“Seeking counselling is not wrong”

How seeking counselling supported a youth in eastern Bhutan.

19 October 2020

Besides disrupting learning, the school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic is also causing children and young people to miss out on everyday moments like meeting with friends and participating in class.

Twenty -year old Pema* is a class 12 student in one of the eastern districts. Until the schools reopened, she was home, a remote village where internet connectivity remains weak. “Due to poor internet, I couldn’t attend my online classes, or talk to my friends or teachers,” she says. “I worked during the day as I didn’t feel comfortable watching my parents work and by 6m, I was already tried. I had no time to study.”

Staying home, helping her family in the farm, herding cattle and being cut off from her otherwise routine life started troubling Pema. “I thought all my friends were studying hard and covered most of the lessons while I had done nothing,” she says. “I was left behind and so I decided to drop school.”

When she started missing online classes, her class teacher reached out to the school counsellor. At the school, all class teachers refer students who often miss classes to the counsellor to talk to.

“When the counsellor called me, I shared about the home environment and my inability to study. I told sir that I wanted to drop school,” says Pema. “But sir said there are notes that can help me catch up on my missed lessons and that there are talks of the schools reopening. I was very excited to hear that the schools were reopening.”

Talking to the school counsellor is not new to Pema. She has been talking to him for the last two years and is one of the school’s peer helpers. “I was stressed when I joined the school. I had not qualified class 10 and was very sad. I blamed myself for the trouble I was causing my parents.”

Her parents assured her that they would enroll her in a private school but Pema knew the financial condition of her family. “After talking to my friends, I decided to reappear the examination.”

Seeking counselling has helped her overcome her fears and anxiety, says Pema. “I couldn’t talk and had low confidence,” she says. “Now, I volunteer for activities and attempt questions that teachers ask even if I don’t know the answers. Sir said that he made me a peer helper to help others and to help myself.”

From almost dropping out of school, Pema is thrilled to be back to school with her friends and teachers. “I want to tell those like me that seeking counselling is not wrong and not to be scared or think negatively about it,” she says. “We students should help each other instead of making fun of others or keeping the problem to ourselves. Do whatever little you can to help. It makes a big difference.”

 *Name changed to maintain the confidentiality of the student.

 The story is part of the Project Gawa campaign, a platform for children and young people to express, to ask questions, to share their concerns and to help them understand their emotions. Read more about the campaign here https://www.unicef.org/bhutan/project-gawa

If you, or a young person you know, is struggling - or just wants to talk - there’s someone waiting to listen. These helplines are available across South Asia: Afghanistan 📞 707 199 199 Bangladesh 📞 1098 Bhutan 📞 1098 India 📞 1098 Maldives 📞 1412 Nepal 📞 1098 Pakistan 📞 1098 Sri Lanka 📞 1929