A school feeding program in Khaling, that changed the way I looked at myself
I was fascinated at the sight of small kids dressed neatly in their school uniform queued up in a very disciplined manner waiting for their turns to be served lunch by the teachers. Today, the students who are mostly ten year olds are having egg, fish and some fruits.
They have waited an entire week for this heavenly fete.
It wasn’t a straight queue; as it appeared to me, those at the back (carrying empty plates pressed against their chest) couldn’t help watching what was up the menu. The kids were very small; boys wore a dull orange gho with their collars crossing tightly over their chest almost suffocating their necks while little girls wore their kira very high and their tego very low smacking them of a look of perfect innocence.
Slowly, the teachers fill the plates of everyone who then disintegrated into small groups across the school ground and savored their meals with sparkles in their eyes. Until the teachers realized all the kids have been fed, another kid appeared out of nowhere almost in tears as he thought he missed the lunch and that it was over.
Tears soon gave way to happiness as he discovered it wasn’t over and that there was still plenty for him. In the mean time, many came forward for a second helping.
Teachers in Khaling had since been seeking help and support for this program. “We initially thought we would cooperate with the parents and initiate this program like they do in other schools,” Pema Yangki, a teacher said, but most of them did not understand its importance and were reluctant in helping, so it could not take off.” The parents were also mostly farmers and could not support.”
Students in Khaling mostly hail from very humble background and their regular diet mostly consists of rice and potato. Without support from the community and the parents, it remained farfetched, until the school received a foreign teacher, Angele Sutton, who agreed to look for sponsors in the United States. That’s how their school feeding program ultimately became a success. As it picked up, the school received additional support from the local restaurants and shopkeepers and was able to provide nutritional food to their students at least once a week.
Health among the students had improved since the school began the program and teachers claim, students who performed poorly showed big improvements.
I admired and enjoyed the kids’ appetite and as I kept watching them in fascination, I was taken aback at the time when I first joined a boarding school at the age of 14 in Zhemgang. Being a frail, sickly, fragile boy, I was usually bullied and abused by many. On Sundays I could not escape from the school captain who made me wash his gho and his instructions were always to apply soap three times.
But the most boring part of that life I had was the food we received from the school mess. It was very deficient and very less in amount. During lunch break, our cook who never washed his face and was very bad looking held a spatula in his left hand and a ladle in his right with which he served us rice.
As he scooped the rice from the pot, he used the spatula in his left hand to level the rice and the rest of the rice fell back to the pot before it fell into our plates. Then we head to our dining hall were we had to wait for the entire students to start the grace. We spent that time, picking out rat poop, sparrow wings and worms from our rice.
The mess served us neutrala (soy) both during lunch and dinner. Some of the students who disliked neutrala complained to a teacher alleging there were bugs inside the neutrala. The next day, during the morning assembly, our headmaster told us that neutrala was named so because they were very nutritious. The headmaster also reasoned if there were bugs inside the neutrala, the bug ate neutrala, and that there were neutrala inside the bug, so basically bug or neutrala, they were both the same thing. After that the students never complained, although it still confounds me today as to why they never did.
But it was a sight for sore eyes watching tiny little students in Khaling enjoying their precious meals as if they were going to die tomorrow, for I know I would have died with joy, if this happened in Zhemgang when I was 14.
I don’t know if I was being overly sensitive, life had toughened me thus far, but no matter how strong you are, there are times when the heart cannot bear any more joy and that you simply turn away and feel your tears roll down a happy face.