Team

Chris Portrait

Col Christopher Rego (Retd)

A graduate from the National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla and Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, Col Chris Rego was commissioned into the Corps of Army Engineers in 1984. Over three decades, till his retirement in January 2016, he has tenanted varied appointments in the Army, serving across the length and breadth of the country.

During his service, Chris Rego had two extended tenures, at Mizoram and Manipur serving on deputation with the Assam Rifles and the Border Roads Organisation. Seeing the plight of children from underprivileged families in conflict affected states, Chris and his wife Myrna decided to make a difference and began sponsoring education of children in 2004. With the graduation of these youngsters and their successful employment, many others soon joined the informal Sunbird venture. Noting the obvious linkage between marginalization of the people and radicalization of youth, Chris sought innovative ways to provide physical and financial access to education. Over the next decade, he worked with different ethnic communities across the North Eastern states, understanding issues that impacted society and in particular the children’s education. Chris envisaged the important role of hostels in providing far flung communities with access to education and oversaw the construction of the first Friendship Hostel at Ijeirong village and Friendship School at Muvanlai. At the core of every venture was “Friendship”, a principle that saw children of varied ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds live and study together in mutual respect and harmony, supported by people from other parts of India. Using his own position, he also leveraged the assistance of various Government organisations in this venture.

The growth of the Sunbird initiative necessitated a formal identity and Sunbird Trust was registered in 2014. By 2016 over 320 children were being sponsored by the Sunbird team in five North East Indian states and 20 alumni had been suitably employed in various professions.

Having an enduring interest in social entrepreneurship, Col Chris completed his MA in Public Administration while in service. In 2003, taking a sabbatical, he obtained his PGDBM from Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship, Bangalore. He is an author, traveler, pianist, nature enthusiast and amateur herpetologist. He has written three books including a travelogue on Kerala and “Cradle of Valour”, the history of the Bombay Engineer Group Centre at Khadki. His photographs of North East India have graced magazines like Discover India and Mizoram state calendars and tourism brochures. Christopher and Myrna Rego have also researched and documented the cuisine of Mizo tribes.

On retiring from the Army, the Trustees appointed Chris Rego as Managing Director of Sunbird Trust. He now devotes his time to building the organisation that he had a major role in conceiving.

 

Sethri

Sethrichem Sangtam

Sethrichem (Sethri) grew up in a remote village in eastern Nagaland, where, amidst the most idyllic natural surroundings, he experienced the myriad challenges of life in a relatively marginalized, but tight knit rural community. Overcoming the odds, he secured admission to the prestigious National Law School of India University at Bangalore. He later travelled across continents, served a short stint with the United Nations at New York and even obtained a H1B work visa that would have allowed him to work in the USA. Wanting to make a meaningful contribution to his community, he however returned to India to work at the grassroots level. In 2009, Sethri founded a not for profit organization, Better Life Foundation (BLF), hoping to concentrate on issues of rural livelihood security, environment sustainability and education. Now a community leader, he emphasized local participation in the development process realizing that a process once owned and appreciated by the community would become institutionalized and sustainable.

With Sethri’s “out of the box” ideas and leadership, BLF soon started a pioneering goat farm and horticulture projects that benefit 700 families in cluster of 12 villages. He introduced innovative family sized orchards incorporating low chilling varieties apple, kiwi and other temperate fruits. In the process, he encouraged families to gradually relinquish the traditional but wasteful jhum cultivation and shift to permanent farming. With this, Sethri is slowly succeeding in creating sustainable income generation and optimum utilization of land, thus contributing to conservation of bio-diversity and environment sustainability. He now envisages adding value to the horticulture produce and creating forward linkages.

As an experienced social entrepreneur, Sethri oversees Sunbird Trust’s work in Nagaland including its Sponsor a Child scheme. Complementing Sunbird Trust’s “Peace through Education” initiative, he is bringing his immense knowledge and innovative techniques to Sunbird partner villages in Manipur. Currently on a year-long journey to qualify as a LEAD India Fellow, he is undergoing experiential learning with them as an Associate.

Amos

Amos NK

Realising the critical need for a school for isolated forest and hill communities around his own village Ijeirong in Tamenglong District of Manipur, Amos and two of his friends co-founded the Paangkriang Friendship School in 2008. From its humble origins, this school now serves 350 underprivileged tribal students. In 2013, aiming to provide better access to education for the children of the nearby villages, Amos successfully approached the Sunbird team to construct a hostel in conjunction with the school. Switching hats to architect and project manager, he deftly employed available funds raised by the Sunbird team and raised voluntary labour from his village completing construction of the hostel by February 2014. With 151 hostellers today, Ijeirong Friendship Hostel is one of the biggest in Manipur.

Capitalizing on the success of the hostel project, Amos led a slew of Sunbird initiatives in the Haochong Block area from building a new Community Centre, to leveling a large playfield, conducting medical camps, guiding students for their further studies and linking Sunbird with student and women’s groups. He was instrumental in planning a Leadership Training Programme for local youth at Bangalore and also in arranging yoga camps in the villages. He led the team that conducted the first of its kind Friendship Festival at Ijeirong in January 2016. Amos is currently in the process of planning and erecting a second Sunbird hostel at Ijeirong.

 

Aswathy Preetha Jayakumar

Aswathy believes that the best answer to most of the world’s problems is our children. She is keenly interested in finding ways in which children in low income communities are best equipped to make the world a better place. A Teach for India Fellow, Aswathy taught underprivileged children in the Malwani area in the Western suburbs of Mumbai. Here, as a teacher, her strength was creating, modifying, and changing structures to match what her students need. Combining excellent planning and execution strategies with her love and warmth for children, she assiduously channelized the exuberance and energy of her children into emotional and intellectual growth.

Aswathy joined Sunbird Trust in October 2016 as a Field Volunteer. At Sunbird Friendship Hostel and Paangkriang Friendship School (PFS) where she was detailed to work, she closely observed existing practices and crystallized improvements. Never overawed by the constant social and political disturbances in the conflict zone of Sunbird Trust’s area of operations and unmindful of her personal safety as a young woman, she has imprinted her personal stamp on the educational and organisational methodologies being followed. Appointed Programme Manager of Sunbird Trust across its areas of operations in North East India, Aswathy has slowly built capacity into the teaching programmes of Sunbird Trust’s key partner schools at Ijeirong, Muvanlai village and Majuli Island.

Building on her experience in Sunbird Trust in North East India, Aswathy has been selected for the prestigious MA in Peace Studies at the United Nations mandated University of Peace in Costa Rica. She will however continue to be a core member of the Sunbird Trust team.

 

Thathang

Langchingthang

A commerce graduates and accountant for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Langchingthang or Thathang as he is known is a community leader in the tiny Muvanlai in Churachandpur District of Manipur. In 2013, realising the need for a primary school for tiny tots in this remote village, he approached the Sunbird team to assist him in this venture. Despite the impaired security situation and inaccessibility and of his village, he supervised the construction of Ebion Friendship School and ancillary facilities over three years. With limited resources and immense challenges, he steadily raised the school till the 5th standard and is gradually building up the institution and his young wards.

Thathang oversees Sunbird Trust’s Sponsorship programme and outreach activities in his area of Churachandpur District of Manipur District.

 

Bipin Shivaji Dhane

As a school student, Bipin worked for the non-profit Gopali Youth Welfare Society and opened a small school at Gopali village. Here, he went from door to door to persuade parents to send their children to school where he taught the youngsters. Preparing for his professional career, he came in the top 1% of the all India AIEE, IIT – JEE and GATE examinations and secured admission into IIT Kharagpur. He completed his B.Tech and M.Tech in Ocean Engineering and Naval Architecture here in 2013. On his graduation, he joined Keppel Fels, global leaders in design, construction and repair of mobile offshore rigs, as a Lead Engineer at their Singapore office. In 2014, he joined Keppel Offshore & Marine Technology Centre (KOMTECH) as a Research Engineer. Here, he led projects in collaboration with the National University of Singapore.

Dissatisfied with corporate life and wishing to make a meaningful contribution to the underprivileged back home in India, Bipin joined Ebion Pubic School in Majuli Island in Assam. Here, he headed the Teacher Training Unit, working with the teachers to develop them professionally and enhance their teaching skills. During this tenure, he travelled across the vast riverine island learning of issues that affected education and livelihood of the mainly Mishing tribal community. Desiring to make a bigger impact, Bipin partnered with local community leaders and in January 2017 started Majuli Island Hummingbird School in a remote and poorly accessible part of the island. The school, with rudimentary infrastructure, currently caters for children from 26 neighbouring villages. Bipin hopes to increase this number to serve 45 villages in the vicinity. Taking the help of Sunbird Trust, Bipin has started raising rudimentary infrastructure for his school. To accommodate children from far flung villages, Bipin built a hostel that accommodates 40 children and is likely to be expanded to house 100 children from the next year. He intends to use his school as a hub and work with the community for better livelihood, health and hygiene.

With an ideal alignment in vision and objectives, Bipin joined Sunbird Trust as its Assam coordinator in Feb 2017. He currently envisions and oversees the Trust projects across the state

 

Johnny1

Johnny Joseph

Hailing from Karong Village in Mao District of Manipur and coming from an underprivileged agricultural family, Johnny lost his parents at an early age. He educated himself with great difficulty in the process experiencing immense challenges in a conflict affected state. Seeking better prospects for himself and his siblings, he came to Bangalore in 2006. He now works as a catering assistant in recreational institute in the city.

A volunteer for Sunbird Trust since its inception, Johnny devotes his spare time to helping other youngsters from the North East make the transition to Bangalore. From advising them on their travel, to receiving them in his modest rented accommodation and helping them establish themselves either at their colleges or at places of work, he is a rock of support. His rich experience after a decade at Bangalore helps him imbibe newly arrived youngsters under the Sunbird umbrella hailing from remote villages in the North East with the cultural nuances and the practical challenges of life in a metropolis. Johnny also coordinates transportation of material donated for Sunbird projects to the project areas.

 

Rajkumar

Rajkumar Babloo Singh

Hailing from the Meitei community, Babloo is a member of the extended erstwhile royal family of Manipur. He employs his excellent rapport with community leaders across the Manipur Valley to progress Sunbird Trust’s work especially in the Valley districts of the state. Proud of his rich culture and heritage, he has an abiding interest in seeking solutions to the myriad disturbances that beset this part of the country. A former Territorial Army soldier, para jumper and state level marksman, Babloo is no stranger to adventure and is ever ready to lend his shoulder to help break new ground for Sunbird.

In keeping with his interests in building bridges between communities in his state, Babloo was instrumental in the success of the Ijeirong Friendship Festival 2016 using his good connections to bring star artistes from varied communities to perform together. Using his military background, he is currently employed as a security professional with a multinational company at Delhi. He plays a major role in helping to settle young graduates from the North East in the cities and guide them as they foray for education and employment.

 

Ankita Phale

For most, travelling as a way of life is a dream. For Ankita Phale, it became a reality in April 2014, during her last year at Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics, Mumbai when she, along with three others launched Mapping Journeys, a travel venture to create a community of travelers who learn from experiences and immerse themselves in local culture.

On her trips to far off villages she found people who had potential, but lacked opportunity. She wanted to create an education system tailored to these communities and this led her to do the Teach For India Fellowship. She taught a class of 6th Grade children in a low-income school at Mumbai. As a class teacher, she worked with low-income and below grade-level students coping with issues ranging from lack of opportunities and exposure to adolescence. She learned to strategically problem-solve, build relations with external stake holders, invest parents in the education of their children and create strong classroom culture and opportunities for her students. She took a keen interest in engaging her students in various co-curricular activities to develop their soft skills.

After completion of her TFI fellowship and gaining knowledge in the Education sector, Ankita joined Sunbird Trust with the aim of creating opportunities for children to explore their potential. Living amidst a tribal community at Ijeirong, a remote village in Manipur, she hopes to learn from their reality and way of life. Ankita is also looking at leveraging her tenure in North East India to study prospects of promoting cross cultural tourism as a means of creating sustainable livelihoods. She hopes that this would in turn facilitate access to education of underprivileged children.

 

Konish Naidu

A state level footballer, Konish completed his graduation in Civil Engineering. Hailing from a service family, he caught the travel bug through the many postings of his father. The frequent transfers endowed him with much resilience and flexibility. Meeting many children and people who needed to be heard, he discovered his love for working in the development sector. He interned with United Nations (UNDP) in Lesotho, South Africa and worked for NGO’s such as CRY and Magic Bus.

Joining Sunbird Trust in May 2017, Konish is based at the Trust’s pilot project at Ijeirong village in Manipur. Here, his aim is to ensure overall development of the children and increase their exposure through sports and co-curricular activities. At Sunbird Trust’s partner Paangkriang Friendship school at Ijeirong, Konish has started coaching football crazy youngsters and has formed a school football team that will represent the school and village. Teamwork, reading skills, writing skills, general knowledge, technology training and public speaking are some of the soft skills that are his primary objectives. His boundless enthusiasm and affable nature has endeared him to his young wards and the village community.

Konish lives by the adage “Travel, Experience, Learn and Give”

 

Dominic

S. Huimi Dominic

Hailing from Chadong Village in Ukhrul District of Manipur, Dominic finished his schooling in Manipur before moving to Shillong where he eventually completed his Master’s Degree in History from North Eastern Hill University. He later completed his LLb from Delhi University. Throughout college and University, he was a Student leader, fully involved in student activities. Back in his home state, he has been a practicing lawyer for 15 years. He now devotes most of his time to his community at Chadong after the village was partly submerged by the Mapithel Thoubal Multipurpose project. Dominic coordinates Sunbird outreach activities including sponsorship of children from in and around his village.