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Dropouts become cultural ambassadors

Salesians help tribal youths to learn how to promote their cultural heritage

Dropouts become cultural ambassadors
Members of Mising Cultural team performing at Sishu Bhavan in Kolkata
Julian S. Das, Kolkata

February 21, 2011

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A Salesian center has helped school dropouts from northeastern India to become cultural ambassadors of their region. “I realized the richness of our culture after I joined the Institute for Culture and Rural Development” (I-CARD),” said Gayatri Panging, one of 14 Mising tribal youths now touring India to showcase their cultural heritage. They came to Kolkata recently and presented songs and dances at two centers of the Missionaries of Charity congregation founded by Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. Panging, 26, said she joined the Salesian institute after she failed in the tenth grade. She said she heard about the institute in 2002 but she did not want to join it as “most of our people were against Christians.” However, she learned spoken English, acting and health care matters after staying with the institute for one year. She is now an office supervisor with I-CARD, in Jorhat, Assam. Earlier, she worked in her village in Tinsukia district in the same state. Another member, Dam Payeng, 27, joined the institute in 2006 as financial problems stopped his studies after tenth grade. He told 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. We also plan to build a museum to preserve our tradition for posterity,” Payeng added. Salesian Father Thomas Kalapura, who founded the institute in 2000, said it recruits 20 school dropouts each for a year of rigorous training in personality development, cultural heritage, weaving, health, songs, acting and dance The institute has trained some 200 young men and women in the past 10 years, who now work in some 320 villages in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states, where the 1.3 million Mising tribal people live. “The dropouts have become agents of change in all these villages,” the 54-year-old priest claimed. Father Kalapura, a pioneer missioner among the Mising people, pointed out that they are the second largest tribe in the plains of Assam, after Bodo. About 5,000 Mising tribal people are Christian, he added. IE13364.1642
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