How they will educate their two children after they complete grade 10 is the main concern of Dorji and Ugyen Yangzom, a leper couple living within the Gidagom Leprosy hospital campus, about 25 kms from the capital.
Their son Ugyen Phuntsho, 11, is in class IV and daughter Sangay Zangmo, 7, is in class I in Bjimina Primary School.
“If they do not qualify for government school after class X then both may suffer like us,” said the mother, Ugyen Yangzom, 35, from Drametse, Mongar. Her husband Dorji, 60, from Sisina, Paro, works as the hospital’s gardener for Nu 7,000 a month.
Ugyen said she got leprosy at 15 while her husband got infected at 35. Ugyen is a double amputee and she uses prosthetics (artificial legs). “I lost my legs 10 years ago due to the disease,” she said. Due to late treatment her fingers also got deformed which is why she cannot do any heavy work. Dorji, her husband, is partially (right hand and leg) paralyzed and he stutters a lot so she talks on behalf of the family.
Since the family lives in hospital campus, they need not pay house rents and electric bill. Ugyen said there are few local people who help the family with money and school uniform for the children.
A Singaporean woman helped renovate their one storied dwelling and provided the family with mattress and rations to last a few months. Jean, a speech therapist from Singpore who helped the family, said she decided to help after knowing and studying the need and situation of the family.
She came to Bhutan as a tourist in 2015. Since then she started visiting Bhutan frequently to conduct workshops with parents and ECCD facilitators on how to deal with disabled people.
“I have helped few people who are really in need by myself. Some of my friends in Singapore know about my frequent visits to Bhutan which is why they wanted to donate for the needy families whereby this time, we have chosen the leprosy couple in Gidagom,” she said.
She said their priority is to help the children with education though their parents are still working. “We did not give the family money; instead we have given a transformation to the house and given them necessities. We don’t want to spoil or we don’t want them to rely on us by promising on much we are going to pay them or for how long we are going the help them,” she said. “We told them that if they are not going to keep up with the cleanness with their stay or if the children’s are not going to study then they are not going to help them anymore.
Gardener Dorji has reached retirement age but on request the hospital has extended his term.