Chizami Village (Phek): An eco-friendly quarantine centre and regular doses of creativity — the compulsory 14-day home quarantine period for returnees at Nagaland’s Chizami village, located in the densely forested hills of Phek district, has been unlike any other place.
Set against a picturesque background of hills and clouds, this quarantine centre comprises 14 bamboo huts, a rainwater harvesting system, makeshift toilets and washrooms, and a compost pit, all of which was built within a span of two days.
That’s not all, the centre was named ‘Covid-19 creativity hub’, as the returnees here are encouraged to draw, paint and even make handicrafts like bamboo baskets and brooms.
Quarantine rules in Nagaland require people returning from outside to first spend a 14-day stint in institutional quarantine and another two weeks in home quarantine. The Chizami centre, located around 3 km uphill from the main village, was set up to facilitate home quarantine for returning residents.
“The returnees faced many troubles — they travelled all the way back to Nagaland, stayed put in government quarantine facilities, so we thought they must have been going through a lot,” said Wetshete Thopi, an assistant professor at Patkai Christian College (Autonomous) Dimapur and the convenor of the Chizami Covid-19 task force.
“Some of them must also be suffering from mental pressures as they have lost their jobs. So, we thought, why not create this centre. We also didn’t want to use the word quarantine because the term itself brings a sense of negativity,” Thopi added.
The professor said they also wanted to make the centre eco-friendly. “So we tried to make use of the natural resources that are available, particularly bamboo, as much as possible,” he added.
It took about 200 volunteers from the village to construct the centre, which opened on 25 May. Ten days later, the village received the first batch of returnees. So far, about 24 returnees have come back to the village, of which 22 have been released from the Chizami creativity hub. Two continue to be at the centre.
Although Nagaland has so far reported 1,693 Covid-19 cases, none has been from Chizami.
An eco-friendly quarantine
In Nagaland and other Northeastern states, local communities have been at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19.
They have constituted their own task forces, set up quarantine centres for returnees, and issued individual sets of standard operating procedures. Health officials, including in Nagaland, have hailed these initiatives as one of the reasons behind low Covid-19 incidence in the Northeast.
Chizami, which lies in the Chakhesang-tribe-dominated district of Phek, took this up a notch further.
With a package of Rs 3 lakh from the state’s rural development board, the Chizami village council and other local organisations set out to build a centre on a government school playground that had been lying in disuse.
“As a community, we resolved to have this centre to keep the gap between the incumbents and the other residents of the community… The Covid-19 task force was formed under the village council, and almost all the departments under this council were assigned to manage the centre, this includes the women society, churches, and the student union,” village chairman Welhite Naro said.
Each of the 14 quarantine huts at the creativity hub, all made from locally sourced bamboo, is equipped with two beds, a table, and a hearth with firewood that returnees can use to make tea or boil water. The task force also found a way around the lack of piped water — rainwater harvesting. Bamboo baskets with plastic sheets are placed outside every hut to collect rainwater.
The centre is primarily managed by local organisations, including the Chizami Students Union, whose members are taking turns cooking and serving the returnees with food, wrapped in leaves.
“When we first had the discussion, we thought that these are people who are coming back after living in the cities for many years. They had been locked in (quarantine) rooms for many days. We wanted to provide them with a conducive environment, which is relatable to their homes… if you go down to our village, you find houses that are similar to this,” said Khrolhiweu Tsuhah, general secretary of the Chizami Student Union.
‘Like a vacation’
Meanwhile, it also struck members of the Northeast Network (NEN), an NGO that has been working in the region to mobilise women in the unorganised sector, that returnees could creatively use the time in quarantine.
The NEN started collaborating with the task force to hand the returnees a kit comprising sketch pens, a drawing book, etc.
“We were thinking of how we can engage these young people, who were sitting idle, that’s why we thought of giving a simple kit comprising a notebook, pen for them to sketch and write their reflections to keep them engaged,” said Wekoweu Tsuhah, state director of the NEN’s Nagaland chapter.
The strategy seems to have paid off, with the returnees saying their stay at the centre had been like a vacation.
“We were given different activities to do here, like knitting, painting, etc. so that we don’t feel bored during our stay. We are having a lot of fun,” said Tshewulou Thopi, a returnee from South Africa, where she works on a cruise line.
“Even the food here is good, all organic. We don’t feel like we are in a quarantine centre, instead we feel like we are vacationing… At the Pfutsero quarantine facility there was no activity to do. We would just eat and sleep.”