Nupimacha was diagnosed with cancer just two months before a blaze destroyed her home in Manipur’s Kangpokpi district on May 3, during the breakout of ethnic violence in the State. At a relief camp in Imphal three days later, the 15-year-old began wondering if she would live long enough to see her five-member family back in their native village of Dairy.
Almost three months later, the yearning to return home is stronger, but she has learnt to acknowledge that there is no point worrying too much about things not in her control.
“I have to focus on my present to snatch some certainty out of what seems to be an uncertain future,” she says at the Lamboikhongangkhong Trade Centre, now one of the largest relief camps for the victims of the ongoing ethnic conflict that has claimed more than 130 lives and displaced at least 50,000 people.
Learning to smile again
Among the displaced are an estimated 10,000 children and adolescents distributed in 350 relief camps. But Nupimacha is one of about 1,100 minors across 37 of these camps who have found some support from a “stress-busting” programme designed by a global education support organisation.
“The idea behind the programme was to help children traumatised by the violence smile again apart from bridging their learning gap,” Amrita Thingujam, the managing director of STAR (System Transformation and Rejuvenation) Education said.
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STAR is a collaboration between Manipur’s Education Department and NewGlobe, an education intervention specialist group that has worked with 2.25 million first-generation learners in developing countries over the last ten years. One of the reasons why STAR Education was extended to the relief camps two months ago was the organisation’s experience of operating in the conflict zones of African countries such as Nigeria, Liberia, and Rwanda.
Creating a playful environment
“Psychology is not our forte but we try to ensure a playful environment for the children in relief camps by organising activities such as quizzes and painting contests on the lines of our classroom management techniques,” Ms. Thingujam said.
She is monitoring a 43-member team — with three members based in the hill district of Churachandpur — working with the children in the relief camps.
Sucheta Khumukcham, Imphal West district’s zonal education officer, said that the department had two objectives when the special programme was launched more than two months ago.
“These children have been under great emotional stress after experiencing violence from close quarters. We wanted to give them a platform to showcase their hidden talent, and to help them heal emotionally and psychologically by letting them express themselves,” she said. “There has been a positive change in the children. They are opening up and interacting with people,” added Ms. Khumukcham, associated with the STAR programme in 33 schools in her zone.
“The Manipur government invited us in 2019 when it launched its School Fagathansi Mission to transform physical infrastructure. We became a part of the mission in 2021 to develop the social infrastructure for changing the face of government schools,” an executive of NewGlobe-South Asia said. “Manipur is our first major project in India and we are thankful that our programme, although technology-driven, is overcoming the current challenges to impact the lives of children,” the executive added.
Among those who have begun to see light at the end of the tunnel is Nipamacha, a teenager who saw his home, as well as his father’s jewellery and hotel business completely destroyed in the violence in Churachandpur town. “We have seen everything taken from us but we have found some hand-holders to help rebuild our lives,” he said.