The Optimist Citizen

A young girl’s attempt to save Mizoram’s youth from the trauma of substance & psychological abuse

Hidden away in the extreme corner of the country, Mizoram is filled with luscious green forests, a rolling hilly landscape, limitless love for football and an indomitable Mizo spirit. The state was officially born in 1987 and in more than thirty years from that historic date, currently, its million inhabitants can boast about the fact that it remains only behind Kerala in terms of literacy rate and has a higher GDP per capita than states like Rajasthan, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. But the backbone of this peaceful and quietly successful state can be traced back to the rough transitional phase which shaped its identity. Mizoram’s adolescent period grappled with insecurity, toil and violence. It successfully navigated that crucial and tender period to emerge as a self-sufficient state, but today thousands of its own citizens find themselves at the same crossroads. Coming to terms with their biological growth, increased pressure and an unrelenting thirst to search for their identity, the majority of adolescents lose their way adapting to these changes. Bringing them back on track is one of Mizoram’s own citizen Esther Laltleipuii whose initiative “Grace Foundation” provides adolescent kids with a platform to grow and create a positive outlook for their future.

Called the Grace Foundation, Esther started this initiative in 2016 after exposing herself to a variety of social work through her Master in Social Work (MSW) degree. Aware of the injustices faced by adolescents around her, Esther very well knew the adolescent enthusiasm and happiness often turned into trauma in the form of substance abuse, unwanted pregnancies, suicide etc. With the growing numbers and intensity of trauma in youth, she was determined to curb the problem from bottom up. And that’s how the Grace Foundation was born. Grace Foundation achieves the desired results using workshops as a tool to inflict a positive change in students. The team collaborates with schools and run a variety of programs aimed at providing life skills, wholesome development and effective education. Apart from preventing such undesirable situations in adolescents, the foundation also delves into improving the education system by starting their own tuition and bringing parents into the loop through back-and-forth communication.

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Esther and her team have structured the program by dividing it into 17 categories each with a unique topic. Some of these topics include substance abuse, self-esteem, safe-unsafe touch, physical and emotional abuse, bullying, peer pressure, career guidance, dream catcher etc. These workshops are conducted by specialists who train, educate and solve the student’s various problems, in collaboration with the school.

One of the most popular workshops is on peer pressure. It involves dividing students into a group of six and providing each group with a photo depicting peer pressure influence. After thorough discussion regarding the topic among the groups, each group has to perform a role play based on the picture, followed by a feedback discussion with the whole class. It is through such practical measures, that Grace Foundation hopes to inculcate positive values in its students. Another popular initiative undertaken by Grace Foundation is their Football Academy. Established to increase the dimensions of education beyond academics, it has also successfully taken students away from substance abuse. The Academy is a roaring success with more than 50 children involved. It has not only improved their skills on the pitch but also their behaviour off it. Students have become more disciplined, diligent and less imprudent. One of the parents claimed that participation in the football academy is synonymous with their son’s improved academic performance, while another believes that the sport has allowed their son to become less aggressive. A safe space has also been created within the premises of the Foundation where the kids and adolescents can come and spend their leisure time. It is a space without judgment and full of fun.

Grace Foundation has created ample space for Peer learning

Having worked with more than 500 students, Esther can hardly believe the progress they have made in such a short period of time. She can’t help but forget the initial days where she herself struggled with doubt, indecision and lack of authority. She credits much of her new found confidence and authority to Pravah’s Changelooms programme. Changelooms Program is an inside-out learning and leadership journey encouraging young social entrepreneurs to lead social change initiatives by providing space for learning, networking, resource mobilization, fund-raising etc. It provides extensive mentorship, self-reflection opportunities, resource linkage with international organisations, seed funding up to Rs. 2 lakh and consistent inputs on Organizational Development to improve the impact of the social initiative. Esther took away a lot of inputs from the time she spent at the Changeloom programme. Apart from confidence and authority, it provided her with mental strength and introduced the skill of networking. Her life had a more positive outlook after the course. And now she is trying to transfer that same positive outlook into the hundreds of kids working with her. It may seem a rigorous task, but her Mizo spirit is keeping the ship afloat. Her state and its citizens have struggled enough. Its journey from birth to a full-fledged state was painful and gruelling one. But Esther’s initiative is making sure that the journey of Mizo kids from birth to adults is wholesome, peaceful and positive, much like Mizoram today.

If you are interested in tinkering, interaction with youth and solving pertinent social issues, you can contact Grace Foundation here



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