For many years, whenever I received an e-mail from ARI, I was energized, but then when I tried writing something to ARI about my work, I ended up NOT writing anything and that happened many times. My mind was always occupied with the technical parts of the learning at ARI, which made me think that I was not a successful graduate. Lately, I have been thinking about how the ARI training program, which I attended in the year 2000, empowered and transformed me as a servant leader. Then I recalled two specifics project I initiated – one in Cambodia and another one that I started in my native village in Nagaland. These were both dormitory projects for school children!
Cambodia – Dormitory Project No. 1
In September 2005, I was sent to Cambodia to work with the Cambodia Baptist Union (CBU). The first day I visited the head office of CBU, I met three young men. They were using one corner in the office building on the second floor as their home for their studies and for sleeping. The head office of CBU was a place for training, conferences, meetings, seminars, and workshops for Baptist Church leaders coming from the villages. I observed that every time CBU conducted a gathering the three young men would keep themselves in the corner and carry on with their daily studies, or they would sleep, or help others cook or clean the place. Their daily lifestyle, their sincerity, and their thirst for school education impressed me deeply.
After observing this, I brought up the need for a dormitory project, which, at first, was opposed due to financial concerns. I was asked to raise funds to cover 100% of the students living and study costs, but I wanted to share responsibilities with the parents on a 50/50 basis. It took time, but by God’s grace and mercy we came to a mutual understanding and that’s how the first dormitory project for the boys, Cambodia Tyrannus Hall (CTH), was launched in 2008, followed by Cambodia Lydia Hall (CLH), which was started for the girls a year later.
CTH and CLH students with Mr. Swu, a missionary from Nagaland (standing on the right) who was invited to be the first Warden of CTH
The dormitory project was launched with these visions:
1. To provide a safe place for the students coming from rural areas
2. To help the students grow in Servant Leadership for the future of Cambodia
3. To help each of them become an independent person based on their own hard work
4. To help them develop a willing heart to pass on the good work to others in need
5. To help them experience Home Management and have awareness of Safe Food as they take turns cooking and managing their common kitchen; through this they can see that when they maintain good health it enhances the family economy, and they can also see the importance of environmental preservation for the future generation for Life Sustainability.
For both the Halls, our agreement was for the parents to cover the cost of their children’s studies, transportation, toiletries, and medical related matters. For food, we asked them to send 10kgs of rice and $5 per child each month. At first the parents were able to send rice on time, but later we found that transporting the rice from the village became difficult for the parents; to find people to carry it for their children. So, a second option was given to those who could not find a good way to send the rice. They sent money instead. This turned out to be very practical and helpful.
On our part, we needed to find donors to cover the house rent, water bill, gas bill and electricity bill which was $250 for each Home per month. Sometimes, I remember, we hardly raised enough money to cover all the bills, but that’s how both the wardens and the students learned how to put their trust in God. Also, that’s how we, the wardens and the students, also learned how to manage the common kitchen and the facilities efficiently and economically. At times when some students’ parents could not make enough money to cover their food costs, the wardens and some students made joint efforts to help their less fortunate friends.
Nagaland – Dormitory Project No. 2
In December 2012 when I left Cambodia, I still had another dream. Finally, the day came when, on April 30, 2017, my longtime dream was launched at Khutsokhuno Village (my native village) in Nagaland, India, to start Grace Home Khutsokhuno. I worked in partnership with my niece, Ms. Zhopovelu Lohe (Apolu), its first pioneer, and who in charge of administration, along with her younger sister, brother and their parents, as her assistants.
Grace Home Khutsokhuno is a dormitory ministry by nature for children between the ages of 8 and 12, who go to a village school. Its mission is that if the children want to pursue higher education Grace Home prepares them to attend schools in the town/city; or if they want to stop their schooling, Grace Home helps to prepare them to live a dignified life as a farmer in the village.
Acivo with the first batch of children; her two nieces are standing on the left
Like in many parts of the world, even in a tiny place like my village, people want to move to urban places with the expectation of getting a better life, but many fall prey to a variety of social issues like robbery, prostitution, alcoholism, and most seriously, early marriage, which often leads to broken homes. In my village many younger parents are in their early to mid-20s and the average age of their oldest child is about 8 years which means they became parents from 14 to 16 years of age. Many cannot read and write, which means when their children come back home from school there is no way that they can help them with their homework or other related school matters. This leads to one specific challenge when their children graduate from the village school at the average age of 12 and then have to move to another school in an urban place.
Grace Home Khutsokhuno is an all-around developmental ministry with school education as its backbone, to help children develop themselves to pick up different kinds of professions for their lives. From the time they enroll in Grace Home, they will be involved in agricultural related activities, so they can learn the importance of environmental issues and the importance of food issues in the world. Grace Home believes if they have agricultural skills, they can be self-sufficient anywhere they live and for all kinds of professions that they may choose in the future, and they will be able to survive in any part of the world. Another vital thing that Grace Home gives importance to, is that children will know the importance of farming and the value of being a farmer, so that if they decide to stay in the village it would not be felt as inferior to any kind of urban place in this whole wide world. They can be creative in food production, connecting and exchanging ideas, practices, and philosophies with other farmers in other parts of the world. They will know how to produce safe food for people and keep the idea of protecting the environment for a safe future, lead a sustainable and self-reliant life, and enjoy their life to the fullest!
Originally Grace Home was started from my own hard-earned money, 100,000 yen, in a house built from our local bamboo. Despite introducing and explaining about Grace Home to the villagers and the parents in particular, most of the villagers thought I was raising a lot of money using the village children. In the first year we tried our best to answer all kinds of questions and inquiries as though we were fighting the case in court. Both my niece and I became very tired mentally, especially my niece had a very stressful time. I continued to pray about the situation and one day an idea struck me - STOP ANSWERING THEIR QUESTIONS! I called up my niece and told her, “Apolu, from now on, don’t answer questions or clarify anything anymore. Let us give time for them to talk about ME and US as much as they want. And once, I believe, they reach their limit they will be very tired of talking or gossiping about us and they will naturally stop. As for us, we will continue to carry on with our work and let them see us in ACTION!” Interestingly, that exactly happened! Now, not only in our village but even in the neighboring village people know the value of Grace Home activities.
Changes that we observed in the last 3 years (2017 - 2019):
1. With a balanced diet hair color and skin color changed; children’s health improved and through health improvement they had better concentration in their studies.
2. Sanitation and cleanliness: As they learned sanitation and cleanliness such as clean bed clothes, clean clothes for daily wear, proper body washing, keeping the Grace Home surroundings clean and beautiful, the children impacted their own families when they went back home.
3. One of the first impacts that Grace Home made on both the parents and children is that in 2019 the parents and Grace Home decided to maintain a kitchen garden for Grace Home. Parents are in charge of clearing the bush and the children and Grace Home staff are responsible for growing vegetables for consumption at the Home. In this way, the children learn about the importance of food production for their daily meals and good health.
Teaching the children about healthy food and farming in the Grace Home kitchen garden
If I were not an ARI graduate, I wouldn’t know how to do things in the way I was able to do both in Cambodia and in Nagaland. ARI gave me a chance to discover my own self, my own capabilities and my own potential. ARI believed in my failures and those failures built me up to face challenges. Indeed, I was transformed, and I was trained to be a Servant Leader to walk with people. Through these two projects, I learned a deeper meaning of how to WALK with people at the grassroots. Every time I think of these projects, I feel the deeper value of the ARI training program and why, as a graduate, I must continue to take care of the little light of ARI that burns in my heart. This little light could be too small for many to see, yet it is the brightest light for the people who are in the darkest corner. THAT WE MAY LIVE TOGETHER!