Having ten years of experience working in Youth and Community development, Jenpu Rongmei was conferred the prestigious Maja Koene Social Activist Award 2015, an award instituted by Centre for Experiencing Socio-cultural Interaction (CESCI) Foundation, an International organization based in India and Switzerland. Jenpu is the Founder and Chief Functionary of CAN Youth, an NGO based in Dimapur (Formerly known as Young’s Club), is actively working with school and college dropouts in Dimapur for more than a decade. Striving to make the dropouts productive and employable citizens, the NGO also provide home based support in terms of education to twenty five children who are infected with HIV/AIDS and are affected by substance abuse as also those offspring of drug users and alcoholic parents. having gained experience at Bethesda Youth welfare centre, UNODC H-13 project, North East Drug/HIV Training centre, Jenpu Rongmei is an Alumnus of Changelooms Pravah, New Delhi, Fellow of Acumen India 2015 and presently Fellow of Northeast Youth Involve. CAN Youth operates through the active participation of forty five volunteers from different colleges who render voluntary service in diverse areas depending upon their respective core competencies and inherent talents. Some of the major projects implemented by CAN Youth are enumerated below:
Project “Care and Hope”, a home based care and support Project for the children afflicted with HIV/AIDS, children of Drugs and alcohol abusers. Besides, it also supports children from downtrodden background wanting to continue their studies. With no funding agencies for this project, CAN Youth team works by identifying the child and then reaching out to the community for sponsors.
Project ‘Discover Positive’, aims to enable schools/colleges dropouts and underprivileged youth to transcend from dependency to independency by facilitating them to face challenges whilst enhancing their talents for more productive life. ‘Discover Positive’ is to reach out to the young people, especially dropouts students and underprivileged youth to give them determination to discover their positive traits towards a better life, to explore their talents, to develop their capacity, get assimilated in society, involve themselves in youth programs and other community services so as to abstain from anti-social activities.
Youth voluntarism: Youth voluntarism is one of the thrust area of community Avenue Network (CAN) Youth. To work and to engage with young people from different walks of life to involve in community service and work towards personality development through abstaining from anti-social activities and making them active and productive citizens of this nation. CAN Youth now has a large network of volunteers from different colleges from diverse backgrounds. These volunteers are called Young Agents.
Youth Support Group: Youth Support Group (YSG) has in its ambit school and college dropouts and underprivileged youths between the age group of 18-35 years. The philosophy behind forming YSG is to create and connect people, bridge individuals to social life especially for the group of youths mentioned above. It is a space-creating-within for self realization to discover and hone skills and hidden talents through various soft skills, vocational trainings, entrepreneurship development programs offered by CAN Youth in collaboration with Different like-minded NGOs/Agencies through processes where they realize and gain life to its fullness. It is a platform ideologically developed by CAN Youth, instrumentally creating the very space by the youth themselves towards income generation and develop social relationship to live life to its fullest.
What did you aspire to become when you grew up?
As a kid I always dreamt of becoming become a Navy Officer.
Why have you selected a career in social work? What motivated you? How social work is viewed by the general public. What in your opinion are the incentives of engaging in social service?
Never thought of being a social worker but the struggle and sufferings that I underwent early in life, the death of my younger brother from drug abuse and witnessing young people living in frustration by dropping out from school/colleges due to financial problems kept me thinking of doing something in a very limited way.
To be very honest, even today, my friends and family advises me to land a job with some reputed firm. Some people acknowledge the good work done, some people perceive social worker as doing for popularity and fame only.
My involvement in social service is with a purpose, the purpose of helping, purpose of appreciation, purpose of supporting each other, purpose of empowering less privileged people, in return I don’t expect anything, in fact I experience love and happiness among people which makes happy and satisfied. I want our people to grow and walk together instead of being after each other. My social engagement is not my duty but it’s my responsibility.
How do you see the prospects of social work as a career option in the 21st Century?
In 21st Century, Social work can be a career option for example setting up a social initiatives, or social enterprises. Setting up skill centre, other vocational training units linked with production centres where employability of the youth are enhanced will gain popularity and greater acceptance from the community.
How are your sources of funding? Are they easy to come by?
Our initiatives are supported mostly come from Community based mobilization and also from my fellowship money from agencies like Changelooms, PRAVAH, Delhi and North East Youth Involve Fellowship, Bosco Institute Jorhat, Nehru Yuva Kendra etc. In fact these Fellowship money is meant for individuals to work on projects but in our case we use them to support other activites as well. External fundings are not easy to come by. We need to do a lot of persuasions with the funding agencies. A great deal of our time, energy and resources are spent mobilizing funds.
What creative strategies do you employ to provide home based support to youth?
We started Youth support Group known (YSG) a type of Self Help Group for drop out youths whom we provide traning. After completion of the training, some Seed Money in given to the groups to start some identified income generation activity. Thus the YSG has three important components – group mobilisation, skill development and Livelihood. One such YSG in Bade Village near Dimapur has started generating regular revenue though making various types of ladies bags. We are now arranging for further skill upgradation so that they can diversify their activities.
Tell us about your first project experience. Difficulties faced, achievements made etc
The first project was started with the name of Care & Hope under CAN Youth (erstwhile Young Club) in the year 2012 providing education support to children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS and affected by drug abuse and alcoholic parents from downtrodden families.
I along with my team simply started without single penny, we identified nine children and reached out for sponsorship to seventy people which included including Business people, Govt. Officers, Doctors, Politician but only seven people responded positively. It took us two months to reach out to these seventy people. Presently we are supporting twenty five children through home based care.
The other Project is ‘Discover Positive’ – to work and engage with drop out youth through exploring different avenues suited to each individual. It was a tough journey. Initially, no one wanted to talk about drop out youth issue, because, the general belief was that youth drop out because they are either bad in studies or they got expelled because of some bad behavior or vices. But when we delved deeper, we found that in majority of cases drop outs happen due to financial reasons, turbulent family environment such as parents’ divorce, alcoholic parents etc. Skill training and livelihood or education is not the only thing the drop out needs but apart from them we need to engage them in different youth program and life skills training so as to make them realize and feel that the life does not end here. They can achieve a lot even though they are drop outs. We provide them training according to their needs and interest and not according to what our organization want. Noticing the positive impact of our initiatives on the local youth, the community leaders like Goan Buras (GBs) and some Beaurucrats have come forward to support us in working with drop outs in villages and urban areas.
Through our intervention, many drop out youth have been turned into productive citizens from being a liability to society. One girl has started her dressmaking unit, one completed theology studies and is serving as a youth leader in a church in Dimapur, two youth have started their small carpentry unit and one youth has started a cane craft unit in his own home.
Generally why do child/youth drop out? How do you help them?
As mentioned earlier, most of the children and youth drop out due to financial reasons, family problems and also from peer pressure. We identify and engage them in various life skills program.
How do you help a child who comes from a disturbed family (Alcoholic/drug abuse/Broken Marriage etc?
We normally provide counseling to both parents and the child, support in education and other basic needs and sometimes refer to an NGO called Serendip guardians which specializes in mental health issue and is managed by my two friends Rini Ghose and Sunny Kikon in Chumukedima working on mental health issue.
What strategies do you use to help an individual who has an alcohol / drug abuse problem?
It is a really difficult task to engage with youth who have a background of alcohol and drug abuse. But still we help them by keeping themselves occupied in our youth programs, motivation from our team members who had similar experience in past, the last thing we do is to send them to rehabilitation centre.
What are the outputs of your project? What is unique about your activity?
We measure our outputs in qualitative terms although our scope and area of operation keeps increasing year after year. We derive great satisfaction from the fact that we help in changing the lives of many from being a the potential social liabilities to productive human resources. Many have started their own enterprises and are leading decent lives.
What are the challenges you have encountered and how were they solved? What sacrifices have you made in order to make your project successful?
Life is full of challenges, but I see an opportunity in all the challenges that I encounter in life. And therefore I don’t discuss them lest negativity sets in. we simply counter the challenges and cross one hurdle at a time.
In this organization most of my team members are not salaried. They are a dedicated lot who wants to give something back to society. They have the same vision as mine, so that is the reason why they are still working with me. During our initial days, I had to even sell my vehicle to keep our projects running.
What expertise, knowledge or talent do you wish you had before you embarked upon your project?
I wish I were a Musician, because I believe that Music can spread the message of love and harmony. I could have raised more resources through playing music and help the people in need.
Tell us about something you are particularly proud of about your career?
I am proud of my career because I am learning so many things, I am learning the value of life, how much each individual has meaning in his/her own life and that meaning can be shared to people who need hopes and support. I am proud that this career has brought about tremendous change in life, bevaviour, my beliefs and value system. This career has given me an opportunity to visit places and meet a cross section of people from whom I have learnt a lot.