“Who will change my place? Solution is here only, not from outside.”
The town of Tuensang is located in the far east of Nagaland, reachable only by eight hours of “rock-n-roll” driving along rough mountain roads. The people of this area are often referred to as backward, due to their remoteness and traditional lifestyle, but for Chonglise Sangtam, these are his people and this is his home. Chongli, as everyone calls him, is a Program Coordinator in the Better Life Foundation, an organization formed in 2009 to strengthen the livelihood of rural communities. They have engaged in a number of activities such as pig rearing and goat raising, though the goats were not popular because people associate them with the devil. Two projects they are currently engaged in are micro-finance and apple orchards.
Called the Northeast Rural Livelihood Project (NERLP) the micro-finance program is funded by the World Bank and operates in four states of Northeast India. As a part of the Project Facilitation Team, Chongli works with Community Development Groups in two blocks of Tuensang teaching them the concepts and systems of group savings and credit. The biggest challenge is that many of the members are illiterate. “They don’t know how to sign their names,” he explains, yet they are required to submit a monthly progress report. So Chongli and his team must teach and assist the groups from the most elementary levels. Despite these difficulties, as well as some problems with people taking the seed money for themselves, there are many successes. Villagers will use loans to start small projects such as raising piglets, growing vegetables, or selling dried fish. Some will go to the forest to collect tree beans to sell in town. Slowly, they repay the money at a 2% monthly interest rate and the group fund begins to grow.
In the area of horticulture, they work with village farmers’ groups, and have so far distributed 30,000 apple saplings, 10,000 orange and mango saplings, and 5,000 kiwi vines, for which the farmers pay a small fee. The team’s approach is to take groups to see existing orchards and provide training, at which point farmers can decide for themselves if they want to try. The aim is to distribute 5 million seedlings within the next few years as a sustainable income source alternative to the traditional practice of shifting cultivation. Though these fruits are new to most farmers in this area, Chongli’s own father has been raising apples for over 40 years. Chongli has tried to graft from his father’s trees in an attempt to maintain these indigenous fruits, but no one, not even his father, is able to identify the varieties.
Chongli has also started his own farm which he intends to use for demonstration purposes for villagers, because when they “see with their eyes, then only they will believe.” With it about half way to completion, he has started raising pigs and poultry and has constructed a fish pond. Still a young man, Chongli is often encouraged by his friends to seek work outside the village or even abroad in places like Dubai. They tell him he can make money and send it home. But his response is always, “who will change my place?” To just live aboard and send money does not help because you just, “do something blindly without knowing. After staying, only you will know what is the problem. After working here, only we will know. Solution is here only, not from outside.”