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Young IAS Officer’s Healing Touch Helping Manipur’s Displaced Children Cope With Trauma in Mizoram

Siva Gopal Reddy Cheemala, SDO (C), Kawnpui, Kolasib district, Mizoram, is taking special care of the children living in relief camps in his sub-division Besides ensuring that their education is not disrupted, he is also counselling them by visiting them often in their camps The 2020-batch IAS officer of AGMUT cadre, who is originally from Andhra Pradesh, is focussing on healing the emotional wounds of the children

Children are the biggest losers in any kind of conflict, be it conflict between their parents or conflicts between communities in the area they live in. Both leave deep scars on their tender minds. And some scars like having to flee their home and their neighbourhood, which they consider the safest places in their world, could leave unhealed scars which they will carry all their lives. And, imagine, a situation where bewildered kids see their houses getting burnt as they flee with their parents – rather run for their lives – wondering all the time, in their innocence, what they had done to deserve it.

We can only imagine it, but children from Manipur have actually been through such horrors and are now living in relief camps in Mizoram after crossing over in the hope of safe shelter. And, it’s week after week of trying to cope with trauma for these children in the camps. Not knowing the local dialect is adding to the stress as they remain confined to limited spaces, remembering the times when they could happily run around with the neighbourhood kids. But, everything changed overnight, and they now wonder whether they can ever see those familiar places and faces again.

Children from Manipur in one of the relief camps in Kawnpui, Kolasib district, Mizoram

In such a heart-rending situation, a young IAS officer, who is posted in a Mizoram district that has the highest number of displaced people from Manipur in relief camps, has started taking small initiatives to take care of these children so that some semblance of normalcy returns to to their lives and the scars get treated with love. He is 2020 batch IAS officer from AGMUT cadre, Mr. Siva Gopal Reddy Cheemala, SDO (C), Kawnpui, Kolasib district. In an exclusive conversation with Indian Masterminds, the officer, who hails from Kadapa district in Andhra Pradesh, shared the steps being taken by him to imbibe a sense of belonging in the children in their new neighbourhood.

ENSURING KIDS IN CAMPS GO TO SCHOOLS

Soon after ethnic clashes broke out in Manipur, tribal people living in the valley started arriving in the Kolashib district of Mizoram, which shares border with Assam. They first fled to Assam and then crossed over to Mizoram. The district administration went into a tizzy to accommodate them and ensure their well being.
Village council houses, community and government buildings were turned into relief camps, and makeshift toilets quickly built. The local people also came out to help and this eased the burden on the administration. Displaced families started living their lives again in these camps, wistfully hoping that one day they would all be able to go back to their home state.

IAS officer Siva Gopal Reddy Cheemala (second from right) visiting a camp

On visits to these camps to take stock of the inmates’ well-being, Mr. Siva Gopal Reddy Cheemala observed that the children were very scared and gloomy still. His heart went out for them and he started talking to them and engaging them in play.

“I tried to make them forget the trauma that they went through, even if for a while. As I started interacting with them more, most of them slowly started coming out of their shells. I realised that these kids needed to go back to normal living, and for this, they need to go to school. They will be able to continue with their education as well as play with other children in the school playgrounds,” he said.

So, he went from school to school requesting the principals to admit these kids and allow them to attend classes. And the school authorities readily agreed. The officer said, “I requested them to admit them without any documents since they fled leaving everything behind. I also asked the teachers not to force them to study if they do not want to, and just allow them to play. But, at the same time, to keep an eye so that they do not get bullied by local students because these kids do not know the local language.”

The IAS officer (extreme left) with village council members

He also asked the schools to provide them with books, colour pencils, and all other stuff that are required in class, and also toys and games to play with.

From his side, he is pitching in as much as possible, also roping in the local civil organisations, who came forward enthusiastically to help. “Mizo people are very warm, hospitable and welcoming. It’s their culture. So, they are coming forward willingly to help,” Mr. Reddy said.

PROVIDING RELIEF TO THOUSANDS

There are 4300 internally displaced people in the Kolasib district in various camps, with 808 people in 8 camps in Kawnpui sub-division alone.

It’s a mammoth task to take care of their needs and give them a life of dignity. The state government has sanctioned rice for the camps, while the rest, like vegetables, pulses, and other eatables, are being taken care of by the administration with the help of the local civil organisations and village councils.

Young Mizo Association (YMA) President, Kawnpui Sub Division, H Lalmuanpuia (extreme right) with children in a relief camp

“Young Mizo Association (YMA), the largest community organisation in Mizoram, has been helping a lot. With their help, we have been able to take care of all basic needs of the people. Other than food, we are also providing sanitary napkins for women, nutrients supplements for expecting and nursing mothers, and, of course, medicines,” Mr. Reddy said.

Indian Masterminds spoke to Young Mizo Association (YMA) President, Kawnpui Sub-Division, Mr. H Lalmuanpuia, who corroborated what the officer said, that they are indeed working in collaboration with the administration in helping the displaced people in every way.

“The state government has formed Relief Committees in every village where the village councils and church leaders are members. So, we are all working together to provide help. People are coming forward to donate money and we have collected over 3 lakhs in our sub-division alone. We are distributing free meals, clothes, medicines, infant food, mosquito nets, and also firewood,” Mr. Lalmuanpuia said.

With love from Mizoram to the displaced children of Manipur

COUNSELLING THE CHILDREN

Faced with this unexpected and unprepared situation, the Mizoram government has written to the central government requesting for financial aid to help the internally displaced people, scattered all over the state.

Meanwhile, Mr. Reddy has reached out to few private companies for CSR funds, but only the Apollo Group has promised relief packages so far. Not just relief materials, the group is also planning to extend support in a bigger way in both the states of Mizoram and Manipur, the officer added.

On the need for providing professional counselling to the traumatised people, especially the children, as displacement can trigger anxiety and depression, Mr. Reddy said that because of limited resources and the non-availability of mental health experts in their area, that would not be possible now. However, expressing deep concern for the young children, he said, “I have been visiting the camps and counselling the kids as often as I could. It’s them that I am most worried about.”

No doubt, the officer’s small efforts for the little children will help them in a big way. Looking back one day, as young adults in changed circumstances, they would remember the young officer who came to meet them in the dreary camps, with a smile and a small blessing.

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