Outreach by Initiatives of Change for Life team
In the first week of September, the ‘Initiatives of Change for Life’ team visited Tura in the Indian state of Meghalaya. Stephania Menezes has sent this report of their interactions with the surrendered militants and the front line officers.
We were accommodated at the SMELC (Social Mobilization Experimentation and Learning Centre) quarters. We were excited and looking forward to the different programmes planned. For the 15 days there, we were scheduled to interact with schools, colleges, surrendered militants and front line officers.
Friendly, nervous and young is how we would describe the young men that we met in two groups on 13 and 14 September. They had been at the camp for 45 days, receiving skills training in the areas of animal rearing, agriculture, transport/driving, etc. The local church groups also interacted with them, offering spiritual nourishment. Most of them had never completed their education and left school in Grade 8 or 10. Since they had very little English and Hindi speaking skills, with the help of a translator we spent six hours with them.
Our intention throughout was to make them feel comfortable and make it really enjoyable for them, and even get them to laugh. So while sharing our experiences and understanding of IofC, we tried doing this and made them speak up as much as possible. In the beginning we asked them to share one challenge at the camp; and some shared that staying at the camp away from family was a challenge. After some time of inner listening, many started opening up about what they should do but hadn't been able to convert into reality.
Some of their sharing:
'Today onwards, I’ll change myself, work with the society, friends, mom, dad and live alongside God and try to forget past life and live a new life; earn and support my family.'
'Since childhood, I was in touch with society and church; I did not leave God even when I was in the group. For the government I joined this programme (skills development) and live with society and neighbours to build a better life.'
'In 2011, I joined the militant group. In 2016 I surrendered. I was unhappy while in the group because I wanted to work for Garo Land, but could not achieve that aim. Now with friends, will work together and give more to society.'
'Because of the anger against my father for the way he treated my family, I wanted to hit back but left home and joined the group. When I go back home, I’ll say sorry for all the things I have made them go through.'
Group 1 – Goeragre Camp
We understood how many of them are lured into becoming militants. For some it was the prospect of easy money, while others were scared into joining it, and still others have had bad experiences with the local police that made them want to join the other side. There were also some who shared that they were fighting for Garo Land and the ideals of the militant group were what they believed in too and so joined it; but after a period realised that it wasn't the case.
Group 2 – Jhenjhal Camp
When we were with them we discovered that one of the most important things this group felt was how the society could care for and love them. What is most important for them is not only groups working with them but local people mentoring them and caring for them.
Next we conducted a two day workshop on 15 and 16 September on ‘Ethics and Development’ for front line government officers on invitation of the Integrated Basin Development and Livelihood Project and DC of Tura. Front Line Officers included people from different cross sections of the Tura society. There were representatives from the Tourism Department, Education Department, trade unions, medical profession etc. To be honest we were quite nervous, as it was the first time for the four of us to conduct a programme for senior officials.
We shared our stories of change in our personal lives, our relationship with our families, we shared our convictions and why we are doing what we are doing. Through skits we portrayed what it means to care for the family and the society. We played team building games and laughed and came out of our comfort zones. And most importantly, together we listened to the inner voice and shared our thoughts. We spent 20 minutes in silence, writing down our thoughts and from the 48 people present, 37 shared. We truly believe that something beyond us was at work there. Most of the sharing was very inspiring. Here is some of that:
'Today I want to share that I always think that I am a good person, a good doctor, a good wife, a good mother but I think that I am wrong to think that way all the time because whatever I do I may not be right all the time; and it will be good to listen to others opinion too.'
'After watching the video I was asking myself what are the masks that I wear, because I know that I wear a lot of masks, but the biggest mask I wear is when I hide behind my shyness. I realised today that my shyness prevents me from going and talking to people first before they come and talk to me. So I think it’s a form of pride, because I do not want to go and humble myself and talk to someone whether he or she responds or not; but it is actually my duty. I am very shy to the point that it stresses me out. When I have to deal with people I fret about it and I think about it a lot when I need to meet someone. I can’t say that I will change today onwards but I will take small steps and change little by little. I have been wearing this mask since I was little and it will take time to take off. One more thing, because of this shyness, I have a senior here from my school, I have been seeing her a lot in other training programmes as well but because she is also shy and I am also shy, I have never spoken to her or said hi to her, today I would like to say hi, so Hi.'
It is moments like these that push us ahead to do what we are doing. We have also been touched by the kindness of people that we have met. The simplicity and humble kindness that we have been shown reminds us not only to look at things that are not right in the world but to appreciate and rejoice in the good.