Dropouts in India Turned Cultural Preservationists, Youth Leaders Thanks to Salesian Program

ASSAM, INDIA (November 8, 2011) - Former school dropouts are taking center stage to promote youth leadership in the Mising tribe in northern India. Throughout October, 2011, the 14 Mising youth performed traditional Mising dance at cultural exchanges throughout northeastern India.

At the same time, they were completing the first phase of an extensive vocational educational program designed to promote youth leadership and social entrepreneurship in their remote villages. The program is part of the Institute for Cultural and Rural Development (I-CARD) from the Salesians of Don Bosco and serves as a training opportunity for school dropouts between the ages of 16 and 25.

"Marginalized youth can be transformed into leaders, who in turn, transform their own communities. Through the program, students are steeped in and rooted in their own culture, turn into ambassadors and promoters, are proud of their identity, and lead their villages to economic prosperity," says Father K.A. Thomas, founder of the program, who was recently honored at a national level.

Father Thomas has also been honored internationally for his work with the Mising and was named an Ashoka Fellow in 2002. He was specifically recognized for his work in building ways to support and develop the Mising people and their traditions.

According to Ashoka, "Father Thomas is demonstrating a model of engaging the poorest of the poor."

The program centers on mobilizing youth to train others in their villages how to take ownership of community development. The first phase of the training includes Mising language, dance, and music, as well as vocational training and community development work. They also take part in an exposure program, meeting and learning from volunteer experts in a wide range of fields.

One member of this year's first class, Dam Payeng, 27, spoke with UCA News during the cultural exchange tour, saying he joined the Institute after financial problems ended his studies after tenth grade. He added that the troupe hopes to preserve the Mising tribe's rich culture, which is slowly dying out.

"We have begun this cultural tourism to promote our cultural heritage," Payeng explained to UCA news. "We also plan to build a museum to preserve our tradition for posterity."

After completing the first phase of the training, groups of five students go on to complete internships in 40 separate villages—reaching approximately 2,000 families a year. There, they are responsible for analyzing the current situation and beginning community development activities.

The final phase is the students' return to their own villages as "field volunteers" to serve as leaders for "Young Misings" youth groups and community organizing efforts.

Institute for Cultural and Rural Development (I-CARD) works in more than 350 villages and has 250 "Young Misings" groups raising the volunteer base to approximately 6,000 including youth, elders, intellectuals and journalists. The work takes place in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states, where the 1.3 million Mising tribal people live.

"The Mising have struggled with their cultural identity," adds Father Thomas. "In trying to gain acceptance, the Mising have given up many of their cultural traditions in language, dress, and lifestyle. We are working to bring about change in the mindset of the entire Mising tribe."

Gayatri Panging, one of 14 Mising tribal youths now touring India to showcase their cultural heritage in an interview with UCA News, summed the program up well by saying "I realized the richness of our culture after I joined the Institute for Culture and Rural Development."

Learn about more missions in India supported by Salesian Missions.

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