Back in December 2016, the Manipur government had declared a new district named Kamjong around the town comprising of approximately 400 households bordering Myanmar.
Considering the porous nature of our borders in the Northeast and the safe haven that Myanmar offers to militants battling the Indian state, it is no surprise that this town has been ravaged by the insurgency.
Consequently, Kamjong and its adjoining areas have seen very little economic development—a reality highlighted by the fact that the government has not even been able to set up an office for the District Collector.
Another indicator of the lack of development is that it has only one properly functioning high school. There are many children in nearby villages, but they have not enrolled themselves in school due to the lack of infrastructure, teachers and funds owing to corruption.
Amidst all the bleakness, a non-profit called Recognize, Rise and Empower Association (RREA) founded by Theimipei Raleng and Mathanmi Hungyo, two social workers from Ukhrul and Kamjong districts respectively, has emerged to give these children a ray of hope.
Raleng and Hungyo decided to intervene after witnessing the dismal state of education in the town. They began with conducting research on the state of the local health and education infrastructure and deliberating with various local stakeholders in the area including students and teachers at the only high school.
Following this, they established RREA on July 25 last year and set up a fellowship in May 2018 in association with the district administration, in the hope that it would bring competent teachers, development practitioners and activists across the Northeast to improve the state of education in these parts.
Speaking to The Better India, Hungyo said, “After researching more than 30 villages in the periphery of this town, we came to know that there is only one government school (from Class VI to X) which is functioning properly with more than 300 students—a very high density for a government school in Manipur. The fundamental problem was that there were very few teachers.
Without any external funding, and through the small crowdfunding platform, we decided to recruit people through our Fellowship program with the intention of improving the area’s health, education (starting with the high school) and livelihood status. We have recruited Fellows working from anywhere between two-six months for the programme.”
Raghwendra Singh, a UP resident, and topper from the Delhi School of Social Work spoke to The Better India of his experience as a Fellow thus far.
“I joined this six-month fellowship in July 2018. Working at the Kamjong High School is an experience which I will cherish for a lifetime because it’s not just about work or the intervention. I get to interact with people in this remote town and explore their distinct culture. I feel that I made the right choice at the very start of my career by working as a school social worker in one of the most remote areas of the country. Compounded by the fear of insurgency and sharing a porous international border with Myanmar, makes the field setting altogether different and challenging to work,” says Singh.
Today, he teaches three different subjects (mathematics, home science and english) across five classes. Another initiative undertaken by RREA fellows are evening remedial classes. While teaching maths to students from Class VIII, Singh had observed that students weren’t responding to the concepts he was laying down in class, and the questions posed to them after that.
After conducting a snap test, he found out that the students weren’t even able to solve basic questions pertaining to subtraction and division. He witnessed a similar problem among students in Class VII as well.
Thus, this RREA Fellow decided to hold free classes on ‘Basic Mathematical Skills’ after school hours.
“Our learning level assessment revealed that students who attended evening classes have scored better than those who did not attend in the recent exams. This has reaffirmed the organisation’s view that all students have the potential to perform better, provided that little motivation, supervision and guidance is given to them,” says Singh.
Considering the success of this intervention, RREA is on the cusp of developing a learning module on ‘Basic Mathematical Skills’ for new learners from Class VI to VIII across all government and private schools in the state.
Another major initiative undertaken by RREA is the book donation drive which started in July 2018. Through this initiative, more than 200 books have been collected which will be part of a ‘soon to be opened’ library of Kamjong High School. Also, students of classes VII, IX, X are divided into groups and allotted subject-wise projects to be prepared during their holidays.
Topics such as ‘Nutrition During Infancy and Pregnancy,’ ‘Right to Information Act-Successes and Failures,’ ‘Waste Management,’ ‘Analysing how Working Women and Men Plan Their Day,’ and ‘Implementing Mid-Day Meal Scheme in Your School’ have been assigned to these students based on a format established by RREA.
“The best projects will be kept in the school library for display. The students have been given appropriate guidance and guidelines to prepare these projects by the RREA Fellows,” says Hungyo.
Through their Facebook page, RREA has managed to collect books for the library from friends and colleagues living in different parts of the country, while some donated cash amounting to almost Rs 10,000. Thus far, they have managed to collect over 100 books for the library, besides developing its infrastructure. This has also resulted in the establishment of book clubs, and other such extra-curricular activities for students.
“From 10 disinterested students to more than 250 active students actively participating in these book clubs, these initiatives have really taken off. The school has 340 students from just Class VI-X,” says Hungyo.
The school has only nine active teachers. Despite these constraints, the organisation has sought to support primary school students in 40+ adjoining villages with basic stationery requirements and textbooks for both students and teachers.
“We are not yet expanding our outreach programme yet as we are focusing more on this high school to make it a successful model in the state. This initiative should lead the way forward for the dying public government school system in the state,” says Hungyo.
Although this is only the start, there are some very exciting initiatives on the horizon. RREA is in the process of setting up the school’s first-ever science laboratory in its 48 years of existence. Moreover, the organisation will also facilitate the opening of a nine-month grassroots football programme for local kids by Tata Trust with Kamjong High School chosen as one of the schools.
“The progress we are seeing has created a real buzz and parents are desperate to send their children there because they can’t afford to enrol their kids into private schools. But unfortunately, we cannot enrol more students now due to lack of teachers. Nonetheless, this is a start, and we are working towards greater success in the future,” concluded Hungyo.
In this heart of darkness, where governments have struggled to deliver on basic developmental requirements, RREA has intervened and is attempting to foster real change.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)