The proverbial brain drain has reached its heights in Nepal. The best, the brightest, the ones with the most drive are climbing over each other to seek a livelihood in countries ranging from Dubai to Malaysia. For $150 per month, a young Nepali is happy to do the most menial tasks in a plastic factory near Kuala Lumpur. Students prepare desperately for TOEFL and SAT with the hope of being able to study in the US. Nothing in their homeland seems to keep these young people from flocking abroad. But this really is no surprise. We live in a country which cannot provide enough employment to its youth, where education is subverted by politics, where it seems that the main purpose of youths is to parade in the streets shouting slogans or burning tires or worse.
The UN defines youth as those between the age group of 15 to 24. 12th August is observed every year as International Youth Day, based on a UN General Assembly Resolution. Half of the world's people are under the age of 25. This includes the largest-ever generation of adolescents who are approaching adulthood in a rapidly changing world. A common thread, however, runs through all of their lives: the aspiration for a better future. This is the critical ingredient lacking in Nepal – a better future for young people. This is why they leave the country in droves.
Almost 40% of the Nepali population is between the ages of 10 to 29. If we include the age group of 30 – 34 as well, the population assumes a large cohort of almost 50%. (Data from Demographic & Health Survey – Nepal, 2006). The volatility and aggressiveness of unemployed disillusioned and alienated youth cannot be underestimated. When youth perceive socio-economic grievances and lack of good governance, they are prone to radical and even subversive political indoctrination. Case in point – the rise of the Maoist movement in Nepal.
A few days ago, I was at a youth rally. The numbers gathered was modest but the fervor of the speakers and singers was not modest at all. The national flag flew abundantly. Banners were signed by all attendees, yours truly included though merely a youth at heart. The vast majority of those present there were young people. They raised the slogan, “Enough is enough; this is my Nepal, my responsibility” and spoke out their views. The rally was organized by a non-political coalition of youth groups calling itself “Nepal Unites”. This rally was followed up by similar ones in other locations in Kathmandu – the latter being “silent protests”. This is a novelty: protests where traffic is not hampered, where the police do not need to use their batons, where youth show their mettle. Mobilised by word of mouth and using the social networking site Face Book, it is obvious these young Nepalis are fed up with the current situation of the nation. Their frustration and disillusionment has boiled over and they are using peaceful means of protest to indicate this. They have gained international recognition. Voice of America’s internet site reports on their combined efforts and future plans in http://fb.me/Z74pO4fN.
The other phenomenon we have started accepting almost blindly are the ubiquitous “Bandhs” (general strikes). For a myriad of reasons, a myriad of groups call bandhs and the capital, often the country, goes silent sans traffic with businesses and shops all locked down. The youth have had enough of this too. Recent bandhs are met by youth rallies - on motorbikes, bicycles and on foot – plying the streets and defying the bandh. Another indication of enough is enough.
The rise of social awareness among the youth of Nepal is promising and long overdue. ‘Another World is Possible – Youth can make it.' This is the slogan of the Campaign of Social Forum started in Brazil which went through Mumbai, Karachi, Colombo, Caracas in Venezuela, Nairobi in Kenya, and various other countries. Nepal has also been a part of this movement and had planned to organize a South Asian social forum in 2008. As far as this writer knows, nothing came from that. We know what a disruptive year 2008 was in Nepal.
After the vignette of Nepali youth above, it behooves us to consider how youth can be further supported. The future of this nation lies in their hands and the future, currently, is simmering, rather dangerously. I speak to young youths in and outside Nepal, on and off the internet. A common thread runs through our conversations. They want to do something for the country. They want to stand by their, more often than not, very correct and strong beliefs. They are idealists and nationalists who feel they must contribute to the future of their nation. BUT they need to make a living too. So they speak dejectedly from across the seven seas, always saying they will come back soon, knowing not when that will be. The pathos of the conversations with these young people is gut wrenching. I identify with them well, having returned only recently to Nepal after a career abroad. The guilt of not being able to contribute directly to the well-being of one’s motherland and the resulting feeling of helplessness haunts our youth. Until and unless they can be provided gainful employment and a life here which meets their aspirations for a better future, their frustration and the nation’s loss will continue.
While identifying the plight of youth, there are steps that can and must be taken to help them in their quest for a better future. Urban Nepali youth, the shakers and movers (though only a small proportion of the youth population), have fair access to mass media. At least 72% watch television, 35% listen to radio, and 25% read a newspaper or magazine at least once a day. In total, four of every five urban youth are exposed each day to at least one of these media sources. The opportunities provided by this fact to promote youth awareness on social issues through mass media programmes are immense. (Thapa, S. and Mishra, V., Asia-Pacific Population Journal, March 2003. These figures are dated and must have increased noticeably.)
Another generally ignored aspect is the education of our youth. That their education is disrupted often due to bandhs is one side of the equation. On the other hand, has anything been done to disseminate among youth Nepali cultural and religious values and civic sense? Often, in the name of so-called modernity, the youth ape the worst habits of the West – gross materialism, alcohol, drugs. What they need to be taught are the “9 Principles to live by”: 1. Ethics; 2. Integrity; 3. Responsibility; 4. Respect for laws and rules; 5. Respect for others’ rights; 6. Love of work; 7. Thriftiness; 8. Belief in the will to act; and (absolutely relevant for Nepal) 9. Punctuality.
To sum up, let us support our Youth – our future and the nation’s destiny.
(The writer served internationally with UNFPA and UNDP, 1978-2007)