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A beacon of hope in Tuensang
Published on 14 Mar. 2010 12:20 AM IST
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There is no better symbol of Tuensang’s disconnect with the rest of Nagaland than the road between it and Mokokchung, the closest major town. The road to this remote and backward town in eastern Nagaland snakes along sharp ridges of hills, is muddy and dusty, prone to landslides in the monsoon and is literally a pain in the neck to travel on. Tuensang is in close proximity to the international border with Myanmar and has for long been plagued by the illegal drug trade. It was also a bastion of insurgency, but since a 1997 ceasefire it has enjoyed relative stability. The people of Tuensang feel marginalised by the rest of Nagaland and since it is home to the minor tribes of Chang, Yimchunger, Sangtam, Phom, and Khaimanungan, there is a low rate of employment and education and a high rate of drug abuse and AIDS cases. It is in such a bleak context that the couple Rev. Dr Chingmak Kejok and his wife Putholi founded an NGO called Eleutheros Christian Society (ECS). Since its founding in 1993, ECS has done some incredible work with drug addicts, AIDS patients, women, education and basic rights. Rev. Chingmak got his spark when he lost family members to the drug menace just after he finished his studies in theology from Union Biblical Seminary, Pune. Though the problem of drug abuse was his initial area of concern, his vision was further fuelled to take on women’s empowerment and primary education. Observing the dire economic situation of women, he hit upon the idea of micro-finance and soon formed Self Help Groups (SHG) where now the women collectively have their own loan corpus of more than Rs.1 crore (Rs 10 million). When he noticed there was a staggering rate of dropouts among the schoolchildren in the Chang villages, he started implementing the concept of the Sochum. The idea for the Sochum is based on the ancient Naga practice of a Morung, which serves as a dormitory where young men are imparted life skills and civic responsibilities besides education. The 42-year-old softspoken Rev. Chingmak maintains a clear vision and his life has a constant forward momentum. He wears his authority and position lightly and is easily accessible. His conversations are peppered with humorous jabs and anecdotes and he has a zen-like attitude in the face of the many inconveniences like bad phone connections and intermittent internet connectivity. He recounts stories of his earlier days when he had to travel to the bordering state of Assam just to receive and make important phone calls. He is respected for his integrity, especially his financial transparency. When asked about his fundraising methods, he said, “If you are honest and open with money, it will somehow follow you. You don’t have to go after it, it will come after you.” Putholi seems more practical and her penchant for detail grounds her husband’s vision well. They make a perfect and complementary team. Rev. Chingmak and his wife have made numerous sacrifices and once early on had to sell their wedding gifts just to survive. The days of initial struggle have borne fruit with due recognition from the Nagaland government when it bestowed the Certificate of Award of the Governor’s Medal on the couple in 2003 and former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam visited ECS in recognition of its work. Yes, it feels like a whole other country walking in the streets of Tuensang nestled in the hills. But there is a more vocal voice being raised from this part of Nagaland and it is no less in part due to trailblazers like Rev. Chingmak and Putholi. Perhaps, with sons and daughters like them, the people of Tuensang are slowly gaining awareness of their rights and will have a better shot at the future.

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