On its way to life competence…Mizoram, Northeast India

I went looking for an AIDS competent community but I had a surprise in store - the high degree of competence among Mizos on a range of issues.

Mizos have a strong community feeling which in recent years has been strengthened by organisations like Community Health Action Network (CHAN) and Young Mizo Association (YMA).

I was in Mizoram for an ACP event and what first caught my eye was the presence of a large number of volunteers at the venue. Volunteers in Mizoram are in abundance and the role they play is priceless.

Interaction with the community brought another interesting facet to light - community spirit which spurs voluntary blood donation in Mizoram. Whether a call for emergency, birthday or an organisation’s anniversary- blood donation is a part and parcel of Mizo life. "It’s not the awareness but the voluntary spirit and the willingness to save the life of others… to help others which motivates voluntary donation", says Joma, IEC supervisor, DKT who has donated blood thrice.

It is common to find youth who have donated blood several times. “Because I know that donating blood won’t affect my body but will help others" says George, Facilitator, CHAN who has donated blood 20 times. Mawia, a young man from ITI (Industrial Training Institute) community proudly proclaims, “One drop of my blood can save life.” Garland from Nagaland was very inspired. "This is the first time I am hearing of this kind of thing… inspires me to donate blood ... if they can do it why not me?"

I was happy to learn that among the voluntary blood donors in Mizoram, 20% of them are females and it is one of the leading states in India where a large number of females turn up to donate blood. Christina from ITI who has donated five times shared, “I feel happy when I donate because it is very useful for others”. “I donate blood because by God’s gift I am fit to donate blood and I can save someone’s life…” –reflected Remi, Research scholar.

What sets Mizos apart?


Community spirit among the Mizos is quite unique and community bonds are extraordinarily strong. In Mizoram, the people still live by their traditional code of social ethics called “Tlawmngaihna”. It means always ready to assist others, being courteous and humble and always willing to stand up for good of the whole group. These values are acculturated into Mizos from childhood and play a major role in their community life.

Thus, the community recognises what its needs are and acts upon them. “The community feeling translates into a village project when the local people contribute to build a road or a community hall”, says L R Sailo. In Aizawl (capital of Mizoram), I would wake up every morning with ringing of a bell. The bell was rung by lorry drivers who collected garbage from homes. The community had observed heaps of garbage on the streets and had arranged lorries. Another pleasant sight greeted me. I saw a large number of youth and school kids on streets collecting waste in an effort to keep the city spick and span.

CHAN, an arm of the Salvation Army, Mizoram has been stimulating community response in several communities on HIV and drugs and then moved on to social health of the community. Thus, HIV has drawn attention to other spheres and communities are addressing issues of women, orphans, global warming, games and activities. While the Dinthar community has been running a halfway home for rehabilitation of IDUs, ITI community has won three prizes in a row for cleanliness.

I have never seen this degree of community feeling among my community members or in other communities. I came back with a learning from the Mizos which Hugh Prather quote captures so well, I can't be found in myself; I discover myself in others.

(My thanks to Joma who nudged the writing process and to Mawia, Christina, George, Te-i, L R Sailo, Remi, Garland for their contribution and of course, MariJo for her strong support! And Dr. Ahmed whom I promised that I would write on what we learnt from the ITI community on blood donation)

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Comment by Sana Meitram on November 6, 2009 at 9:01am
Great to see your learning experiences from Mizoram.
Keep it up.

Regards,

Sana
Comment by Meera Mishra on October 20, 2009 at 9:33am
Thanks for this wonderful sharing Rituu. The Mizoram exerience has two meanings for me.
First, it was a pleasure to read about 'what works' (as opposed to the usual rant about what does not work) in the Mizo society and could serve as an example for many other communities.I state this specifically because several states, countries and societies are branded thus simply because they do not score high on certain indices (such as the HDI) and are thereby ignored. They are often not counted in major development discourses as it is presumed that they have nothing to offer to the rest of the world. This and many such examples prove otherwise.
Secondly, the Mizo experience reminds us of the importance of Gandhi's concept of the "Gram Swaraj". In simple terms, the fundamental concept of Gram swaraj is that every village should be its own republic, "independent of its neighbours for its own vital wants and yet interdependent for many others in which dependence is necessary". At the heart of this is the firm belief in and respect for local knowledge and capacity to identify its needs and address them. Isn't this also a key premise of the Aidscompetence?

Thanks again Rituu for taking the time to write this and sharing it with many of us who would have never known otherwise. You are like a bee- cross breeding knowledge and experiences.
Comment by Joma on October 19, 2009 at 10:30pm
Reetuu

I should write in this way, because you need CHANGE which every people talk about. as you know now the meaning of TLAWMNGAIHNA, and TLAWMNGAIHNA is within. In Mizo we call people who have TLAWMNGAIHNA spirit as MI TLAWMNGAI. You are indeed MI TLAWMNGAI. If you dont mind I should write you as REETUU.

You are really great

Mi Tlawmngai nu ( A Woman who is Tlawmngai)

Joma
Comment by Joe Ngamkhuchung on October 19, 2009 at 5:33am
Hi Rituu,
Fantastic capturing of a group spirit! Yes, what you said is true. I even heard of a girl donating blood ten times! she was not looking like the strongest physically but she towered everyone in the spirit of "I too". Thanks for sharing .what we saw as obvious! Blood donation is so natural for the Mizos. It is a great learning. You are a good finder,Rituu. Real SALT-y lady!
Comment by Dr.Vandana P.Bhatia on October 16, 2009 at 11:10am
Hi Rituu,

This was an amazing posting. WE need more and more examples of community based programsto ensure sustainability and this is one of the best examples in the country.
Your rich experience is always inspiring.
Regards
Vandana
Comment by Jiji Joseph on October 16, 2009 at 10:12am
Great posting Rituu..
Though I couldn't personally be there at Mizoram event, I was following it up very closely. This blog has given me every thing else I needed. Your ability to search for and capture excellent stories and present it in the way you have is just..... great!!

“Tlawmngaihna' will be another word that I will take from you.. the spirit of helpfulness and humility. Thanks rituu you always have been inspiring!!

Best regards,

Jiji
Comment by Laurence Gilliot on October 16, 2009 at 9:17am
Thanks you for sharing Rituu! I feel like visiting Mizoram right away after reading your blog.

It seems the community spirit is closely related to the value of generosity and care. I remember visiting communities in Thailand and being moved (almost) to tears when understanding how much people care for each other.
I have been blessed since I arrived in Chiang Mai with my community of friends. For me the strong bond grows when people are really there for each other, offering their full presence. What I have learned is also this: when we can transform our feeling of scarcity (I need more of this or that, I don't have enough) into a feeling of abundance and appreciation (I have more than enough to be happy) than we can give more to others. We can be generous and give from the heart.

L.R. Sailo shared an newspaper article that came out after the event in Mizoram. You can find it here (http://aidscompetence.ning.com/xn/detail/2028109:Comment:14604).

Best regards,

Laurence

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