Orphaned at a young age, Kencho Wangmo had no choice but to fend for herself and bear the responsibility of raising her younger siblings.
The odd jobs paying a meager amount was not enough to feed and shelter her kid sister, younger sister and a brother. Being an illiterate minor in today’s world meant she was fighting against all odds to secure a decent livelihood.
“I realized I wasn’t even capable of providing my siblings with the basic needs. Those were very tough times. I had no other option than to entrust my kid brother and two sisters with my kind neighbors back in the village who, out of pity, agreed to take care of them until I found a stable source of livelihood,” Kencho recalled her days.
When most kids her age frowned upon broccoli for dinner and mulled over what games to play, she didn’t have the luxury to think and behave like an average kid. Kencho had heavy responsibilities and needed to be the sole breadwinner to keep her family together.
“After entrusting my siblings to my neighbors, I went to Bumthang to babysit for a family. It was a live- in kind of thing and they put a roof over my head, clothes on my body and food on my table,” Kencho said. She worked as a babysitter until she turned 18.
She had made some friends along the way, and one of her friends, a veteran drayang worker, suggested that she work in drayang. Her friend told her that drayang was a pretty good and decent place to work in, contrary to what the people thought.
Her friend encouraged her to work in a drayang where the earning was good, and it would help to financially support her family. Kencho started her drayang career at Lungta Drayang in Thimphu.
With the help of her coworkers and her instructor showing her the ropes, Kencho quickly adapted to the work. Not before long, she learnt everything there was to know about working in a drayang, and she was able to take back her brother and sisters, and adequately provide for them.
“Those were happy times. I worked from 5pm till 11pm or midnight. I was pretty good at dancing and entertaining, and I could spend time with my siblings during the day. There was no need to worry about rent as the drayang owner provided free apartment for the drayang employees. I had everything I could ever want in life; a work I enjoyed, being independent and able to take care of my family, being able to eat and wear whatever I want, and giving good food to my siblings who deserved it more than anything in the world after what they have been through. I would have preferred for that not to have changed,” said Kencho.
Kencho earned around Nu 20,000 on an average per month.
Just when she thought her life couldn’t get any better, she met the love of her life (or so she thought) one night while she was dancing on the stage. Her spectator was charmed and the two got close eventually, leading to marriage. Time flew and she quit the drayang after she married and had a daughter. But the marriage only lasted for five years. Her husband, who was an office-goer, started drinking heavily, and at times, did not come home for days. He even stopped working, and the family faced financial constraints once again.
To rub salt on the wound, her husband found another mistress and filed for divorce, leaving her to take care of her family once again. After their failed marriage, she now had to take care of her disabled daughter who can neither move nor speak, and her siblings.
She had to join the drayang industry again, and she was able to earn a decent amount once again to look after her family, until the pandemic hit. She had been working in the drayang for the last ten years.
After the government’s directive to close the drayangs, she is back to square one, with no means to take care of her family, and she currently survives on the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu, which will end in July this year. Kencho is looking for a job so that she can take care of her family, but she isn’t too optimistic, given that she has no educational background or real work experience.
She lives in a rented apartment in Phuentsholing with her daughter who is permanently bed-ridden, her younger sister who is a class 6 dropout, and her kid sister. Her younger brother has joined the Dratshang as a monk.