The Pangsha Project
The project described in the following report is a result of the Kohima Educational Trust providing educational assistance to the children of the Naga Tribes. This assistance was a way of saying “thank you” for the massive support by Naga Tribes to the British soldiers of the 2nd Division during the nightmare of the Battle of Kohima.
The over-riding qualification is that the recipients are impoverished and therefore unable to help themselves with the education of their children.
An initial report by Charles Chasie identified Pangsha as an area of extreme poverty and so it was decided to build the hostel near a school built by a Mission just outside Pangsha. The hostel will provide accommodation for some of the children who reportedly travel up to 50 kilometres to attend school and who consequently have nowhere to stay.
The report is by Sylvia May who went to Pangsha with her husband Rob to visit the site and to inspect the work as it progressed. Sylvia’s report is followed by an update by Bendang – the Kohima Educational Society office manager. Both reports together with the photographs convey some of the difficulties that have to be overcome – ranging from the weather and terrain to the many bureaucratic problems.
It is anticipated that the hostel will be completed within two years and will allow many Naga children from all over that area to attend school.
Report on the Pangsha Project for KET Trustees
This was the most educational and astonishing trip that I have ever made. Pfelie organised the visit by contacting Longon, the Minister of Soil Conservation, who is also the Minister for the Pangsha. We were able to take advantage of his transport arrangements which were considerable. Jeeps of armed Naga police at either end of the seven-car convoy including our vehicle with Rob and me, Pfelie, Bendang and one other.
The road was tortuous. It took 15 hours from Kohima, the last two hours on mud and only passable because the Minister had organised bulldozers from the nearest town of Noklak to make the road passable. Six months of the year this road is unusable. The journey from Noklak to Dan (the village above Pangsha ) took two hours.
We made the journey in one day. Leaving Kohima at 4am, we arrived at 7pm. Arrived, meaning that the convoy halted in a field, with just one building which turned out to be the two-roomed guest house. We were greeted by a welcoming line of singing locals, performing a welcome song and dance. After a meal of hornet and chicken brought all the way from Noklak, we retired by candlelight. There is no electricity there.
The hostel site
Woken at 3.30am by the local cockerel, half an hour before dawn, we began to enjoy this rare and remote part of world. Villagers came from all over the area. Panghsa residents walked up and those from the Burma side also made the long journey. Of course they came to see the Minister but we were also a ‘star attraction’. They have not seen white people since 1944 when they rescued a crew from a downed plane which crashed nearby.
The terrain cannot be underestimated. Thousand-foot high mountains with jungle-covered sides which plunge into valleys at impossibly steep angles. It is incredible that any roads have been hewn out of this terrain at all. The villagers travel on foot and mostly barefoot. Some ware sandals and one or two have sneakers.
As soon as the Minister had completed his meetings with the Burmese villagers, the party walked up to the top of the hill following what had been a constant procession since dawn. There we were greeted by an amazing site. A huge circle of around 60 to 70 Nagas in traditional clothes were gathered in a circle, singing. A further 100 or so looked on. Rob and I were thrust into the circle to join the festivities and once again we danced with the local people.
We were invited to speak. Rob, Pfelie and I all talked about KET and KES and what we were trying to do, how we had started and what we stood for. Our English was translated first into Nagamese by Bendang and then by someone else into their local tongue. The Minister followed and was hugely supportive of us. He not only enabled us to get there in the first place, but his support will ensure that this project is a success.
We went on to have a full tour of the area. From our vantage point we could clearly see the layout. The village of Dan lies near the top of the hill and straddles the invisible line dividing India with Burma. It is here that the International Trade Centre has been built. In reality, it is two buildings not unlike cattle sheds. Here the Burmese Nagas come to trade in one shed and the Indian Nagas in the other. They trade with each other. How the money is spent was a matter of discussion between our little group, as unless they can get to Noklak, there seemed nowhere to use cash. Without a decent or at least passable road or track to Noklak, their ability to use cash will remain limited.
Below the ITC lies the newly built Mission School. It consists of four classrooms. The plan is to open it next February at the beginning of the new school year. They anticipate 60 pupils. Each classroom measures approx. 15ft x 15ft and has one window. One had a piece of a blackboard in one corner. Two classrooms had planks of wood on blocks down either side of the room. It is here the new hostel is being planned.
We discussed with the Minister the best exact location for this building which we agreed was to be alongside the school, set back a little way. He is instructing his people to start clearing the site. We discussed the material with which it is to be built. All agreed concrete foundations and lower walls with wooden upper walls and roof. Longon is building a house in Pangsha for himself and will know of the right people for the project.
We went on to visit the villages, both old and new Pangsha. These lie approximately one mile away from the Mission School. We visited homes and saw the closed and padlocked government schools. There are two, both of them in new Panghsa. One primary and one middle school. I believe that it is the right decision not to link the hostel with either of these. They are run by the government and there is no incentive for it to be looked after, and therefore no one else either. Also, in Dan, it is nearer the border and therefore slightly more accessible for the Burmese Nagas to reach.
The poverty there is immense. The people live a hand-to-mouth existence. There is nothing but the steep hillside on which to grow food. They have learned the art of paddy field farming but these seemed near the valley floor, thousands of feet below. They have chickens, pigs and many children. Either the population is growing massively or people are not expected to live long lives.
There is no doubt in my mind that the project we are undertaking is worthwhile and perfect for what the KET is doing. Without a hope of any education these tribal people will not survive. There are future government plans for a hydro electric plant and to make it a major centre for international trade.
We will need to bring sand and cement up from Assam which will be a major operation and will take a long time. Work is planned to start in December 2009 but I would not expect it to be completed for two years.
It is a godsend to have Longon on board. He is passionate about his people and it’s easy to see why. Pfelie will be keeping in touch with him, I can lean on him for advice and practical help on site. There are also numerous other ways we could get involved in this village if KET decides we want to do more of this. I can imagine a need for school books – something we may wish to organise in the future.
Sylvia May, KET Trustee
There have been many delays with the Pangsha Project due to road blockages which occurr mainly because of land slides on the road from Noklak to Pangsha. The last consignment of cement and other raw materials has been lying in Noklak for the past three weeks, unable to move towards Pangsha.
You may remember the muddy roads from Noklak to Pangsha, and it hasn’t got any better. The drivers of the smaller trucks who we employ to transport the materials refuse to go as they get stuck in the mud on the roads. There have been many instances when our agents working there have had to personally lead the trucks with shovels and spades to clear the roads, but with the heavy monsoon already on, the drivers are flatly refusing to go through the muddy roads.
So the work is temporarily stopped.
The earlier consignments of raw materials have however been put to use. The base construction of erecting the post/pillars has already been completed. We are now waiting for the rain to stop and show a clear sky for 3-4 consecutive days, when the road could dry up (hopefully) then the materials can proceed towards Pangsha.
Bendang, KES Office Manager, summer 2010