A ffordable modern technologies and related services have not reached many parts of rural North East India.
Recently, however, an initiative by a social enterprise called Mangaal Rural, headed by Surjit Ningthoujam has transformed Nungthaang Tampak as the first village in the North East region to be 100% computer literate.
Nungthaang Tampak is a small village located 65 kms away from Manipur’s capital Imphal, with a rough population of around 200 people (estimate given by the village Chief Leivon Romeo).
Why was Nungthaang Tampak Chosen?
Mangaal Rural was looking for a small village on the outskirts of Imphal that could be a model village for future computer literacy programmes in the state. The main reason behind being the project’s success was the the co-operation and support from the Nungthaang Tampak’s Chief Leivon Romeo and its residents.
Of the 54 households in the village, four did not participate as the families moved away in search of work, or to study.
The organisation targeted a village in a hilly area because of the disparity in development across the valley and the hills. Mangaal Rural’s wants to be known as an organization that works to uplift people in hilly regions of the North East.
As a model village, Surjit wants Nungthaang Tampak to be an information center that the government can replicate by developing such centers across the state, instead of only concentrating on Imphal. He believes information should be easily accessible to all, especially those who live in the outskirts.
If Nungthaang Tampak can become a 100% computer literate, then Surjit says other places and people in equally remote areas will be motivated to pursue such literacy programmes.
Training the residents of Nungthaang Tampak
The training lasted for almost a month, with equal participation from both men and women, Surjit says. He proudly recalls how a 55 year old angaawadi teacher participated in the training. Like most of the participants, the angaawadi teacher was scared at the beginning, but towards the end of the training, she did extremely well.
She could type out invitations and draw objects equally well with Surjit, and sometimes even better than him.
The Challenges Faced by the Mangaal team during this project
“Asking a 54 old person to participate in a computer education programme is a difficult job. In Manipur most of the people ask troubling question like – I am not going to apply for job, why should I learn to use a computer? But ultimately it was all good. I can see the hunger in people to learn new things. Everybody in Nungthaang Tampak was willing to learn how to use a computer. Without their willingness, the training would not have been successful,” says Surjit Ningthoujam.
Surjit also spoke about the infrastructural issues that at times proved to be an obstacle. He said, “ I was expecting a brick house for the training, But I am happy with the mud house we were provided. The center did not have tables to keep the computers so I got tables from my office, while the villages got the chairs. Since there electricity problems, I also installed a 600 watt solar panel, two batteries and two KVA inverters as a back up.”
As the village is in a remote area, it does not have access to wired internet connection. The trainers used wi-fi connectors that used their mobile data.
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Even though the organization was established in 2011 and well known for all the good work it has done in the state, no support came from the government.
Surjit got two computers from his office and bought another two computers to start facilitate the training. The money spent on the training is from Surjit’s own funds.
Since the training was conducted during the farming season, and most of women were busy with household chores, the team had to ensure training timings were flexible. The center was open from 5 AM to 11 PM, with two employees always present to take the classes.
Surjit said, “People will learn only when these new technologies are accessible to them at an affordable price. There are training centers around Nungthaang Tampak but it is 10 km away from the village. Most of the villagers being daily wage earners do not get time to travel. There are no collaborations with any organization right now. But in future, hopefully we will get investors to help expand the training programmes and other activities.”
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Surjit donated a computer, solar power pack and a wi-fi connector on the last day of the training.
Even though the villagers are computer literate now, a sad reality is that less than a handful of them owns smart phones. Personal computers or laptops are absent from their households too.
Over the next two years, Maangal Rural wants all of Manipur to be educated in the basics of computer usage.
The priority for right now is to expand the basic computer literacy training all across the state, the organisation also wants to train people in advanced levels of computer education. Mangaal Rural has filed for affiliations with All India Society for Electronic and Computer Technology (AISECT) which will aid the advanced program, making it more job oriented.
Mangaal Rural believes in the motto of sharing and growing together. They have provided solar power systems, distributed fishing boats equipped with solar power. Solar has reached 8000 houses in Manipur through their efforts.
On September 6, 2017, they are planning to distribute weaving looms to Wangoo, a village located around 70 km from Imphal on easy and affordable installments.
Surjit Ningthoujam clarified that most of the publications have reported that Managal Rural is an NGO. But Mangaal Rural is a social enterprise working on a for profit basis.
The organization is approaching several other government representatives to provide more computers, internet facilities and financial assistance to support their endeavour.
By Kingson Chingakham