Monday, May 12, 2014

In The Arms of WFP

May 1, 2014: I still feel a bit uneasy to face my best student—Aita Bdr. Subba. For the last three years, I have been teaching the wonders of numbers, shapes and space for my class. Notwithstanding all my beautiful lessons, something went wrong, and it’s been on my conscience ever since. I never realized the background of my students, which indeed is indispensable for effective teaching. 

This year, I aspired to delegate the role of school mess captain to Aita. But the majority of the teachers, by common consent, appointed him for a higher seat—the house captain. The evidence is now clear that Aita made quite an impression on his teachers over the last few years. 

For me, in all honesty, Aita is a boy of deep sincerity and unstinting devotion. I’ve perceived these concrete qualities with my naked eyes, empty hands, or carefree mind. I never realized the untold stories of my students and became the firm believer of what they do right before my bare eyes. 

This year, as a part of my assignment, I worked on learning the stories of WFP beneficiaries in my school. Dozens of bittersweet stories! But one story really touched my heart. I pulled Aita aside and asked him to say his piece without any hesitation. He narrated his story in a voice hardly above a whisper. The story of his family background is nothing better than reading one of Shakespeare’s heartbreaking plays. 

When the whole world is craving for materialist wealth and comfort, Aita and his parents still live in abject poverty. The next hot meal is more precious than a luxurious car or a deluxe home for them. They lead a life with all the cares of the world on their shoulders. Life in a bed of roses has been a real chimera for them. 

Aita's father, Mon Bdr. Subba, is in his fifties, but he looks much older than his age. He's been completely deaf and dumb since birth. Yet, his love and care for his family has been extraordinary. Despite his old and frail body, he toils every day for survival. When healthy, he keeps his little land under plough the whole year. In addition, he also struggles in doing tenant farming to earn enough bread for his feeble family. 

Hard luck for the family escalated when their disabled father had to undergo severe gallstone operation. The performance of the head of the family declined significantly resulting to big run-down of food and clothes. The misfortune was like a fuel to the flames and the family shed many tears. 

Aita's mother, Batay Subba, is a little younger than Mon Bdr. Subba, and much luckier in terms of senses. She can partially hear and speak. Besides household chores, she helps Mon Bdr. in every work. Indeed, she became the sole bread earner of the family after Mon Badur's misfortune.  

Aita has four siblings: three sisters and a brother. He worries every day about his little siblings, who live fully reliant to their poor parents. His only little brother and one of his sisters have been suffering from chronic skin disease since the age of one or two, adding the weight of sorrow for all of them. His other two sisters are studying with Aita: one in class four, and the other in class seven. 

Education remained as a dream for Aita until he turns eleven. The nearest school does not serve its purpose, at least to Aita. It provides education, but for the people like Aita, he needs food too. Thus, when all the children of his age sing a rhymes and rhythms in school, he listens to the donkeys braying on the other side of the hills. 

The idea of boarding school was brought up by his uncle who has a heart of gold. He takes Aita with him at Wangdi—the land known for a stiff breeze. Aita experienced happiness, as well as anxiety. His bond with his family is too firm, but the thoughts of sitting inside the classroom with friends of his age and flipping through vivid children's books supersede all his worries. 

Athang Primary School is one of the fortunate schools to be blessed with all the benefits of WFP. Children from the hand-to-mouth parents come together to learn and eat. Aita was once among them. 

When Aita dines on free delicious foods and succulent fruits at school, he remembers forcing himself a flavorless loaf of bread, mostly without curry, at home. He also remembers his mother crushing dried groundnuts on the flat stone to use as cooking oil. But even the flour and nuts goes in short and their cupboard remains bare most of the time. 

“For me, WFP is a god who intervened in my miserable life and turned me from ignorance to knowledgeable,” Aita says with his eyes filled with sincere tears. “It is only with WFP that I could start my education,” he adds. 

For two years, Aita studies at Athang with the generous help from his uncle. In 2008, when he is heavier and stronger, he comes down to Tsirangtoe Lower Secondary School (Present School), which is also blessed with WFP. Tsirangtoe is near his parents, but not within shouting distance. It is roughly seven to eight kilometers away. 

The health of Aita's mother begins to decline year by year. At the tender age of fourteen, Aita starts to work for money during breaks. He started by carrying tons of oranges in the scorching winter sun of Tsirang to earn money. Though it’s little money, anything is helpful for his family. From 2011, he exploited his little body in the world of hazardous construction sites. He travelled as far as Zhemgang to do hard jobs of sands and stones. Aita's little hard-earned money has been just enough to buy books and uniforms for his two little sisters and himself. 

Last winter, rumors circulated that the WFP will be lifting and parents’ contribution for food will swell up to Ngultrum 6000. The tension heightens in Aita's family. A little boy earns merely Ngultrum 8000 in lucky winter breaks, but there are also household expenditures, and being a sole breadwinner is difficult. Ngultrum 6000 is an astronomical amount for most of the middle-income group in Bhutan, let alone Aita's family. However, the rumors never turned true. The WFP stood shoulder to shoulder with people like Aita, helping their dreams of education come true. 

Despite all the problems Aita does moderately good at studies. “If I am able to complete my schooling, I wish to become a Teacher so that I can succour the deprived people like myself,” Aita says. He is a voracious reader of children's books at school. Besides, he sits in one of the front-runners in every games and sports. His leadership qualities have no parallel in the school, and serve his school-mates and teachers with devotion and commitment. 

Aita might develop as a devoted leader or a committed teacher. He might become as an acclaimed writer or rise to fame as an athletics. If people like Aita complete his studies without any complication, it is beyond the shadow of a doubt that his family and village at large will prosper under the auspices of his noble deeds. However, whether to accomplish all these beautiful dreams or to let it disappear in the air is all under the mercy of WFP.

As Narrated by Keshab Khatiwara