Social and human development as it is understood today is rather new to the Salesians in this part of the country. We are perhaps taking the first faltering steps into this very vast arena of social development. With the establishment of “Agency for Integral Development Action (AIDA)” in 1985, the province started to work for the human and social development of the weak and marginalized people. It focuses on the tribal people, women, youth and children with the aim of socio-economic empowerment. With staff recruitment and training, AIDA launched village awareness programmes and direct contact with people in several areas. As it is, AIDA collaborates directly with 18708 households having a population of 115300 spanning over 370 villages in upper Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland. Its chief tool in socio-economic-development is over 375 Self-Help Groups (SHG) whose savings run into lakhs of rupees.
The village folks are given training in agriculture, livestock, weaving, knitting, tailoring, herbal medicines and so on. These SHGs have empowered especially women and youth to reduce their dependence on moneylenders. In its turn, SHGs have persuaded the beneficiaries to learn the habits of thrift, saving and investments. In some cases, the women have learnt functions of government departments, their participatory role and their own rights in governance such as primary health centres, and panchayats. In some areas, women started erasing practices like child marriage, wife bashing and alcoholism.
There are other human and social development ventures that are taken up in the province. Don Bosco Social Welfare Centre, Tamenglong has been instrumental in a process of change in the thinking and attitudes of people about their situation and problems and envisioning a more positive future. Galvanising the people initially around the issue of food shortage in the rainy months, the centre has facilitated over the last few years a sea change in the way people tackle their problems and their willingness to invest themselves for their own progress. A series of parish and village level awareness building programmes, trainings, social and resource analysis have helped people see the possibilities for progress in their villages. The village development committees comprising every section of the people is an important link in the process of change. The district administration and other NGOs of the district have been roped in take this process further.
Another venture that is being talked about in the province today is the work done with the Mising tribe, which is unique in many ways. It focuses on one tribe wherever it is found. It takes into account the overall situation of the tribe. It has adopted an integral multi-pronged approach. It draws in the various segments of the community. The community members have a large say in what is being done and they are involved in the process of decision making. It is Salesian in its approach – builds up leadership from among the “down and out” youth and prepares them to play a proactive role in their communities. Lay partnership is very visible- much of the programme and process is owned by the community.