By inculcating positive attitudes towards new challenges and by working hard, a youth will learn and fail, but slowly will achieve victories
Few months ago we had the opportunity to welcome two new interns in our organization. These committed young social work students who, besides studying and being engaged in the internship, also work part time in the evening in a customer service of a major cable television network.
For Rojina and Sandhya, every single day is a very long day, starting early in the morning and finishing late in the night as their shift in the cable operator always starts early evening, the pick time for clients’ inquiries and complains. Since morning in college, during the day in their internships throughout their evenings, they have to be alert and fully concentrated, without forgetting the time they have to spend in a long commute through local buses that are neither reliable nor comfortable. I have a huge admiration for them. In their early 20s, they are really pushing themselves hard. Interestingly they seem perfectly fine with how things are going.
They are aware that in order to succeed, there are no shortcuts and only practice and hard work ultimately pays off. Perhaps one day both of them will be handling big responsibilities in not-for profit organizations or embassies or international agencies. Maybe they will become terrific social workers, something quite missing in Nepal as most of the social workers normally shift to office related jobs in the development sector while social workers should be primarily involved at grassroots levels, dealing with people and their problems.
Youths like Rojina and Sandhya have unlimited opportunities ahead if they pursue them with all strengths. They will have to be “positively” ambitious in the sense of working hard to achieve something rewarding and meaningful for themselves and the society.
Self-awareness about their potential, skills and abilities and also weaknesses will be essential requirements for them to find their path. Recently I was watching a TED talk by late Professor Peter Benson, one of the fathers of studies on youth development. Professor Benson has been highlighting the importance for youths to develop internal assets such as “skills, competencies and values” that can be categorized in four groups: commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies and positive identities. Benson inspires the audience by sharing ways to help youths to find their “sparkle”, something that can engage and motivate them, an element that is associated to a person’s interest. He also highlights the importance of having role models or champions, possibly at family, school and community levels.
Too many youths from unprivileged and middle class family lack supportive environment to thrive.
These role models act as sort of mentors, the persons youths can rely on and trust to talk with, who are genuinely ready and interested in listening to them. These are key pillars to support personal development of a young adult, underscoring their strengths without indulging in futile praising while also being firmly objective on their areas of improvements.
Benson also speaks of importance of providing youths with opportunities. An opportunity could literally be anything: from invitation to assisting a lecture program or a workshop to having the exposure to accompany a supervisor while visiting one important partner. Unless you are one of the few youths attending a top school or college, you normally lack these opportunities.
Too often internship programs fail to engage them meaningful at work. Instead of being learning opportunities, they become the repetition of tasks and duties. I know this well for I have travelled half world to intern in a renowned organization working in the democracy consolidation in the post-apartheid South Africa.
My duty was to make photocopies and arrange the library archive, not really exciting jobs. Yet for me that was the opportunity that helped me write my thesis. And though I disliked the job, I still feel excited when I recall the exposure I had gained from it. I had desire to learn and connect and did not want to waste a single minute though I was terribly bored.
Youths like Rojina and Sandhya have to become self-aware of their potential. They can really start exploring their fantasies about thousands of jobs that they could one day take up or literally invent themselves. Then they will have to be self-confident: it is not just about opening up your horizons and realizing that the world is much bigger than you thought. By inculcating positive attitudes towards new challenges and by working hard, a youth will learn and fail but slowly will achieve small victories that will make her stronger.
Look at the fact that way too many youths are not able to speak good English. This could be a great way to challenge themselves, becoming proficient without any foreign accents but with their own distinguished and beautiful Nepali accent. Of course having a good teacher at school would have made life easier but the vast majority of youths did not have such luxury.
Yet they can learn English language by reading a local English newspaper or by watching international news channels or by listening to the BBC. Too many youths from unprivileged or simply middle class family lack a supportive environment to thrive. The country is missing something here.
While one day we hope public schools will be able to offer the right environment and support, that colleges will truly take care of their students by offering them holistic support, it is up to youths like Rojina and Sandhya to find their own ways.
My sincere hope is that they will start dreaming and keep working hard to realize they have a true potential and slowly find a specific interest that can be developed in a true passion that will define their future lives. Developing a strong curiosity about everything will also play an important role, augmenting their knowledge by want of more information. What counts most is having right values, trying hard and giving the best. Dear Rojina and Sandhya, be driven, play by the rules, show humility and empathy. You will both go long ways.
The author is Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities