Parents and teachers provide midday meal to Pakchina ECR students

The first initiative of its kind in the country

Its 12 noon. Thick fog surrounds the Pakchina Extended Classroom (ECR), a remote school in Sampheling gewog, Chhukha.

Students inside the two-roomed school echo their teachers as he recites lessons for the day.

A strong wind from the south crackles the school walls and roof made of CGI sheets.

The kids wear eager looks waiting for the bell to ring, which means they will now get a warm, much-awaited meal.

Sure enough, the lunch bell rings and the teachers quit the classroom. Students start running to the storeroom where they identify the plates and stands in queue for lunch.

Unlike other ECRs and day-schools, Pakchina ECR initiated a midday meal program since February where parents prepare the food.

The parents of 36 students contribute Nu 500 a month for the lunch. The parents take turns to cook daily. The teacher Incharge, Nima Drukpa, is the mastermind behind the initiative.

“The response was applause worthy,” he says with a grin. He credits the parents for coming forward after the idea was first proposed.

According to him, most of the students walk for hours on end to reach the school carrying lunch pack along with books and it is a mammoth task for the tender kids.

With the parents’ contribution, the groceries last for more than three months at a time, according to Pethshelnang Chiwog Tshogpa, Karna Bdr Rai.

After shopping for the basics, the students get to enjoy meat and eggs every week with the cash left over. Parents also take turn to fetch firewood for cooking. “Everything is scheduled and we have not faced any problems so far. The parents are cooperative,” Karna Bdr Rai says.

As most of the rural Pakchina and Dhungeyna villagers live in poverty, the initiative has proven a success so far. Most of the parents are poor and resort to working in a nearby mine.

“The parents can’t afford to provide special meals like we provide here. Also they do not get time to prepare lunch for the kids as they leave in a hurry to work,” Nima Drukpa says.

The initiative has also promoted healthy competition among the parents to provide special meals for their children, according to the Teacher Incharge. The parents resort to providing fresh vegetables from the local gardens. This in turn has sparked an interest to grow vegetables among the locals. “We try our best to provide organic vegetables procured from the locals except salt, oil and rice. Now, almost everyone keeps a kitchen garden,” Nima Drukpa says.

Students of Zhushingdingkha, who walk two hours to Pakchina ECR are happy.

Pem Dem, a class III student takes her lunch along with her friends. “We are happy as we don’t have to carry pack lunch from home now,” she says with a shy smile. Pem Dem, girls’ captain guides her friends to clean the plates after meal.

The meal begins with a short prayer taught by the teachers. “These students can recite prayers and won’t face difficulty unlike other day scholars if transferred to boarding schools,” a teacher says.

A 32-year-old father, Nidup, is of full of praise for the initiative from both the parents and the teachers. “We are happy with the system. Now we don’t have to work extra for our children to cook pack lunch,” says Nidup.

Chukha Dzongkhag’s Chief Dzongkhag Education Officer, Kinley Gyeltshen said that the ECR’s initiative is a leading example for other schools to follow. “The initiative is an example of a good partnership between the parents and the teachers.”

He added that ECR, being a temporary measure, no meals are provided by the government but the parents are very forthcoming to prepare the meal while teachers too join the meal by contributing Nu 1,000 a month. “Since parents and teachers are involved, the quality of food is ensured,” he says.

The Teacher Incharge plans to construct a better kitchen and dining room for the students. Currently, the students use the classrooms as dining room.

Pakchina ECR is more than 30 km from Phuentsholing toward Pasakha-Manitar bypass road under Sampheling gewog. The ECR has three teachers including Teacher Incharge.

Krishna Ghalley  from Phuentsholing