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)