Quarter century of educating Arunachal’s remotest villages
By Felix Anthony
Miao: The first Catholic school in Arunachal Pradesh was a temporary bamboo house, with no water or electricity. It had 58 students, including 28 boys who stayed in a hall converted as hostel.
That was 25 years ago and Arunachal Pradesh was then slowly opening up to Christians. The state, which covers the most extreme area in India’s northeast, was a forbidden land for Christianity and it kept missionaries out of its territory.
Now, the state has two Catholic dioceses — Itanagar and Miao – and they together manage more than 85 schools and four colleges in remotest villages educating thousands of boys and girls.
The first school and the boarding were opened by one the “unwanted” missionaries, Salesian Father P K George (who later became Bishop George Palliparampil of Miao). The administration had put up his picture at all border posts to keep him out of the state.
As the restrictions thawed by early 1990s, the priest opened the school and hostel on July 3, 1992, at Borduria, a village in Tirap district. It came up on a land donated by Wanglat James Lowangcha, a Catholic layman.
Father George’s efforts received a big boost when Saint Mother Teresa visited Borduria and blessed his mission on August 2, 1993. The pioneer school is now shifted to a bigger building and the Missionaries of Charity now manage a shelter for women in the old place.
Miao diocese now manages 45 schools, with 631 teachers who cater to 18,558 poor tribal children in remote corners, bordering Myanmar and China. It also has a total of 28 hostels for children ranging from kindergarten to bachelors course. They cater to 1,150 are girls and 1,455 boys.
Bishop Palliparampil says the diocese has no other option but open hostels as villages are far flung preventing their children’s access to good schools.
“It is sad in a way to snatch these lovely kids from their parental care, but the parents and children want good education at the early stage itself,” the prelate told Matters India.
He recalled that he and two lay missionaries — George Joseph and Martha Kapalomie — had to undergo physical and mental agonies to start the mission as there were threats and jealousy.
“But faith and love helped us to surpass all those. It was all worth the trouble as we see two generations of young men and women climbing the ladder of life,” the 64-year-old prelate explained.
The indefatigable missionary prelate lauded the people of Borduria for the progress of their children and the church.
Now many priests and nuns assist the bishop in his mission.
Father Anil of the Missionaries of Charity, who works at Kulam, an interior village in Tirap district, says the diocese aims to give the children “the best of what we can with the little they have and all that we can mobilize.”
Meanwhile, the diocese undertook a survey-study to celebrate the jubilee and review the progress, especially in its education mission.
The Newman Educational Society, the diocese’s education wing, wanted to study the effectiveness of the hostels the diocese manages in the eight districts of east Arunachal Pradesh.
The expert team, led by Father Thomas Erambil, visited all hostels, collected and collated data and prepared a comprehensive summary of the progress over the quarter century. Salesian Sister Jacinta FMA and Divine Word Father Roy were other team members.
They presented the report to the assembly of priests and Religious on April 6. The same was presented and discussed at the lay leaders meetings at district level in each of the eight civil districts of the diocese.
The multipronged study covered all aspects of the life of students and the staff and facilities available. They reviewed the implementation of the juvenile justice act 2000, right to free and compulsory Education 2009, Prevention of children from sexual offences (POSCO) 2012.
The survey revealed the diocese’s education mission still faced challenges because of the remoteness and inaccessibility of villages that are often cut off by landslides, and parents; abject poverty. However, the team found the students and staff satisfied and parents “very appreciative” of the diocese’s help.
The survey results will be the basis of the “pastoral action plan 2025″ that the diocese has been preparing for the past one year.