Noney: Pinjang (Gangluan -IV) in Noney District is a village of about 600 persons hailing mainly from the Rongmei Naga tribe. During the 1990s, the village was severely impacted by the Kuki – Naga ethnic conflict. Many unfortunate persons from both communities from Pinjang and neighbouring villages unfortunately perished in the violence. As a result of this, the Kukis moved out of the village to neighbouring villages. Since those dark days, relations between the two communities have considerably improved with many progressive steps for reconciliation taken by community leaders on both sides.
Most of the inhabitants of Pinjang are subsistence farmers, many of who hail from the BPL category. The COVID pandemic and consequent lockdown further impacted the livelihoods of families, many already in indigent poverty. A major issue in the area for decades is the lack of any good schools as a result of which generations of children have lost out on an education. In 2016, an attempt was made by a Mr James Thaimai, a local entrepreneur, who sought to bridge this gap by starting a primary school at Pinjang. The school temporarily came under the Salesian Fathers and came to be called Don Bosco School as a branch of the school of similar name in nearby Khoupum. However, due to various factors, the school was turned over to the Archdiocese of Imphal. As it was extremely difficult to run the institution due to financial constraints the school once again came under the control of the village community. With little funds even to meet operational costs, the already dilapidated buildings with mud floors, tin sheet roofs and bamboo matting walls fell further into disrepair. The worst impacted were the school children, who, despite the pathetic infrastructure, clung tenaciously to this only hope for access to education.
Local villagers express their gratitude to the Assam Rifles which has helped build toilets, contributed roof sheets and books for the library. They are also grateful to Sunbird Trust, a Manipur based NGO, for immense support to the school through providing solar lighting and blankets for the children.
In January 2022, through the support of generous donors in the United States and Learn for Life Foundation and its founder Mr Thomas Thekkethala, work commenced on building a brand new and permanent school building. Mr. Thekkethala is an entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist with over twenty-five years of experience in financing and leading technology companies in the US. Mr Gaikhangam, former MLA of the Nungba constituency arranged for the levelling of the land for the new building. Thanks to a committed and resourceful contractor, the work progressed very quickly. “Members of the community are all working very hard with the building contractor to complete the building by the end of April 2022. The communities have provided the manpower to carry building materials to the site and haul sand and stone up the unpaved road to the school in their own 4×4 trucks. Every participating community member has put their differences aside to help build the school for their children” added Fr Varghese Velickakam from the Archdiocese of Imphal.
In the coming years, the school will be able to serve more than 300 children in Classes KG to Class VI. There are also plans to raise a new hostel to facilitate access to the school from neighbouring villages. Mr Thaimai says that the local community had almost lost hope and their faith in society to educate their children. Now, he says, they are rubbing their eyes in disbelief as the new school building has literally risen like a phoenix from the dust. He conveys on their behalf their deepest gratitude to the unseen and most generous donors from far away and Mr Thomas Thekkethala, founder of the Learn for Life Foundation. The next generation of children at Pinjang and neighbouring villages now have a better chance of education, empowerment and consequent employment. Fr Velickakam expressed the gratitude of the Archdiocese of Imphal to the Learn for Life Foundation and the generous donors for their sponsorship of this critically needed primary school. He says that with this contribution, the Diocese will take the baton forward and run a viable school for the children. The school will serve children of all communities without preference on grounds of tribe or religion. He expects that the school will serve as a hub for bringing back true peace and reconciliation to this conflict affected area and also contribute to national integration. He also expressed his gratitude to the Assam Rifles and to Sunbird Trust for their support for the school. Mr Thomas Thekkethala, has expressed his satisfaction at the speedy pace of work. He believes that the donors can have a deep sense of satisfaction at getting the opportunity to positively impact the lives and destinies of hundreds of lesser privileged children for years to come.
The inhabitants of Pinjang and neighbouring villages, it seems, can hope again!!
By Rucha Deshpande
(A resident of Pune, Rucha feels privileged to have been able to spend over two years in a school in an idyllic village in the hills of Manipur. She now works in Goa)