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Wangduephodrang: Sha Taksha Primary School

Thirteen-year-old Sonam has never asked anyone the meaning of the grace he murmurs after his friends before every meal. He is more concerned about his food getting cold or wet.

Sitting on a rickety bench in a makeshift dining hall, the student of Sha Taksha primary school in Wangduephodrang hastily eats his rice and dal (lentils) as soon as grace is said. "It's too cold and windy here," said Sonam, as he neatly cleans the last grain off his plate. Before the students can finish their meal, a gust of wind rattles the temporary walls of the hall.

Students cover their plates and mugs to prevent sand from getting into their lunch. "It's always like this, madam," says another student, as she removes a dry pine needle from her cup.

Without a proper dining hall for the boarding school built in 1976, eating is not easy for the 149 boarding students. "By the time the last child is served his share, the food served for the junior students is already cold and dusty," said a student, Maya.

The problem is not just in winter. It's even worse in summer when it rains, according to teachers. "The rain leaks through the holes in the worn-out CGI sheets and the hall becomes muddy. If only we have a proper dining hall, the students won't have to undergo this," said a teacher.

Located at a six-hour uphill climb from the nearest road head, Sha Taksha school lacks most of the basic facilities. There is no road, electricity and the diesel generator has become defunct. The 200 students studying there come from Rukha, one of the backward communities in the dzongkhag.

The makeshift dining room is not very meal-friendly

A two-storied traditional house serves as the academic block, three small old, one-storied buildings are boys' hostels, and teachers live in little shacks. The boys use the outhouse toilet about a block away from the hostel. "In summer, we're scared of snakes," said a class five student. "We go to the toilet in large groups because we're scared." Six teachers also share a small toilet.

The only development in the school was the Tarayana-funded girl's hostel, which has toilet and water inside.

"I wish we also have a proper toilet inside our hostel," said a student, Dorji. "It's cold and scary.

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