Amid the prolonged ethnic conflict that has caused massive devastation and unrest in Manipur for over four months, a humble street food stall run by five displaced girls in Imphal is drawing hordes of customers and capturing hearts.
What set this food stall apart is not only its mouth watering food items, but also the incredible determination and resilience of the girls running it.
Run by five displaced girls in their early 20s, who are taking shelter at a relief camp at Chinmeirong in Imphal East, this street food initiative has not only become a culinary delight but also a symbol of hope, empowerment, resilience, and determination.
The girls, hailing from Churachandpur district, were displaced from their homes in the wake of ethnic conflict that broke out in Manipur in recent months.
Their houses in Churachandpur were reportedly completely razed during the conflict, leaving them in a challenging situation as they arrived to take shelter at the relief camp in Chingmeirong.
However, instead of succumbing to despair, the five girls named Marina, O Thoibi, Bidya Heisnam, Ronda Heisnam, and Kh Tanu decided to take matters into their own hands.
With support and encouragement from a local club in Chingmeirong and the savings they earned from three months of housekeeping work, they embarked on a inspiring culinary journey by opening a street food stall in front of the relief camp, besides NH-2, every evening.
What attracts customers to the food stall is not just the mouth-watering delicacies it serves but the indomitable spirit of the owners. These young girls have transformed their adversity into an opportunity, and the aroma of their delicious food items has become a beacon of hope in this trying times.
Marina, who used to help her mother run a local food joint in Churachandpur, narrated to this reporter, "When we first arrived at the relief camp, it was a challenging experience. But we didn't want to be passive recipients of aid. We wanted to stand on our feet and contribute positively to our community."
Explaining that housekeeping jobs were not secure due to their lack of familiarity with the Imphal area and camp rules, she said, "The idea of a joint venture food stall emerged out of necessity. After all, the three of us have good knowledge of cooking."
Marina, Thoibi, and Ronia used to work in local food joints run by their mothers, while Bidya Heisnam was a makeup artist, and Tanu is a college student pursuing her fifth semester at Kongba College in Imphal.
Stating that the support from local club volunteers and love from customers have made their food stall run smoothly, Marina said, "We are not sure how long our food stall will keep running."
She said the tables and chairs for the food stall were borrowed from the Upper Primary School, a portion of which is being used as a relief camp.
Sending out a message to all the displaced youths in the ongoing crisis, she said, "Remember, being displaced does not define you. It's your resilience and spirit that shine brightest during this difficult period. Keep forging ahead. Stay strong, Stay united, and know that better days will come."
Saying that their houses in Churachandpur have been razed, the girls shared their traumatic experience of how they and their neighbours were safely evacuated to the valley region.
The girls have decided to save most of the profit for their uncertain future.
"We have lost our homes. We don't know our fate. So, we have decided to save the maximum of the earnings for the future," they said, expressing their longing for early restoration of peace and normalcy in Manipur.
The stall displays an array of food items like momo, pani-puri, chowmein, omelette, and other. It opens every evening and is becoming a hub of hope and positivity in Chingmeirong.
Passers-by and locals gather here not only for delicious food but also to show their support for the displaced youths who have defied all odds.
"Their food items have become a favourite for passers-by," said Varun, a local resident who frequents the stall.
"The delicious food not only fills our stomachs but also warms our hearts. It's a testament to the indomitable spirit of Manipur," he said.
The local club of Chingmeirong plays a crucial role in supporting these displaced girls. They provide moral support and a platform to showcase their culinary talents.
"We believe in empowering our youth, especially those affected by the ongoing unrest…These girls are an inspiration to all," said Dhabali, a leader of the local club.
As the five girls continue to serve up hope and sustenance every evening, their story serves as a beacon of inspiration to all those facing this challenging times.
In the midst of unrest, they've found a way to create a taste of normalcy, proving that resilience and the strong spirit of unity can shine even in the darkest of hours.
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