Thursday, November 11, 2010

When VIP visit a remote school

A very important person (VIP) from the Ministry of Health and Education was visiting Tingtibi Primary School in Zhemgang. Rumors had it that this VIP was visiting all the schools in the dzongkhag. But the purpose of his visit was never known. Neither had we bothered to ask as we would be so engrossed playing marbles during the breaks and picking up oak nuts after school. I was in Class II. And it was 1994.
                                                                  Photo courtesy: Karma Tshering Samdrup 
Tingtibi Primary School was a remote school in Zhemgang. It had no proper academic blocks-only a concrete room and a toilet for the faculty. All the classrooms were bagos (walls made of raw woods and roofs with flattened bamboo). Shortage of textbooks in the school resulted in sharing of one textbook among five to six students. There were only five teachers for the eight different classes in the school. Often supporting staff like librarian and games instructor had to replace the teacher shortage.  

Frequently students suffered from the seasonal epidemic diseases like typhoid, dysentery and scabies due to shortage of drinking water. There was no electricity and motor road was inaccessible. Students had to walk for more than three hours to reach the school. 
A couple of days before the VIP’s visit, the school headmaster aka HIV to the students made an announcement in the morning assembly to clean and beautify the school. [The students called him HIV not connoting the incurable disease’s abbreviation but hair on his head was vanishing day after day, thus the name ‘Hair Is Vanishing’ (HIV)].  

It was March and the weather was still cold as the stroke of winter hadn’t left and the hot summer too far. We gathered in the assembly ground to be assigned with works. Class II students were informed to bring a sickle each to cut down the huge mass of larger-than-life bushes above the school blocks. Stronger students, especially boys from Class IV were sent with a spade and a crowbar each to maintain the farm road linking the school from the nearest road. (This narrow farm road was usually muddy and slippery inhibited by leeches and snakes). 

Another class whitewashed classrooms’ walls. And girls were allocated to broom and tidy the assembly ground, classrooms and drains. They also maintained the school flower gardens. More importantly, we were also informed to wash our uniforms and fold it cleaned. 

HIV, the headmaster had stopped the supply of drinking water in the school a week ago as the school had to keep the water tanks full for the visiting VIP. For drinking and washing plates, we were to visit a spring water near the Mangdechu River which was about two kilometers away from the school.  

Students were also forbidden from using the school toilet to keep the toilet clean and free from unpleasant smell. (There was only one school toilet for both boys and girls). Instead we were told to visit the bushes and forest over a stiff cliff beyond the school fence for defecating and urinating. And we had to defecate clinging over a branch or root of the tree to support ourselves from falling and rolling down over the cliff.   

Some students put up the welcome gate and spread multi-colored poplin clothes over the footpath fence. Other students collected pine tree needles and blanketed the ground and the footpath. 

The otherwise poor school looked strangely abundant and beautiful. The dusty school footpath was blanketed with the glittering pine needles. The stinking toilet was blocked temporally, the flower garden beautifully maintained, the farm road to school was improved and upgraded and the water tank was full. Everything was picture-perfect! 

The VIP had come, eventually. He arrived riding a handsome horse. His forehead shone against the bright strong sun when he was welcomed grandiosely by all the faculty members and student representatives. He looked fresh and happy and walked on the pine needled footpath to the school’s assembly ground. He glimpsed at the whitewashed school blocks consecutively in an uninterrupted manner. He was all smiles as he glanced at the well maintained flower gardens and the young students in sparkling uniforms. Then he gave a grand speech, 

I am very much impressed…Your school is very beautiful. The students are very healthy and smart. I don’t see any problem here…Everything is perfect here.”  

These remarks brought an instant radiance of accomplishment on HIV’s stressed face. After the speech and a few cultural items, a feast was served to the students. Then the VIP thanked and felicitated all the teachers, especially the HIV for keeping the school so perfect. 

The VIP left. After a few weeks the whitewashed walls discolored, worn out and wore the same dreadful looks as before, the drainage system re-accumulated dirt and flies, and the flowers in the gardens withered again. The bush above the school grew into a jumbo, the water tank remained empty and the water tap went dry again and the school toilet started stinking. Still five teachers for eight different classes and five to six students shared a textbook.

But after the VIP’s visit, one thing changed! We heard HIV has been transferred. He got promotion. He has been promoted as the Dzongkhag Education Officer, somewhere. But, the students gave him another nickname: Doma Eating Officer (DEO) for his doma chewing habit.

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