Ukhrul: In today’s day and age, most people are familiar with the concept of Wi-FI, and a router. A router ensures your devices connect to the internet as long as you are within range.

A youth in Ukhrul has been inspired by the Wi-Fi, except his end goal is something far more noble and worthy of praise. Lummi Horam aims to ‘connect’ people, especially youths, in dire need of help and ensure that no matter their past, their present is better and their future, hopeful.

Horam, a resident of Ukhrul, runs JiFi Oasis Youth Hub, where youths from all walks of life can hang around without being judged for their past life. Although set up only a year ago, the Hub has become a haven for the young generation in a profound crisis.

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A self-funded project with nine other co-team members, the Hub aims to provide a space of belongingness, resilience and coping with stressful times to youths struggling with substance abuse, addiction and emotional distress and anxiety, among others. 

But this is not a “deaddiction centre” per se. The first and the most crucial aim of the Hub is to provide comfort. Then, using the Bible and peer counselling, Horam ensures that those in need have a support system. 

This explains why Horam finds it difficult to categorise a ‘target audience’. 

“We don’t have a specific target audience, but any youth can come and hang out here, play games to ease their minds or read books available in the book corner. They can also attend the bible studies,” said Horam.

The word JiFi, Horam says, is inspired by WiFi. “Just like the way gadgets connect through the internet, we want our hub as a medium for youths in Ukhrul district to come closer and connect to God through the activities we provide,” said Horam, a resident of Tora village.

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Horam’s inspiration to help youth comes in a large part from his past. Between 2013 and 2015, Horam served in the youth ministry under the Tangkhul Baptist Church Association (TBCA) and later worked as district coordinator at the Northeast India Youth Advance Mission (NIYAM) for three years.

During his work with the district youth, Horam said that he felt their struggles and lack of direction in life. And, that’s when he decided to do something meaningful for the youth.

“I learnt the ground reality of our district during these times, especially the struggle of our youths and the loss of precious lives. However, I did not have any means then, since I had to complete my theology studies. I came back to our hometown in 2020 and started this project,” said Horam.

Though the Hub is new, the response from the youth, according to him, is very positive. So far, at least six to seven youths who are victims of substance abuse and withdrawal are regularly visiting the Hub and partake in the activities, informed Horam.

A coffee kiosk at the entrance is the only source to run and maintain the centre. 

A new beginning, and divine hope

“Visiting this Hub and attending bible studies brought me closer to God and gave me the inspiration to live a healthy life. Now, even if I want to indulge in such illicit drug use, I always have second thoughts and restrain myself from doing it,” a 24-year-old man, also a member of a music band, told EastMojo

A 20-year-old struggling with withdrawal from heroin addiction said, “I prefer coming here to sitting at home as I can overcome my urge here much better due to the support system. It has been a blessing to come here. Earlier, I did not know God properly but attending youth service brought me closer to him. I also felt a strong sense of belongingness here as I am treated as one of them, not a stranger.”

Horam’s works have been noticed by several others too, especially by those working in the deaddiction centres. “Dysfunctional families due to insecurities coupled with a desire for social acceptance explain why many people in the hill districts abuse drugs or other substances,” said Mayola Ngamchiyo, who has been running the lone de-addiction centre in Ukhrul district since 2012. 

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Ngamchiyo, who lauded Horam’s works, is a certified addiction counsellor and CAC III-supervisory level. Located at Khuilungtang, Dungrei Junction at Hungpung village, over 80 young addiction inmates have found themselves after being admitted at the Hope and Healing centre, she said. 

According to Ngamchiyo, parents of children who suffer from drugs, alcohol and other related substance abuse continue to not seek preventive measures.

“Though we have a de-addiction centre here, many parents still prefer to hide and admit their children at other centres in the state due to the fear of social stigmatisation,” she said.

By seeking inspiration from the Bible, Horam also hits a strong point in the community. In Ukhrul, a Christian-dominated district, the Church plays an important role in society. This involves helping each other and the needy persons, including people affected by substance abuse.

But even the church, according to Rev Mathotmi Vashai, executive secretary, Tangkhul Baptist Church Association (TBCA), finds it challenging to be open to such issues.

“From time to time, the Church organised bible camps for the youths for spiritual growth and strengthening their relationship with God. However, it is difficult to conduct awareness camps for specific audiences like youth with drug abuse because they will not come forward fearing shame and stigma from the community,” said Rev Vashai.

Even parents of those children with drug abuse tend to hide from others instead of looking for a solution, he added.

Rev Vashai also opined that the government can collaborate with Churches for such awareness camps and reorientation programmes.

No wonder then, that the work Horam is doing has met with approval from people from all walks of life. And in a place like Manipur where drugs continue to wreak havoc, especially among youths, Horam’s work is nothing less than a blessing. 

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