It was in the early 2000s when he lost all hope and had even considered straying from the straight and narrow and staying aloof but good sense prevailed and a sense of ownership and responsibility (not only for himself but for society) overpowered his frustrations and his impulse to become an outlaw.
However, after a decade of constant struggle, the man who once thought of flouting societal rules is now on a mission to build a better world and giving hope to the despondent.
From social discrimination to poverty and hopeless circumstances, the odds against him were quite high. But these individuals believed in the dictum that your reach must extend beyond your grasp. If not, what else is the sky for? And he worked hard. He grabbed all the opportunities that came his way; he exerted every sinew, every nerve and realized the journey is as sweet as the destination!
Jenpu Rongmei, born and brought up in Dimapur, Nagaland, was always active in school, good in studies, liked to dance and sing, was popular with friends and teachers and had always dreamt of becoming a Navy Officer but unfortunately his dream could not be realized as he had to leave school after appearing Class XII examinations due to his family’s financial constraints.
Jenpu Rongmei had a troubled childhood and teenage. His father was an alcoholic at whose hands his mother suffered domestic violence. He had to drop out of college due to financial problems and the biggest blow of them all – his brother, David, died due to drug abuse. The pain of losing his only brother to a sickness which could be cured left him in despair.
“My dad was alcoholic, my mom was a victim of domestic violence, I along with my two brothers dropped out from school, my younger brother who could not control his frustration started taking drugs and lost his precious life, my eldest brother became hopeless and I was confused with my life but the death of my brother woke me up to realize that life is not only about riches and high qualifications. Beyond that there are is another life ~ a life of loving people, giving hope, a life of bringing meaning to someone who needed care.”
“My mother had to struggle to run the family and after my brother died, the situation worsened. I had a struggling life. While battling with the pain of losing my brother, I also had to think about lending a helping hand to sustain the family,” Jenpu said.
The hardship once got him to a point when he actually thought of venturing into an irrational journey, which could have harmed and tortured his conscience for years to come. It was then he realized the unhealthy step he was about to take, all thanks to Father Jerry, who picked him up.
“When I was down, I was about to do something foolish, irrational but at that time, Father Jerry picked me up and showed me a better path. It was a battle between good and evil,” Jenpu narrated.
Sharing the memories of his late brother, Jenpu said, “I have seen him suffer every day till the day he died and I keep thinking to myself – “Is this not a disease that can be cured”?”
“My motivation is my past. I know how much I struggled. I know the loss of my brother. I can see that the same pain that I was in, the same pain and struggle in a lot of young people. I keep my past beside it; it motivates me to go ahead.”
Having seen his brother fall prey to drug abuse and unfortunately dying, he decided to take up the cause. “I have seen many young people, who are just out of school, resorting to drugs. It made me think how long will we blame the Government or the people? It was time to do something. This is what made me start CAN.”
Having realized and experienced first-hand the trauma every family member undergoes at times like these, Jenpu said, “I don’t want other youth to go through the same trauma… that’s why I came up with CAN Youth because I believe that if we don’t do it now, when will we do it.”
CAN Youth was established in 2012 with an aim to restore balance in society and cater to school dropouts and empower them with the much needed life-skills to venture further in this competitive world.
His main passion is to start a Skill Resource Centre, reaching out to 500 dropout students by 2020, to support education and provide skill training according to their interests and impart entrepreneurial skills to 100 girls.
According to the Department of Labour and Employment, Government of Nagaland, there are 70422 unemployed youth, who are registered in their Life Register as in the year 2017. However, the number of unemployed youth is much greater and there are many youth who are not registered with the Department of Labour and Unemployment. The huge number of unemployed youth is directly influenced by the high rate of dropouts and scarce job opportunities.
CAN Youth, with the support of Bosco Institute, Jorhat, carried out a study titled, “Scenario of School Drop-Outs in Selected Areas of Dimapur”, which observed that 57% of the students dropped out of high school while 32 % dropped out of the middle school and 11% dropped out before reaching middle school.
This trend of dropping out of the schools/colleges is exacerbated by the fact that many of the students are from poor socio-economic backgrounds hence increasing unemployment, poverty and vulnerability to anti-social activities.
Under Jenpu’s leadership, CAN Youth have taken up new project called 3E (Education, Employability & Entrepreneurship). There are many educated unemployed youths belonging to the underprivileged sections of our society and region due to the lack of awareness and opportunities. There are youths who want to pursue further education but due to unavailability of information, guidance, and awareness they are unable to avail educational benefits. Thus, 3E (Education, Employability & Entrepreneurship) Information and Resource Centre is a kind of facility which provides information and support. The purpose of this Centre is to promote and propagate strategies through which the full potentials of the youths are realized and developed.
3E Information & Resource Centre is an initiative of the CAN Youth to understand, address and mitigate these problems of school/college drop-outs and unemployment youth through a 3-pronged approach of Nurturing Education, Capacitating Employability and Building Entrepre-neurial Skills among youth and children living in difficult circumstances.
CAN Youth have been working with the youth of Nagaland, particularly in Dimapur district. Over the past 5 years, CAN Youth have been carrying out activities based on the concept of ‘youth for youth’ giving youth a purpose to work for the uplift of communities.
CAN Youth promotes eco-friendly paper bags
CAN Youth, a NGO based in Dimapur, under its Sustainable Project “Discover Positive” provides skill training programmes on paper bags. It solemnly aims to provide livelihood and promote eco-friendly practices and encourage putting an end to the plastics used.
The world is experiencing rapid climate changes due to environmental pollution and the use of non-recyclable products, which adversely affect the human being and also all other organisms on earth. In order to protect and preserve the environment, CAN Youth, started giving training and promoting paper bags since 2015. CAN Youth have trained more than 30 Self Help Groups (SHGs), Naga Women Hoho, Village level workers, Orphanage Homes and various other youth organizations.
Jenpu reiterated that there is a need to tap youths’ potentials right from the nascent stage to prevent them from getting into drugs or other self-destructive habits and to pave way for a better future because “We know the youth hold the power to change the world,” he added.
Jenpu says that playing the blame game gets us nowhere. When he started CAN, he had no money, but the exigency of the issue made him start immediately. “I started mobilizing people and started working with the young kids, especially targeting drop-outs. They live in frustration and this frustration leads to substance abuse. I have my own experience of being a drop-out and I can understand what they go through”. He started with 9 kids in 2012
“I face in my work as many youth who are dropouts from school/college drop-outs, who don’t want to expose their identities, they feel fear of being rejected and discriminated. Society and community, and even Government, don’t have much concern for this section.”
Currently 44 volunteers from colleges have joined his cause and the organization has named them ‘Young Agents’. Villages Chiefs, known as Goan Buras, have declared their support to the cause and are even financially contributing for entrepreneurship programmes in 2 adopted villages. The organization is engaged with 25 children (infected and affected with HIV/AIDS and affected by drugs abuse and alcoholic parents) and 37 Youth (Drop-outs), along with 200 youth who have dropped out of schools/colleges.
Talking about the challenges they faced, financial resources is the foremost impediment. Unlike other states, Nagaland doesn’t have companies, corporate and agencies which can support through Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) hence they have to rely on the Government but it cannot address all the problems, as Nagaland is dependent on Central largesse.
He has connected with some private agencies in Dimapur to train the school drop-outs. He brings out the stories of these young adults to the private agencies and urges them to help out. “It is tough because sometimes they just keep rejecting the idea. But I keep going and then they finally agree.”
Jenpu, is the founder of Community Avenue Network (CAN), a youth-led non-profit based at Dimapur. CAN undertakes projects, which include providing material and moral support to children living with HIV/AIDS, vocational training to underprivileged youth and organizing volunteers from different colleges and villages to engage in community service. Presently, Jenpu is Information Secretary of Nagaland Alliance for Children and Women Rights.
Is his dream achievable? He says, “It’s not very easy. But if you look at failure in advance, then nothing will ever happen. I’m just giving my best. My heart says that it will really bring some change, even if it is after I die. What I’m happy about is people from all strata of the society are getting involved and talking about over-all education and inclusion. The word is spreading in villages and cities, and that is a good sign.”
The writer completed her Master of Social Work (MSW) from NEISSR, Dimapur. After completion of her post-graduation, she has done internship at Nagaland Page .