One cannot exactly say that Heinoukhong in Manipur’s Chandel district is a remote village for it boasts many elements of ‘modern’ civilization. But, the hilly terrain, which borders Myanmar and is an hour’s drive from Imphal, did not have a school until 2011. Sounds strange? But, it is true.
“Our education has so far been to live with the traditional livelihoods like farming, raising livestock, or doing small business for our living,” says Dale Haokip, a 70-year-old local farmer.
“We never got the chance to have our formal education. Not just us, the younger generation has also been deprived of their right to education, and leading a life without any aspiration or hope,” he adds.
Manipur on the whole does not have a low literacy rate, and yet there are some parts, where even getting an elementary education is quite a challenge. For quite a long time, there was not even a school in Heinoukhong. The villagers felt the need to have a school with at least the minimum infrastructure, and repeatedly asked the political representatives elected from the district, but their heeds remained ignored.
The lack of formal education gave rise to high rate of unemployment and migration. However, the government has over the years been focusing primarily on addressing prevailing law and order situation and insurgency in the region. This has neglected the efforts that should be made on socio-economic development and improving education.
ActionAid India’s partner organization Rural Education and Action for Change – Manipur (popularly known as Reach-M), which has been working in the area for over two decades, found the situation bit alarming. It took the matter to the community and held several meetings with the villagers who desperately wanted their children to have basic education.
Reach-M and the villagers then decided to build a school in the village. And, as always ActionAid India was happy to support their initiative that would bring opportunities for the youths of the marginalized communities and help break the cycle of poverty.
“Community was so enthusiastic after our first meeting that they took it upon themselves to organize further meetings to discuss starting of the school. By the time we visited them again they were not only having a lot of ideas but also having actual offers,” says Thongpao Haokip, Director of Reach-M.
“The villagers had identified a piece of community land where the school can be started; some of them were ready with construction materials such and timbers, stones etc,” he recalls.
In close collaboration of the community, Reach-M started construction of the school which was ready in no time. A school management committee was also set up and villagers started sending their children to the school. Soon, some education volunteers were identified and engaged as teachers.
Initially the school catered to primary children. But, by the end of 2012, the school had sufficient class rooms and volunteers/teachers for up to grade three. The community initiative got noticed by the authorities and education department officials visited the school to know more about the success.
Impressed by the villagers’ enthusiasm and Reach-M’s dedication towards bringing change in the community, the government decided to adopt the school under its Sarva Sikshya Abhiyan scheme.
In addition, the authorities made detailed plans for expanding educational infrastructure in the area in close collaboration with the community. The efforts also resulted in the government establishing a residential school, named ‘Heinoukhong Residential School’, for children up to seventh grade. The school has all the required facilities and caters to out-of-school children not only of the village but also from nearby areas. Now, the plan is to develop the area as an education hub in Manipur.
Happy with the progress and the active interest shown by both the villagers and government, Reach-M has now decided to focus more on the issues of quality of education in the region. The organization has also started planning on expanding classes beyond seventh grade in the residential school.