US Consul General Patti Hoffman made a “priority trip” to Manipur this March. But it was in 2018 that she first visited the state and had a glimpse of the place and a taste of its rich culture and traditions. She was fascinated by the local history and the women power that runs in this small North-eastern state. As she prepares to leave India for Washington DC, Hoffman recalls her visit to Manipur in an exclusive interview to the Imphal Free Press, and says her special experience of the visit to Manipur was one of the highlights of her tenure in India. But more significantly, she shares at length about how the United States has been working closely with the Manipur government and other stakeholders in the state on women empowerment and public health. She also highlighted the US-India partnership in strengthening indigenous cultural heritage as a means to strengthen sustainable development in Northeast India, the US role in India’s Covid management and the US strategic concern in Indo-Myanmar border region.
IFP: The visit to Manipur – How was your experience?
Patti Hoffman: I attended the Sangai Festival in 2018 and it was one of the highlights of my tenure in India. It was a special experience and I have recommended it to all my colleagues. I enjoyed the dance routines the most, found the food delicious, and was able to do some shopping of local handicrafts too. In addition to the Sangai Festival, I was impressed by my visit to the Kangla Fort. The Manipur Tourism Department gave me a guided tour and I learned so much about the fascinating local history.
I also had the honour to meet different people in Manipur from civil society, academia, business, public health, journalism, and government. Everyone greeted me with warmth and kindness. I was impressed by their love and dedication to their home state of Manipur.
Northeast India is home to one of India’s two Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) projects. The project in the Northeast will document the ancient cultural traditions of 17 indigenous communities in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. Dovetailing with efforts by the government of Arunachal Pradesh, the project will develop sustainable and responsible tourism to the region by both promoting and safeguarding indigenous culture. We are excited that the project will serve as a living example of the US-India partnership in strengthening indigenous cultural heritage as a means to strengthen sustainable development in the region.
IFP: Unique cusine of Manipur – Your favourite?
PH: The black rice cupcakes from Chaakubi Bakery were my favourite. The Chaakubi Bakery and Training Center were initially supported through a US Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) grant. The project was called “Healing to Empowerment: Story of the Manipuri Women project,” where initially 80 women survivors of gun violence were trained and rehabilitated through a psycho-social intervention model.
IFP: What are the areas the United States is working closely with the government and stakeholders in Manipur?
PH: Public Health and Women’s Economic Development and Empowerment are two key areas we have worked on with partners in Manipur. The US and India have a strong partnership and health cooperation. This March, I made a priority trip to Manipur to personally attend the inauguration of the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS) transgender clinic in Imphal, supported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The clinic’s launch was one of the many successes of the strong partnership between NACO, the Manipur State AIDS Control Society and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Since 2003, the US PEPFAR programme has helped save over 20 million lives in more than 50 countries around the world. Through outstanding partnerships, year after year, PEPFAR has accelerated global progress toward controlling the HIV/AIDS epidemic as we know it.
Additionally, the US government is funding Project Sunrise, implemented by the partner FHI 360. Project Sunrise provides technical support to the government, non-governmental organizations, and community networks for accelerating the HIV and AIDS response among PWID to achieve HIV epidemic control in the high-burden states of the north-eastern region. The project also collaborates with church leaders and community structures in reducing stigma and discrimination and creating a supportive environment for PWID to access harm reduction services. It is implementing innovative HIV testing approaches to diagnose persons living with HIV and navigate them to antiretroviral therapy centres for treatment initiation. Project Sunrise is also improving access to needle and syringe programs and Opioid Substitution Therapy by demonstrating innovative models, such as needle and syringe exchange at secondary sites, and satellite Opioid Substitution Therapy centres in hard-to-reach areas. The project is also piloting a real-time monitoring system for tracking PWID across the prevention-to-treatment service continuum. The project has also designed programs to reach female injecting drug users and the spouses of PWID. In addition, the programme conducts sensitization of law-enforcement agencies and a prison intervention for PWID for HIV diagnosis and linkage to care and treatment.
We have also worked with partners to empower women entrepreneurs in Northeast India. The White House-led Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) initiative Academy of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) launched in five states of Northeast India in 2020, bringing together 150 early-stage business owners, joined by local and national business leaders, who committed to augmenting the program’s U.S.-style online learning with mentorship and networking opportunities. The Central Indian Ministry of Development of the Northeastern Region (MDONER) created a video acknowledging the AWE program and thanking U.S. Consulate Kolkata for promoting economic empowerment of women in the Northeast. The project has supported women entrepreneurs who have businesses making kiwi wine, supporting market linkages for women artisans, and creating apps to support mental health, to name just a few. We are incredibly impressed by the women entrepreneurs who have been able to grow their businesses despite pandemic challenges.
IFP: Your take on the talent and brilliant sportspersons of this small state?
PH: Those who know me know that I am a big sports fan. During my first trip to the state in 2018, I learned that the modern game of polo was derived in Manipur. I regret that I was not able to attend a polo match, but maybe that gives me a good reason to return to Imphal someday. In March 2021, I helped launch the football Queer Games North East 2021 spearheaded by Ya-All, an Imphal-based NGO that supports groups of young transgender persons. Their mission is to educate, equip, and empower adolescents and youth together in Northeast India through advocacy and capacity building services.
IFP: What are the main areas of strategic concern for the United States in the Indo-Myanmar border region?
PH: The US supports a free, open, prosperous, and rules-based Indo-Pacific region. We are appalled by the horrific violence perpetrated against the people of Burma in response to their peaceful calls to respect their rights and restore the democratically elected government. We condemn Burmese security forces’ brutal killing of unarmed people, attacks on journalists and activists, and ongoing unjust detentions. We call on all countries to speak with one voice to condemn the Burmese military’s brutal violence against its own people and to promote accountability for the military's actions that have led to the loss of so many lives. The United States, in close coordination with our partners and allies, has made clear to the military that violence against the people of Burma is unacceptable. The people have spoken out against the military coup and are peacefully protesting and expressing their aspirations for a return to democracy and rule of law.
IFP: US role in assisting India during Covid-19 crisis?
PH: Just as India came to our aid when our own healthcare system was under tremendous strain last year, the US stands with India now. While the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone, it also provides us an example of what strong partnerships (like between the US and India) can accomplish when working together. The USG rapidly deployed seven planeloads of life-saving supplies to India during the recent second wave. These flights carried critical health supplies, including oxygen-related equipment, N95 masks, rapid diagnostic tests, and medicines like remdesivir. The USG assistance amounted to about $100 million in commodities and technical assistance and the American people through the private sector donated an additional $400 million worth of assistance support.
Additionally, both CDC and USAID built upon more than 70 years of strong partnership with India counterparts on public health initiatives to provide training and technical assistance. Together, CDC, USAID and Indian counterparts worked together to strengthen laboratories, disease surveillance and epidemiology, emergency responses, infection prevention and control, vaccine rollout, contact tracing procedures, and risk communications. They trained 10,000 frontline healthcare workers on safe sample collection, transport, and testing.
Also, on vaccines, the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is expanding manufacturing of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with funding to Indian manufacturer Biological E Ltd. To produce one billion doses by the end of 2022. President Biden has announced the U.S. will share 80 million doses of our vaccine supply with the world, will purchase an additional half billion doses of Pfizer to donate to nations in need, and at the recent G7 Summit announced made a commitment with G7 leaders to provide more than 1 billion additional doses for the world. The USG is committed to ending the COVID-19 pandemic everywhere for our collective global health security.