners in the world community to ensure that opportunities for going to school are equally available to both girls and boys. The report complements the work of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative and the Gender Achievement and Prospects in Education (GAP) project, both supported by UN agencies, governments, donor countries, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector and communities and families.

New York, 28 April 2005 - Chandra, 9, Tika, 8, and Lela, 7, are sisters attending Beteni Community School in the district of Tsirang in south-central Bhutan. Because their home is a 6-hour walk from the school, their father, a farmer, has built a small hut for them to live in during the week. The hut is near the school and is made of mud and sticks, with an iron sheet as the roof.

The hut has no windows other than slits in the walls. The interior is dark even during the day. Chandra, Tika and Lela live, cook, eat, study and sleep in the hut during the week, only seeing their parents on weekends, walking home to their village, Pakhey, on Saturdays and returning the next day with food for the following week.

“I like studying,” Chandra says, “but I don’t like staying here, away from mother and father. I want to study and live with my parents.”

Daily routine

UNICEF is supporting the Bhutanese government in constructing 137 new community schools by the end of 2005, including one near the home village of Chandra, Tika and Lela. The goal is to ensure that communities have schools close by, so that girls and boys can live at home, instead of living by themselves in temporary huts, and still get an education.

© UNICEF Bhutan/2005/Kucita
With no electricity for lighting, the three sisters must study before night falls.

During the week, the sisters’ daily routine is simple. The trio get up at 6 a.m., cook breakfast and eat, and then go to school at 8 a.m. Since most of the children at the school cannot afford to bring lunch, there is no lunch break. The school day ends at 2 p.m.

After school, the sisters collect firewood with their friends, cook dinner and eat, and study in the evening. They also play with friends. Since there is no electricity for lighting, they go to bed by 7 p.m. All three sleep in one small bed of about 1.5 m x 1.5 m in size.

All three girls want to continue going to school, despite the conditions which they face in doing so. Whatever life goal she finally decides on, Chandra is definite in saying that she wants to be educated. Tika and Lela aspire to become officers in the Government.

Looking forward to new schools

The sisters are far from the only pupils at Beteni Community School who live in temporary huts. Children and parents alike seem determined that the opportunity for learning must be used.

But for those who don’t see their family members for days at a time, the new community schools, allowing children to live at home with their parents while going to school, cannot come soon enough.



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