Inaugural Note delivered by Fr M C George
Don Bosco Golden Jubilee Celebrations. 26 Mar 2007.
Fr Aloysius Ravalico and Fr Peter Bianchi were the very first priests of the Catholic Church to take up permanent residence in Manipur. Both of them are members of the society of the ‘Salesians of Don Bosco’, a society of priests and lay people within the Church. This society was founded by ‘Don Bosco’ or ‘Fr John Bosco’ at Turin in North Italy in the 19th century. Don Bosco was a priest, a great educator, and a real father to the youth, particularly the poorer ones among them.
The society of the Salesians of Don Bosco first came to South India in 1906 and to Manipur 50 years later, in 1956. Fr Ravalico and Fr Bianchi resided first in a rented house in Thangmeiband and then in the place that is now Nirmalabas school. In 1957 a piece of land was bought in Chingmeirong, the place where the church and boarding stand now, and the school was opened. The boarding is being rebuilt right now, to replace what was put up 50 years ago. From May 1958 the classes were held in the newly completed building. The land on which the present school building stands was bought in three pieces over the years. Three floors of this building were completed in 1975. A fourth floor was added in 1990.
This institution was originally named Don Bosco Youth Centre. It is the first high school of the Catholic mission in Manipur. As this school was meant to cater exclusively to boys, soon after it was started a sister school was established for girls by our sister society, the Salesian sisters of Don Bosco. This second school is the Little Flower school on the airport road. Numerous other schools followed suit. Today there are some 50 high schools and higher secondary schools run by the Catholic Church in Manipur and a full fledged Don Bosco College at Maram.
There was scepticism about the purpose and quality of the school in the initial years. But, when the very second batch of Matric students, who appeared in 1963, secured three ranks in the entire North East India (Assam Board), the school became extremely popular. A second Don Bosco school was started at Langjing in 1983 to ease the pressure for admissions. The performance of the school in the academic field in the three decades of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s is probably unparalleled anywhere in the world, with our students consistently taking the top positions in the Board examinations year after year from 1973 to 1989, with the peak in 1986 when we secured six ranks among the first ten.
The school has not only popularised education in the English medium in our state, opening up the horizons of our youth to opportunities all over the world, it has pioneered in various other fields, too. In 1972 we started scouting. In 1985 we got experts from Mumbai to conduct awareness programmes on drugs. Fr Tony Pellissery visited the addicts in gaol, and sent three of them to Mumbai for rehabilitation. When they returned, the very first narcotics anonymous group of Manipur started to meet at Don Bosco.
This was the first school in the whole of North East India to offer students the possibility to study computer science in school, starting from 1986. Sports and games and innumerable other activities are organised through the house system. The annual talent search programmes and school sports sowed seeds of future greatness in young minds and bodies.
Character formation, leadership skills and personality development were furthered through value education or moral science classes. In 2003 a series of value education books authored by our rector was released. It has now become the most popular moral science series in the country. A wide variety of orientation programmes for the senior students and the staff ensure the all-round formation of our children. They receive training in critical consumption of the mass media, life-skills, peace education, leadership skills, personality enrichment, drugs, HIV/AIDS, etc.
Despite some recent setbacks due to the political turmoil in the state and the consequent law and order situation, the school continues to pioneer in various fields. In 2003 it became the first school in the state to introduce counselling services for its students. Today our staff offer free counselling to 26 schools in our neighbourhood. We have an extensive outreach programme taking education to the most marginalised children of our city, through a literacy programme. Right now we have 41 centres giving free classes a few hours a day to over 1100 children who have never been to school. They are then helped to get admitted into regular schools. We have admitted nearly 3,000 of them into regular schools in the last four years. We presently sponsor about 600 of the poorest children, paying one-third of their school fees.
We run an ‘intensive’ or ‘leapfrog’ course through which illiterate pre-adolescents are brought up to class V level in a single year of schooling and re-introduced into the main stream. We have a mobile library catering to our 41 literacy centres, the leap-frog course and 16 other schools. We have ‘adopted’ 12 schools in various parts of our state, giving systematic training and monthly follow-up to the primary level teachers of these schools. We run two mini-youth-centres, one at Chingmeirong and the other at Wangkhei, where young people have facilities for healthy recreation, undergo trainings of various types and receive counselling.
We have introduced a new system of management for our school, with a significant sharing of responsibilities with the teachers and parents of our students. In this connection, I acknowledge the dedicated and committed service rendered in the last few years by Mr Indibhushan, the headmaster at Chingmeirong, Mrs O Dhaneswari Devi, headmistress at Langjing and Mr Freddy Macartoon at Phayeng, and their teams.
As we enter into our Golden Jubilee year we recall with gratitude our founders, Fr Aloysius Ravalico, who went to his eternal reward in 1967 at Shillong and Fr Peter Bianchi whom we are fortunate to have with us today. Other Salesians who contributed greatly to this institution were: Fr Wollaston and Fr Joseph Edakkudan in the 1960’s; Fr Sebastian Manianchira in the 70’s, Fr M C George and Fr Mathew C Paul in the 80’s; Fr N J Cyriac, Fr C T Varghese, Fr V J Sebastian, Fr Nebu Mathew, Fr Stephen and Fr Manuel Paikada, in the 90’s; and once again, Fr M C George in the most recent five years. One other priest that deserves special mention is 91-year-old Fr John Med who has spent over 20 years here influencing our students in his own manner.
We recall with gratitude some teachers who shaped the destiny of two generations of children: Ojha Phony, Mr Dijendro, Mr Homendro, Mr Kulla, Mr Vaiphei, Mr Dutta, Mr Mohendro, Mrs Tamang, Mr and Mrs O M Francis, Mr James, Mr Jose, Mr Virgin Raja, Mr Gregory, Mr Arulswamy, Ojha Joshi, Mr Prince, Mr Richard Ribeiro, Mr Ibomcha, Madam Mema Devi, Mr Freddy Macartoon, Mr Albert Stephenson and Madam Patsy Stephenson, Madam Lina, and a host of others who served this school for a time, some of whom have passed away and others have retired or moved on in their career.
Among our prominent alumni are : Mr Yambem Laba; ADGP Ngahanhui Peter; Archbishop Dominic Lumon, Commissioners Heni Henry, Paul Liangsi Golmei and Letkhogin; IAS officers, T Panmei, Norbert Disinang and R S Chiru; prominent leaders Mr Angelus P Shimrah, Mr Charanamai MP, Mr Babloo Loitongbam, etc. We have produced also several other IAS, IPS, IFS and MCS officers. There are literally hundreds of doctors, professors and engineers, products of our school, in every department of the administration of Manipur. There are also dozens of them working all over India and abroad – in Europe, America and the Far East – such as Mr Jayanta who teaches Mathematics in the Manchester University in the UK, Takhelambam Baleshwor who the international vice-president of Maginet, etc.
We do not intend the golden jubilee to be an occasion for chest thumping. Instead, we want it to be the starting point of a renewal, a new way of being a school. Numerous activities have been planned, spread over one full year and involving children, students, alumni and young people from various schools, clubs and literacy centres from all parts of Imphal, Manipur and the entire North East. This inaugural function itself is the promise of this commitment of ours in as much as the programme will see the participation of all the three Don Bosco schools of Imphal, several Catholic schools of the town, other private schools, a government school and children from our literacy centres.
I invite our teachers, all our students, their parents, our neighbours in our leikai, all the schools in our neighbourhood and all people of good will to join hands with us to launch a resurgence in the filed of education, for it is through excellence in education alone that our state can look forward to taking its right place in the world.