Kohima | December 9
Two-year-old Aseno is the youngest in the orphanage at Sithikhu village, 10 km from Kohima. That’s the only home she and 69 other children know.
But it’s unlikely to continue to be that way. Pressure to relocate the orphanage is mounting on 80-year old Zaputoii Angami, who started this first ever orphanage in Nagaland 33 years ago.
The impending shift is evoking memories of the time in 1994 when the orphans were unceremoniously evicted from their earlier home near Science College in Kohima.
It’s an incident Zaputoii rarely refers to, but her battle now is to acquire a permanent site.
“At the moment, my worry is land. We need a permanent site. The landowners here want this back. I understand the CRPF is interested in the land. But I am going to state my case as a Naga daughter and I’ll hope for the best,” said Zaputoii Angami, Orphanage Manager.
This is the first generation of Naga children to grow up in an orphanage and they represent the changing face of Naga society that once prided itself on looking after its own.
The old order of extended families looking after orphaned kin is dying out and the number of orphanages in the state has grown from one in 1973 to eight. The state government funds these homes that house a total of 472 children.
At Zaputoii’s orphanage, at least 700 children have come and gone, some of them adopted, others married and still others employed or running small business. “I want to be a doctor,” said one child. “I want to be a singer,” said another.
One of the golden rules communicated to every visitor is never to ask the children the name of their parents and which tribe they belong to. All this to foster the feeling of one big family.
Once a trained nurse in Kohima, Zaputoii decided to set up an orphanage when a baby girl was abandoned at the hospital where she worked.
Today, her spirit and energy defy her age as she supervises the children but she laments the changes in the Naga society that is resulting in the growing number of orphans in the state.
“About a dozen or so children have been affected by the factional feud. But there are many who have been left here by relatives who are unable to look after a brother’s son or daughter,” said Zaputoii Angami, Orphanage Manager.
“Even struggling single mothers bring their babies. In Nagaland, the number of orphanages is on the rise. There are five orphanages in Dimapur alone,” added Angami.
This indomitable spirit has a wish list. Topping it is the wish to have one day in a year observed as Orphans Day. Any day would do. But Zaputoii would like it to be April 16.
It was on that day 33 years ago that she decided to begin playing the role of foster mother to nobody’s children in Nagaland. It’s been over three decades since this orphanage began and has been home to almost seven hundred children.
At a time when insurgency, fratricidal killings and a long unsolved political problem has been associated with Nagas, the message from this orphanage is very clear. For any healing to take place in the society, it must start from within.