Our Director of Advertising Paul T.A. got a chance for an exclusive Interview with Armstrong Pame, the young IAS officer behind the Tamenglong-Haflong Road.
Paul T.A: Thanks for agreeing for an interview with us, lately you have been the talking point for a lot of people. They see you as a role model and an inspiration; can you please share with us about your early life, childhood days, education and your family?
Armstrong Pame: I come from a remote village in the most interior part of the country. My dad gave me this American name after Neil Armstrong, the first man to land on the moon. My dad was very inspired by his achievement. I was born in a village called Impah, in Tamenglong district of Manipur, India. My village is about 50 kms from the district headquarter and till today my village still has no electricity and no motorable roads. Whenever I have to visit my friends, relatives and grandparents I have to walk for two days on foot. Even now people still do this every day.
I was born on 23rd Sept 1984, the fifth child of my parents, Mrs. Ningwangle and Mr. Haitung Pame, I spent the first 5 years of my childhood in my village. In 1989 my family shifted to the district headquarter for our education and I started my regular schooling. Once I started there was no looking back and I jump so many classes in between so that I could complete my high school at the age of 14. I completed my high school in 2000 and move on to do my higher secondary at St. Edmund s college in Shillong. Thereafter I moved to Delhi to do my graduation with honours in Physics from St. Stephen College, Delhi University. I graduated in 2005, and I went on to write civil services examination. I could not clear it in my first attempt. In my second attempt in 2008 I got into the Indian Revenue Service and was undergoing training, when in 2009 I wrote again the Indian Administrative Service exam and got into it.
I am here today, serving as an administrator in the capacity of Sub-Divisional Officer of Tousem Dub-Division. I belong to a Zeme tribe a subset of Zeliangrong community which is part of the Naga tribe.
Paul: Can you please tell us your dreams and goals you had as a student?
Armstrong: Sure, I always wanted to be an I.A.S. officer right from my school days, maybe as young as when I was in class 3 or so.
Paul: Why did you want to become an IAS officer? Is your dream coming true now?
Armstrong: The journey from Tousem Sub-Division to becoming an IAS has been a combined effort of everyone and prayers of every love and dear ones. My dad gave everything to see his kids doing well and he is someone who would not limit his children’s dreams because of poverty or other reasons. He was a carpenter and we would always work with him to fetch money to meet our needs.
There were times when my brother Jeremiah and I were in Shillong, we would have to go for 2 or 3 days with just one meal or no meal as my dad could not send money on time. I remember one particular day when during the October break, the hostel mess closed down and I had to walk everyday about 4 kms to my brother’s place to eat. It so happen that there was just enough food for one meal, so I decided to pack the food so that when I am really hungry in the night after studies I could eat the food. After studying for 9 hours that day I finally open up the tiffin famished, but to my surprise the food was already stinking. I could not eat that day and I prayed to God “Lord I know you want me to go through every pain to understand pleasure, but if it be your will I would like this day to be the last day where I have to go like this.” Then it was answered and I never experienced bad moments again.
Now I have been given an opportunity to serve my fellow countrymen through the Indian Administrative Services, I can’t ask for more. I would just say life has been incredible and God has been amazingly on my side.
Paul: What was the turning point which made you go for the project on your own?
Armstrong: This road construction is nothing new and it has been the talk of the area for so long. They just needed someone to start with. So when I came here as their SDO, someone of their own they have endless expectation.
The idea to start this road came in December 2006 when I was touring over 30 villages along with a group of students on an education tour. When we had to walk for 21 days on foot, it made me realized that there is nothing more important than road if we are to build this place.
Again, another instant was in the month of August, when I had to send a doctor with medicines and others requirements to my native village. As the vehicle cannot reach the village the doctor and his team had to walk for a whole day. Though initial treatment was given, the old man could not be taken down to the hospital as it was a very long journey to be carried on bamboo stretchers in rain. We lost him. A similar incident happened with one pregnant lady at another distant remote village of my sub division. There are alot of related incident like these happening every day.
Paul: How is the project going on at the moment?
Armstrong: The project is about 70% or done, but still a big challenge to go. With over 100 people working every day, we are very confident of making this road and gift it to the people as their biggest Christmas gift ever.
Paul: How is the response of the people, both local, national and around the globe?
Armstrong: I am just taken aback with the support of the villagers and the world now wanting to see this road. I may be not be directly involved, whatever it be I would truly say and give the entire credit to the men and women who are sweating it out every day. I am just there as one of the well wisher.
Initially I volunteered to part some of my month’s salary then came my family’s help. The biggest challenge was financing the machines for the project. When a request was made to some of the people who own them, they gladly accepted the request to give their machines for about 2 months for free of cost. Once this request was fulfilled, the only challenge was for the fuel expenses. Then, for food and other requirements the villagers started pouring in. That’s how the finance of this project has been on thus far. And my elder brother Jeremiah and his wife Ms. Avitoli both Asst. Professors at Delhi University decided to form a committee to spread awareness amongst the people to raise funds through Facebook and other social media, which has now become a big hit and people from everywhere are contributing for the cause. It does not matter how big the amount but the participation of the people that is what matters.
We are very hopeful of getting the target as we progress along because the people here really need the road, I have told them now or never, we should not delay. I asked a Chairman of one of the villages involved in the work, “Can we do it before Christmas?” He said “They will not sleep until they get the work done and that their Christmas would be incomplete without it.” So I m optimistic and now the world is with us to get the work done.
Paul: Have you got any help from the government?
Armstrong: Yes I spoke to some of my superiors in the government. All of them assured but it will take some time. I am sure the Government will take it up one day, but I would like to see this part of the world motorable while I am still here, and my tenure here may end anytime next year.
Now that we have started it I am sure the Government will come forward very soon and make a bigger, better road because with limited funding like ours we may not be in a position to do an all weather road.
Paul: What are the positive experiences you came across while doing the project?
Armstrong: For me the most touching part was the day when I came to see the work, about 250 people including more than 100 women folk came with spades and tools to work in the road. I asked them “What are they doing?” They replied “It is our road we are doing it with you Sir.” I was speechless.
Paul: What are the negative ones?
Armstrong: While every phase of it has been a tremendous challenges, the funding part has been yes the most difficult part. I sit down every night and wonder how much do we need still to complete this portion and where would the funding come from.
Another big challenge has been the rain. The work has to be halted for about 20 days or so because of the rain. We were unable to cross the Makhru river due to heavy rains and the only bridge was washed away in the last torrential rain in the month of July. We lost a great deal of time waiting for the water to subside.
Paul: By doing the project without the Government’s aid, you might have been a pain in the neck for the political bosses now that the road construction has been widely known across the world, what are their reactions?
Armstrong: I don’t think so it’s a pain in the neck for the government. They are involved in so many other things, so I guess this is just a helping hand to the government. The people are helping the governance process by showing direction to the Govt. so that priorities can be accorded. Now this road is just a new cutting, the Govt. has to come now and build a better, bigger and an all seasoned road.
Paul: Many people around the world have been inspired by your story and believe you to be an able leader. You have also been nominated for the CNN-IBN Citizen of the Year 2012 Award. How do you feel?
Armstrong: It s a great feeling and I am really humbled by it. The way the entire world is reacting to this project I am really overwhelmed. But being chosen as one of the nominees for the Indian of the Year Award was just too much and unexpected. I don’t stand a chance in the likes of the other nominees, but the fact that such a small work in such a difficult and remote part of the country has been recognized is in itself a great honor and a victory for the people here.
Paul: People will never forget your selfless contribution. What do you intend to do after the road is completed?
Armstrong: For now completing the road is the utmost goal. Another project that I am starting very shortly is to rebuild the bridge which was washed away. I have requested all the villagers to gather an army of abled men from each village to rebuild the bridge, because without this bridge, there is no connectivity for the entire sub division.
And yes other normal works of development like MGNREGA, supervision of Health sector and Education sector etc goes on. Even in my last posting my block was awarded the best NREGA implemented block. I am trying to make it here this year too. Last year the national level monitor for NREGA was full of praise for the works done under NREGA in my block. I look forward to repeat it here. There are too many things to be done here that I rarely get time to rest even. It’s keeping me going and alive and I am happy about it.
Paul: What is the advice you would like to give to the young people?
Armstrong: To everyone, I would like to just give words of encouragement to give your best in whatever you do. You should live life to the fullest when life is lived beyond me, I, and myself; life is just not about surviving but should be a living one. Let’s live life to the fullest.
Paul: It was a pleasure talking to you. We would like to thank you once again for giving us your valuable time. We wish you the best in your endeavours. Thank you!