Embracing adversity as a tribal youth to empower my community
Guest post by Michael V. L Chhandama, Youth Co:Lab Mover,
My name is Michael V. L Chhandama and I belong to the Mizo tribes from the state of Mizoram, India. I am currently a PhD Scholar in JAIN University (India) working on the production of biodiesel. I also teach Biochemistry and Microbiology at University. I am the co-founder of an organisation called CHAWIKAN, which aims to engage and inspire the youth of Mizoram and promote local young entrepreneurs. And I am a Movers Community Builder with the Youth Co:Lab Movers Programme.
I grew up in a lower middle-class family and my parents are great advocates of education. They did not attend college because of financial reasons but they did their best to make sure that their children would receive a good education. At the time, the courses in Mizoram were limited so students often had to go outside the state for higher education. Finding a good college and getting admission was a great challenge because of financial difficulties, which was the first time I realised or foresaw what lied ahead.. that I had to strive harder than others and that I had to focus on my goals more than other students. I could not let any of the money that I spent on education go to waste.
Moving outside of my home state and settling into a new place where the way I talked and the way I looked were different from the majority of the people, I faced a lot of racism. At that time, I hated belonging to a minority group and I was ashamed of my tribe.
A turning point for me was during my college days. All the students had to give a presentation and since there were many students, the audience got bored and lost focus on the presentations. But when I stood on the stage, everyone looked at me with keen focus because I looked and spoke differently. I managed to grasp the attention of the room. That was when I realised that my difference was my asset and that I should be proud of my heritage and culture.
During my postgraduate studies, I learned about Biosafety and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). My final year project was based on SDGs 7 and 13. My interest grew deeper and my proposal for a PhD on clean fuel was accepted. My PhD study has enhanced my comprehension of the current energy and climate crisis and also contributed to the effective facilitation of Movers Workshops and mentorship of my fellow aspiring Movers.
In 2019, everything aligned. My prior exposure to the SDGs and research helped me receive a full scholarship from the state government and an NGO, Rochun: Pay It Forward, to attend the Asia-Pacific Youth Exchange (APYE) 2020 in Thailand.
One of my biggest takeaways from APYE was empathy: that in whatever we do and whatever we have achieved, the most important thing is to help others and to give back to others. Being a tribal boy from a low-income family, everything that I do and every milestone that I have achieved, I did it to pave the way for others and to help those who face the same adversities like me. The adversities help me focus on my goals and teach me empathy.
With this in mind my friends and I have started an organisation called CHAWIKAN (a Mizo word that means “to uplift”) to inspire the youth of our state, so they can have good role models and spread awareness about the SDGs.
CHAWIKAN’s mission is to instill a “I can and I will'' spirit in the youth of Mizoram.
We share different opportunities for the youth (scholarship, internship, competition and colleges opening) and promote local entrepreneurs. FI\inally, our organisation received the Runner-Up Project Award at the Asia Pacific Youth Exchange Online - Global Social Innovation Idea Contest (APYEO-GSIIC), which allowed us to receive mentorship and training through the Youth Co:Lab Springboard Learning Management System.
Through APYEO-GSIIC, I was also introduced to the Movers Programme when Anisha Jindal, Youth Engagement Assistant for UNDP India, and Prajesh Khanal, Movers Community Builder from Nepal, held a fun and interactive workshop on the SDGs. I was so inspired by the facilitators and the modules that I started to volunteer with the Movers Programme in February 2021. To date, I have facilitated eight Movers Workshops on the SDGs, Climate Action and Leadership and mentored five volunteers to start volunteering with the Movers Programme.
What I love about Movers Workshops are that we always learn from each other and there is a judgement-free environment which leads to rational interactions. If you look at all the bad things happening around the world, you lose motivation but my fellow Movers with their positive energy always manage to inspire me. The Movers Programme also helps me to be more confident and to be proud of my tribe, my heritage, to speak my mind and give me leadership skills.
I am fortunate to have found a place where people inspire each other and I devote myself to try my best to inspire and help others to reach their full potential in whatever ways I can.
Finally, I want to share with my fellow youth that life is not an easy ride, you are going to face many challenges. You have the choice to sit back and complain or take action. So join me, together we can change the world.
To hear more about Michael’s story, you can watch his video testimony about his experience with the Movers Programme. The Movers Programme is a regional movement of volunteers who develop SDGs awareness, entrepreneurial mindsets and 21st-century skills by conducting localized training at a grassroots level. Read more about the Movers Programme here.
Co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab establishes a common agenda for countries in Asia-Pacific to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.