Children in conflict zone in India discover joys in life, thanks to RF funded social entrepreneur Hejang
During a visit to a rural village in Saijang, Manipur, social activist Hejang Misao, 41 gathered a few children in the village and asked them to draw what was on their minds.
“Imagine my shock when all the children including the girls, between the ages of 6 to 13, drew all kinds of guns. I felt something was not right and I needed to do something to ensure they are not influenced by the violence around them,” he said.
The incident gave birth to the Gun to Pen programme, an initiative by Hejang and a group of his friends aimed at introducing the children to a world outside their own.
“The majority of the children had no ambition. We started the project with the main aim of addressing their low self-esteem and lack of confidence and guide them to be better citizens.
The team also shared with the children various career options and introduced job-oriented courses to the older youth. A carefully curated selection of motivational movies about successful people who started with humble beginnings was regularly shown to the young people to inculcate self-belief.
The violence in Manipur, a North eastern state in India, is not new as conflicts between the government’s armed forces and separatists from the Kuki, Naga and Meitei tribes are frequent. With more than 20 militant groups in the state, the area is prone to violence and almost daily clashes.
“It took us almost a year of frequent mentoring and guidance talks to see a visible difference in the young population. At the end of the year, we gathered the children and again asked them to draw what was on their minds. This time, we saw colourful houses, skies, trees and flowers.
“We also see changes in their mindset. Now, they tell us about their dreams. They want to become policemen, engineers, footballers and doctors. They are now aware of other options in life and are better informed of the consequences of taking up arms. It makes me happy to see this,” Hejang says.
Introducing the Guns to Pen programme in the area was not without challenges.
“A few times I was threatened by those affiliated with militant groups to stop the programme as they needed to maintain the status quo. But I did what I had to do and I am glad it has borne fruit,” he says.
Hejang Misao is one of three social entrepreneurs sponsored by RYTHM Foundation under the Sadguru Gnanananda Fellowship, a project of Manava Seva Dharma Samvardhani Trust (MSDS).
The fellowship is offered to young citizens who are socially conscious and work with people in rural areas or marginalised groups. Through the fellowship, the recipients are given a monthly grant for three years, to help them scale their projects to benefit their local communities and turn them into a sustainable source of income.