Nepal’s marginalized youths lack relationships and connections to break down the walls of isolation
All over Nepal there are thousands of vulnerable youths who are unable to set forward a clear personal vision of how they see themselves in the future. The reason is simple: They have no hope and they have stopped dreaming and setting personal goals. Think of a sailing boat lost at sea, unable to charter a safe route because the destination is unknown with high waves pushing it around, first in one direction and then again abruptly, as the currents changes, into another. Many youths in Nepal suffer similar predicament.
Their lives are so volatile that anytime a presumed better opportunity arises they throw themselves into it without thinking much. They cannot afford to think broadly and long term.
I am referring to the vast majority of youths who come from vulnerable and precarious family backgrounds, with no realistic opportunities ahead for them. This is not because of lack of love or support from their parents, but because their own families are struggling on their own to make their ends meet.
You have read about girls belonging to Chepang community, one of the most disadvantaged indigenous groups in the country, getting married underage and having two to three children within a few years. You may also have read about two sisters who were acid-attacked and their father desperately planning to get his elder daughter, only 18, married because that was the best surviving option for her wellbeing and his family. We have thousands of such parents who are unable to support their daughters’ and sons’ growth and personal development.
Early marriage or a job in the Gulf region is the coping mechanism at their disposal. For the persons with disabilities or those coming from historically discriminated social groups, options are even more limited. They have been denied a path of prosperity and a life of personal fulfillment. I personally know almost a dozen of capable youths with disabilities who are struggling on daily basis to move ahead in their lives.
They have potentials and skills, but lack a wealth of relationships and connections that can help them break down the walls of isolation and deprivation that rigidly limit their destinies.
Deprivation amidst opportunities
Yet Nepal is also a land for opportunities, an emerging economy that saw, in the last few years, remarkable economic growth whose indicators can be easily envied by many “post” industrialized nations across Europe. There is a Nepal that is thriving. You can see it with the hundreds of private schools, the multitude of fancy coffee shops, the increasing number of startups competitions with promising business ideas emerging from exceptionally talented youth. There are incredible stories about social entrepreneurship and social business as a strong ecosystem supporting youth-led ventures.
There are so many youth-led NGOs working at community level to promote the sustainable development goals and giving their best for the country. On the one hand, you have despair and darkness while on the other you visibly feel hope, passion, optimism and availability of capital to invest in new ventures. Nepal counts on high number of youths returning from overseas with new ideas, a new mindset and strong motivation. They can truly make the difference in turning around the nation.
The real problem is how to reach out the silent multitude of youths still lagging behind, those unable to think long term because their foundations, their family history and background, their social economic conditions, are too shaky and fragile. But we cannot keep ignoring them. We need to carry out an extraordinary effort to uplift the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged youths. Surely it is an extremely complex undertaking as we refer to entrenched patterns of social exclusion. The federal government, the provinces and local government units can do a lot to change this status quo.
After all, it is their statuary duties, especially now that all the major fundamental rights bills have been passed by the legislature.
As citizens we cannot wait anymore. We need to press the different government units to bring new measures for a better future for the vast majority of youths unable to emerge and thrive. The business community can take action on its own. They can provide internship opportunities. They can create free training programs. They can offer mentorship programs matching mid-level managers with disadvantaged youths having determination, enthusiasm and willpower to build their own destiny.
Mentoring can really make the difference. It does not cost a penny, yet it can walk a long way in investing in the future of marginalized youths. Business federations including the umbrella association and all commercial banks should come together to creatively initiate a national conversation on the future of youths in Nepal.
If there are so many promising youths with outstanding English language skills, great ideas and wealth of extracurricular experiences, we should know that there are many more missing out because they were not given a fair opportunity to emerge and show what they can do. The corporate sector can step in and change this situation.
I am proposing a conversation among enlightened business professionals who are ready to do their part for a more inclusive and fair youth focused Nepal. Start talking about creating new pathways for self-development for many disadvantaged youths. We can start by garnering ideas and propositions and by involving other stakeholders, including effective not for profits who have expertise in youth self-empowerment.
We cannot waste more time. Those people who have reached success with a great deal of personal efforts know how hard is to emerge. They know that having supportive relationships is essential if you are a youth striving to move ahead. Let’s stop talking about charity and compassion. Let’ see this challenge as a business proposition that can offer incredible returns for the benefit of the entire nation.
The author is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities