My sister, Ankita had been working with Sunbird trust in Manipur for nearly a year. I had been fascinated by her experiences and always wished for a chance to contribute to the work. In February 2018, my wish was granted.
Sunbird Trust was facilitating the setup of a new school at a small village, Puichi. Puichi is a quaint village with the charm of hefty mountains in the background and the most beautiful sunsets. The Government primary school was situated 4 kms from the village, hence very difficult for the small kids to walk down to during rains. Mr. Samuel, from the village approached Sunbird Trust to look for a solution. With further talks and discussion, the plan for Sungchum Friendship School, a K-3 school was materialized.
The school model is unique in many ways. The Army had vacated barracks in the village, which stood locked without any use. Sunbird trust approached them to open up the barracks to be used for the school. Permission was readily given, and thus the children had classrooms.
The village came together to set up the school for their children. One villager offered to make the furniture without charging any money. Parents took shifts to clean the surroundings, build a fence, dig a pit and to cement the staircase. On my first visit to Puichi, we were to paint the walls of classrooms. With the number of parents (and teachers) who had come out to help that day, I hardly got the chance to hold a paint brush. The painting was done in lesser time than expected.
The school had a staff of 5 teachers and a Principal to lead them. They were a mix of experienced teachers and teachers teaching for the first time ever. I had the privilege of designing trainings for them; and with no surprise at all, I ended with more learning than I could give. The team walked to a close-by village, about 5 kms, for a week to attend training sessions for 3 hours, everyday. The desire to be better teachers, combined with the determination to give the best to their children resulted in interesting sessions.
The school follows a no gender discrimination policy. With similar uniforms for both, boys and girls, they’re breaking stereotypes at every step.
On the day of the scheduled opening of the school, there was heavy rainfall with stormy winds. Our hopes for a good first-day attendance were dropping. As we approached the school before the first bell, we saw a frenzy of activity. Parents and teachers had been preparing since early morning, and most kids were present in the premises much before time. The excitement was at the highest! Further into the week, this became common sight. Most kids arrived half an hour before school began, and helped the teachers with set up and other preparation.
Upon knowing of my time in Manipur, I’m often questioned about the safety and slapped with the preconceived notion of me having a difficult time. In reality, it was the exact opposite. I had the most comfortable and safe time. During all of my stay, I was welcomed in homes and kitchens. Even my food habit differences were tried to be taken care of. I could walk alone from one village to another at any time of the day. I would credit all this to the work of Sunbird Trust. The organization has been accomplishing extensive work in parts of Manipur and stays true to its vision, “Peace through education.” My sister, Ankita has been an integral part of the organization for the past year and has given strength to numerous people to follow their dreams. I have drawn immense inspiration from her.
The time I spent at Manipur certainly left me feeling more enriched with experiences and learning. I returned with their infectious energy and ready to take on new challenges.