Calcutta, Nov. 19: The tireless endeavours of a family and the worldwide reach of social networking will soon pave a rocky road to address the basic needs of food, education and livelihood in Manipur's Tousem subdivision.
Jeremiah Pame, assistant professor at University of Delhi, is raising funds through a Facebook group, which has now crossed the 7,000-member mark.
His brother, Armstrong Pame, sub-divisional magistrate of Tamenglong, and the first IAS officer from the Zeme tribe, took up the initiative to construct a road connecting his subdivision to the district headquarters town of Tamenglong and to Haflong in Assam.
His family then took up the task of garnering funds for the endeavour.
This stretch, part of the road connecting Assam, Manipur and Nagaland and now popularly being called the Great Indian Road project, is particularly hilly and worsens during the monsoon, making it difficult to navigate.
"When we took up this project, some people thought we were crazy. The road was virtually impossible to cut. However, we were determined to walk the tough and crazy road. We have received an overwhelming response and we can proudly say that we still believe in humanity. There are many people in the world thirsty for a good initiative. They just need an opportunity," said Jeremiah.
People from all over the world ' Canada, England, the US, Israel, Kuwait, Belgium, Norway and other countries ' have responded and contributed to the cause. An elderly man, who heard of the project, telephoned Jeremiah from London to say, "I was born in India but I have been living in England for 45 years. I am 68. I had lost faith in our country, because I have been hearing only about corruption, scams, rape and murder. But this story gives me hope to be proud of my country once again."
The Facebook group and the website of the project, http://thegreatindianroad.in/, list the progress, amounts contributed and the names of the contributors.
There have been some heartwarming responses, like the farmer who contributed a tin can of rice cultivated by himself or the child who gave Rs 50 from his pocket money. Rev. Valson Thampu, principal of St Stephen's College, who contributed Rs 10,000, said, "I am proud of Armstrong and all the people who are working together."
Moreover, the people of Tamenglong yesterday organised a meeting where more than 700 households decided to launch a door-to-door campaign to support the project.
With the response, the brothers are confident of being able to construct a metalled road.
The construction of the road was stalled for 30 years till Armstrong Pame took matters into his own hands and decided to build it with the aid of the villagers and the public.
It all began with Rs 4 lakh contributed by the family members. Along with machinery, the villagers also pitched in to provide food and supplies for the 15 persons who worked on the road.
No less than 50-odd villagers turn up to lend a hand with the construction everyday.
The road, from the district headquarters to the subdivision, is nearly 60km and from the subdivision to Haflong is nearly 45-50km.
The challenge is to make a new road and clear the ground from Phoklong village to connect it with the main road to Haflong, nearly 30km or so.
Jeremiah recalls the hardships faced by the villagers when they were children. Several persons died of diseases like malaria, typhoid and others because it took two days to walk to the district hospital. Patients still have to be carried on makeshift bamboo stretchers.
Moreover, children are forced to stay back in the village instead of going to school. Farmers are unable to access market facilities. Also, the practice of jhum cultivation leads to a scarcity of food in the monsoon.
Also on the cards is a bridge over the Makhru river. "We have promised the villagers that the road will be completed by Christmas. This is our Christmas gift to them. Hopefully our online endeavour will be enough to garner funds to see the project through," says Armstrong.
Kote Elah, a contributor, says, "The response of the group has encouraged me to believe that there are good and honest people after all. This is a real eye-opener ' to have faith when there seems to be no hope. This is called government of the people by the people and for the people."