Children of a lesser god perhaps but beautiful, hopeful souls nonetheless. The poor of Thamji and Tamey Damchu, when we meet them face to face, emerge from behind statistics and poverty figures as all too human with tragic stories.
Tshedem is beautiful. Her years of toil in the fields, the burden of crushing poverty, and the birth of four children have not robbed her of her graceful looks and natural beauty. She deserves an easier life. But easy it is not. Her husband walked out on her. She supports an elderly father and four young children on her petite graceful shoulders, all on a plot of land a little more than a quarter acre in size. Hunger is constantly at the doors of their ramshackle hut.
Last year she share cropped half an acre of land and still had to borrow 400 dreys of rice at high interest to feed her family. She has been unable to pay back the amount borrowed, and given back only the interest portion.
Right now though I am thinking “can I get her a pair of koma” because she put hers as guarantee for a Nu 800 loan to buy food years ago. With interest now the loan has grown to Nu 6320. It’s unlikely she’ll ever see her koma again. At Tsechu time, she wants to wear a koma but has to make do with some pins. So I’m thinking “can I get her a pair of koma.”
Lhamu supports an elderly mother, an aunt, and two young children. Her husband passed away a few years ago. She owns nothing and lives in a ramschackle house built above a stable. Poles supports the hut from toppling over. Yet Lham’s laughter is contagious and one cannot help but laugh with pure joy along with her.
She supports her family by share cropping land on a 50:50 ratio for others. She owns no land of her own and is entirely dependent on share cropping. The debt she inherited from her parents is staggering. A sympathetic grocery store owner in Thimphu calculated it at two truckloads of rice she owes others. Yet she struggles on, just happy to be alive.
Nim Dem lives in a classic bagu. She supports nine family members on five langdos of land. With many mouths to feed and only a small plot of land, the family relies on the forest for food. The forests above Thamji are bountiful in fern cross (nakay), mushrooms, dumroo, and other wild foods. Every week, family members go in search of these foods and collect as much as they can. They carry it down to Khuruthang or over to Thimphu to sell it during the weekend vegetable market. Yet despite this, the family is in debt and owes others more than 3000 dreys of rice. Getting up from under the debt is near impossible, it shackles the family to a life of poverty.
Zam’s case is even more desperate. She’s a single mother raising three children on her own. The eldest girl, Sonam, is mute. She also supports an elderly mother who is ill and requires constant attention. Zam is the only family member capable of doing any work. She struggles daily to keep her family fed which amounts to begging or borrowing from neighbors. The hut their live in is on the verge of collapse. When it rains the leaks are numerous and there’s not a dry spot in the hut. The family resorts to huddling under a plastic sheet to stay dry.
These are just some of the families that VAST and friends of VAST are helping. The four families mentioned here plus an additional two in Thamji are supported by a gift this year from Ms. Akiko Ueda. Her gift has enabled VAST to provide each family with four bags of rice each (200 kgs) to tide them through the toughest months in the year. Next year VAST is hoping to set up a rice bank for the families through Breaking the Poverty Cycle project.
Generous support to these six families were also provided by Sangay Wangchuk, a director at Etho Metho Tours and Treks through the provision of transportation. Ugyen Wangchuk of Jomo Publications took all the pictures and provided logistic support. Asha Kama and Tashi Wangchuk not only provided monetary support but also lead the entire effort and spent time getting to know the families and trying to lift their spirits. The families needed no spirit lifting, in fact Asha and Tashi were lifted to the high heavens by their good nature and hope in the face of the harshest adversity. Volunteers included Rajesh Gurung, Tashi Gyeltsen (TG), Pema Tshering, Tashi Wangmo, Sangay Dorji, Dorji Wangchuk, Sonam Wangchuk and Tenzin Norbu. Tashi Gyeltsen also made a monetary gift to Zam to help her take her mother to hospital. Tshogpa Phachu of Thamji played a critical role in identifying the families and organizing the logistical support.
Contributed by Dr. Tashi Wangchuk. Dr. Tashi Wangchuk is a staunch supporter of VAST.