Jenpu Rongmei had a troubled childhood and teens. His father was an alcoholic, at the hands of whom, his mother suffered domestic violence. Jenpu had to drop out of college due to financial strain and the biggest blow of them all – his brother, David, died due to drug abuse.
What’s commendable is that Jenpu didn’t let all this affect him. Jenpu says that it wasn’t easy but he chose the right path. He has emerged as a leader with a vision.
Jenpu, now 30, is the founder of Community Avenue Network (CAN), a youth-led nonprofit based in Dimapur, Nagaland in the Northeast region of India. CAN operates projects including providing material and moral support to children living with HIV/AIDS, vocational training for 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.“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.”
Jenpu is an Acumen India Fellow from the 2015 cohort. “They’re helping me question everything. It gives me encouragement. I now understand the real meaning of leadership.” It has brought him closer to other Fellows as well. “To be honest, there are a lot of problems between North East and mainland India, but the other fellows gave me respect and love, it is like a bridge between North East and rest of India.”
Having seen his brother fall prey to drug abuse and unfortunately dying, he decided to take the cause up. “I have seen many young people resorting to drugs who are just out of school. 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.”
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 dropouts. They live in frustration and this frustration leads to substance abuse. I have my own experience of being a dropout and I can understand what they go through. “
He tells us about another incident that opened his eyes. “On World Aids Day in 2011, there was a huge programme, many people, ministers, and NGOs had come. I saw a distraught couple with their babies. I asked them why they were there and why was their condition so bad. They said that they were HIV+ and while the government did provide ART [Anti Reroviral Therapy], the couple did not have money to buy medicines leave alone providing education. It struck me and I started mobilizing people. Every child deserves to get quality education.”
Jenpu is not running an orphanage. Most of these children either have single parents or have lost both their parents. “What usually happens in families is that if the mother or father dies, the children are sent to orphanages. The families already have their own lives, struggles, and expenses so they find it difficult to take in another child and the child ends up in orphanages.” Jenpu requests the families to house these children and he takes care of the educational, nutritional and some other monthly financial needs. He started with 9 kids in 2012 and now he looks after 25 kids.
He connects some private agencies in Dimapur to train the school dropouts. 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 reaches out to the community for their support. “I tell the story of these children to the people who have the means and request for assistance. If I meet 40 people, usually 3-4 will agree to help out.” Jenpu shares that finances are a constant struggle. Jenpu doesn’t get whole hearted support from the society. “I take it as a challenge. I have a mission and vision to attain and I can’t care about negativity.”
As an organization, Jenpu feels that more and more people should get involved. “People should know the ground reality about what is happening is the society and then figure a way out.” Jenpu is focusing on aligning and collaborating with more NGOs who are in the same sphere and have the same mission. At this point, they do not have any support from the government.
Jenpu believes in going to the root cause of the problem and not just topically wiping the issue. “People talk about educated unemployed youth, unemployment problems but they don’t talk about the school dropouts. Nagaland is an insurgent state. Frustration and less literacy levels may lead to them joining anti-social activities. We have to understand that the school dropouts are not by choice, it’s just that their situations forced them to.”
Jenpu’s primary goal is education and equal opportunities for all sections of the society. “If we talk about prosperity, the section of school dropouts, underprivileged children and the ones affected by HIV/AIDS should also get prosperous with equal opportunity. They should also be accepted by the society. Our country cannot prosper without every section prospering.“Jenpu wants to empower the youth so that they can move forward in life.
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 all education and inclusion. The word is spreading in villages and cities, and that is a good sign.