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Phuentsholing Lower Secondary School

When Ugyen Dema first arrived in Phuentsholing town eight years ago as a village girl from Pemagatsel, she harboured dreams of going to school. But there was no way of getting admission. She was already 11 years old, five years beyond the school admission age.So she stayed with her uncle, who had brought her to Phuentsholing from the village, and looked after his children.

After her uncle's son joined the Phuentsholing lower secondary school (PLSS) in 2005, she has been spending several hours at the school campus everyday to feed him lunch and take him back home. Since August, Ugyen Dema's daily routine changed - she no longer waits but attends school along with her uncle's son. Like Ugyen, 11 other young women, all housemaids, have been enrolled in Class I at the school as part of the initiative to give formal education to unmarried housemaids under 20 years of age.

They used to wait in the campus everyday to attend to their younger wards, so we thought, why not give them an opportunity to study as well, as they're still young?" the school's principal, Jigme Thinley, said.

The initiative, according to the principal, was in keeping with the education ministry's policy of education for all by 2013. "We wanted to make a difference in their lives by providing such platform to learn," he said.

"It's like being given a chance to live my dream," said Ugyen Dema, 19. "Initially, it was a bit awkward; but now we're used to it and want to learn more everyday."

Young unmarried housemaids get a chance to go to school

The youngest among them is 13 years old, while the eldest is 19. School authorities said that they would be given the same opportunity to continue their studies in other schools, after they finish their eight standard from the school.

They are given special extra classes in writing, listening, reading, speaking and arts, apart from learning the four main subjects - Mathematics, English, EVS and Dzongkha. "If they do well, we'll give them fast track promotion as well," Jigme Thinley said.

When dressed in the school uniform it is hard to tell their age. They were placed in a separate section this year to enable them to get familiar and accustomed to school life. From next year, they will be placed along with the other students.

Yangki, 14, who helps her sister at home, said that it makes a huge difference when one is literate. "Although I'm quite old, I consider myself lucky," she said.

For the teachers, who take their classes, teaching them was much easier and better in terms of classroom management.

Their English teacher, Phub Dem, said they were very enthusiastic and keen to learn. "They're very hardworking and competitive and disciplined."

The housemaids said that it was never too late to learn. "Given the same opportunity, we want complete our graduation as well," said Ugyen Tshomo,16, from Zhemgang.

Contributed by Kinga Demafor KUENSEL, Bhutan's national newspaper, 2011
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