A Youth Initiative group discussion hosted by Mikel Dunham
Shangri-La Hotel, Kathmandu, Nepal
May 7, 2009
Members of the panel included: Daman Katuwal, Balram Yadav, Bikki Yadav, Jagrit Rayamajhi, Bishnu Panthi, Manish Pokharel, Ashis Luitel, Madhav Dhungel, and Bhusita Vasistha
DUNHAM: As youth leaders of Nepal, you come from disparate backgrounds. And yet I’m sure that you have experienced many similar situations growing up in the distinct Nepali culture. I’d like to begin by having you identify yourselves, what group you represent, where you were born and what were some of the basic problems you encountered while making a place for yourself in this society.
DAMAN KATUWAL: I am the General Secretary of the Nepal Progressive Student Federation. The student wing is associated with the CPN-United Marxists. I am trying to help solve students’ problems.
My birthplace is Udaypur district [south-eastern Nepal]. My village is Rampur Tokshila VDC. It is a very remote area of Nepal and there is still not a single hospital in the VDC. It wasn’t until last year that a secondary school was established. I passed my school level in that village.
Like the other children in my village, I faced many problems. [Daman is from the Dalit community; Dalit is a generic term reserved for what was previously called the “untouchable” class.] My parents are poor farmers. We have no other income. The problems of rural poverty still exist in my village. Nothing has really changed in the last two decades. There were no facilities in the village so it was a struggle -- not like in your country, America, where there are so many facilities.
When I finished my lower schooling, I entered Tribhuvan University, at the Dharan campus. I studied Management and Commerce. I rented a room in Dharan for study. My college life was also a struggle.
My involvement in politics began early on, in 1990, when I was 13 years old. The local political leaders of our impoverished village told us that the only way we would free ourselves from class oppression and our endless state of poverty was if we fought for democracy. That promise attracted me and made me join politics.
It’s true that, since my childhood, certain societal advancements have been made in Nepal. But not in my village; we still don’t feel that change. Improvement has come to people from the higher classes but not the lower classes. Advancement has come to leaders of the big parties, but not for the little parties. The lower classes are still miserable, trapped in poverty and feel the full sting of neglect
By 2001, the Maoists had gained a great deal of popularity. I, too, was attracted to their message that the political and social environment of Nepal must change. But ultimately I rejected their party because their means to gain power was not right: Shooting people to gain power is not right.
BALRAM YADAV: I’m with the Madeshi Youth Forum of the Madeshi People’s Rights Forum. I am from Rajbiraj in Saptari district.
My childhood was a struggle because of the language issue. We would have understood much better had we been taught in our native tongue instead of having been forced to learn in Nepali. Recent research has proven that those students who are taught in their native tongue perform much better scholastically than those who are forced to learn in Nepali. Our marks in science and math were much better than our marks in language. The Madeshi Youth Forum believes that if we should be able to go through secondary school using our mother tongue; other languages, including English could then be introduced in college.
DUNHAM: But if you don’t learn Nepali, won’t you be penalized later on? Won’t it curtail your chances of getting better jobs in Nepal?
BALRAM: Yes, but only because of the government policy that has been in place up until now. It doesn’t have to be like this. The government is talking about federalism right now. If federalism is achieved, then we hope that the people who speak in their mother tongues – no matter what that language is—will have equal opportunity for good jobs and place in this society. However, the government has not moved to make that a working reality for us.
As of now, the new state of federalism isn’t possible. I really doubt that, as things stand, there will be a change into federalism. The language problem is not just in the Terai. It’s also in the hilly regions. For example, the Tamang people, who cannot speak Nepali, are nevertheless forced to learn in Nepali. The results there are the same as in the Terai. According to recent data of Tamang school dropouts, those students who don’t speak Nepali are much more likely to drop out.
DUNHAM: As a Madhesi child, did you feel discriminated against whenever you were in contact with the hilly people? Were you treated was if you were their inferior?
BALRAM: I studied in a remote Madeshi village where there were no hilly people. Therefore I was unaware of discrimination at that time. But when I entered college, I felt alienated because the majority of the students were from the hilly regions.
DUNHAM: Where did you go to college?
BALRAM: I studied in Biratnagar. I was held back from a scholarship even though I had only one paper to finish. But those who were close to ANNFSU [All Nepali National Free Student Union of UML] or NSU [Nepali Student Union of NC] got the scholarship even though they were failing in all their subjects.
In another incident, when the Morang campus conducted entrance exams for the BSC [Bachelor of Science], the students from the hilly regions were automatically granted 10 extra points, whereas the Terai students got only 5. This was done to tip the balance for scholarship eligibility. When we Madhesis protested to this unfair practice, the authorities said it was because the hilly people were poor. We asked, “Are there not poor people among the Madhesi?” But they didn’t answer.
Also, we Madeshi students were not allowed to stay in the Morang college hostel. The rooms were given to the hilly people, regardless of their academic achievement or their economic background. We are victims of internal colonization in Nepal. Madhesi are totally colonized. The country is going toward federalism, but in the hilly people’s mind, the colonization is still justifiable.
BIKKI YADAV: I am the central president of the Nepal Student Front and represent the Nepal Sadbhawana Party, [another Madeshi party that was the first party to bring up the issue of Madhesi inequality]. Like Balram, I am also from Saptari district in Terai.
I hail from a very poor family. After school, I had to go home a herd buffalo. I didn’t know anything about nutrition: We just ate buffalo and drank buffalo. I spent my childhood in a remote area where, even today, there are still no telephones or electricity of road network.
I studied in my village until my ninth grade. I didn’t understand Nepali until then. I learned by rote, but I didn’t understand what I was saying. I was not really aware of discrimination until the ninth grade. But I had witnessed in my Madhesi community that, even if there were only one hilly person in the village, he would be selected as the village leader.
I changed schools – Sirasha Bashtipur --in the 10th grade. That’s when discrimination became very clear to me. Education, hospitals, everything was controlled by the hilly people, even though they were a minority. And when I discovered that Madhesis weren’t allowed to participate in the school sports, that’s when I really felt personally discrimination against for the first time.
So I became politically active. I was attracted to the communist party.
Even after I finished my SLC [school leaving certificate], even after I had a clear understanding of what discrimination was, I still thought I should not react against it, but rather go with it because there was discrimination everywhere in the world. That was my rationale at the time.
You see, even though I was from an impoverished rural district, I had high ambitions. I wanted to become a doctor. It was the only thing I dreamt of. I hoped to go to China to study to become a physician. In order to do that, I had to produce various forms of identity, including a copy of my citizenship, which has to be notarized at the office from which the certificate had originate. . But the Chief District office refused to notarize my citizenship certificate because I didn’t have any inside connections in the office. They wouldn’t even look for my records. I tried several other offices in my district, but no one would help me. So I went to the Education Ministry and quarreled with the secretary of the ministry. Almost 100 other applicants got to go, but I didn’t because I was Madeshi and couldn’t get my document notarized by the hilly officials.
Eventually, they notarized my document, but by then it was too late. My application for going to China had passed the deadline.
The process completely defeated me. I thought, “Well, what good would it be for me to become a doctor, if I can’t get an official identity?”
So that is when I joined my party and entered politics.
The Sadvhawana Party was the only party at that time that was raising the issue of regional identity, ethnicity and discrimination. This was in 2001. At that time, the student’s movement against the monarchy had begun and I participated in it. I am proud that we were able to create a platform among the various student wings of the political parties. I represented Madesh in these various enterprises.
Today, you can see the result of the student protests. We have a democracy.
JAGRIT RAYAMAJHI: I am Vice President of the ANNISU [All National Independent Student Union - Revolutionary] student wing of the Maoist party. I’m from Daman in Makawanpur district [east from Chitwan]. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Nepal, from which you can see 44 different peaks of the Himalaya.
I hail from a middle-class family background. Both of my parents had small jobs but my family really didn’t have to struggle to survive.
There used to be quite a strange left-leaning leader from my village by the name of Rupchandra Bista. He was -- is my political hero. He used to come to my house frequently, which sparked my interest in getting involved in politics. At the age of 11, I was already a representative for a student union national conference—at which time I couldn’t even talk nicely. I cried while I was at the conference because I missed my family, but still I had the feeling that I had to be in politics. I had no knowledge, just determination. My family was political, which helped me.
Basically, I got into politics because of the rampant discrimination within Nepali society and the atrocious autocratic nature of the panchayat system [a one-party system designed to serve the monarchy]. I couldn’t think of anything else -- politics, speech, rallies, participation, etc. became my life.
DUNHAM: Did your parents have a problem with that? Did the resist your activism or try to persuade you to pursue another career?
JAGRIT: In the beginning, they encouraged my political enthusiasm. But eventually they had second thoughts. After. I was a full-time activist, my parents told me they wished I would return to my. But they never tried to force me to stop. In fact, at one point I tested them by suggesting that I might stop politics. They backed down immediately.
BISHNU PHANTI: I am Vice President of the Nepali Student Union, which is the student wing of the Nepali Congress party. I’m from Ghulmi district in western Nepal.
I went to high school in my village. At that time, there were few boarding schools in Nepal. My father was a teacher so scholasticism was very much a part of my upbringing. I came to Kathmandu to attend college.
Democracy in Nepal actually goes back many decades. Nepal had the beginnings of democracy in the 1950s, through the efforts of the Nepali Congress party – that was when the atrocious Rana regime was brought down. In the very first elections in Nepal, one of my family members, Nilambra Phanti, was elected as a member of parliament from the Nepali Congress party; he was my inspiration to get into politics.
But two years later, King Mahendra imposed the panchayat system on the nation and democracy was placed on hold. Then in 1990, all the parties protested, and we regained democracy for the Nepali people.
In the mid-90s, the Maoist conflict begin and, towards the end, NC, UML and the other parties joined hands – and also the Maoists joined hands with the seven-party alliance, which led to the second popular movement. Democracy has returned to Nepal and I have been involved with this long process. Since the 1970s, the NSU [Nepali Student Union] under the guidance of NC, has been participating every step of the way – either on our own, or jointly – to achieve viable democracy in the country.
DUNHAM: Any problems in getting your voice heard as a youth? How much autonomy was the NC really allowing its student wing?
BISHNU: This is a matter of the old generation vs. young generation. In our party, the perspective of the youth is being implemented. Our voices are being heard. When new ideas are raised by the youth, the party implements them. The NC party has accepted our demands, and the party has reflected our voice in this politically critical time. Freedom of justice, freedom of press, community development, democratic growth, human rights, freedom of expression, judicial supremacy – these are the points that we are advocating for and trying to protect. The NC adheres to international norms and values of democracy. Our leader, G.P. Koirala is very old now, but he accepts the youths’ voice and revolutionary character. That is why we young people are satisfied with what our party is doing.
MANISH POKHAREL: I am a freelance journalist and, politically, I’m not aligned with any political party. I’m an independent. I was born in Khotang district, in the eastern hilly region of Nepal. My family was farmers.
Today, infants have to go for vaccinations. But going back to my youth -- when I was a baby -- I didn’t receive those vaccinations because there was no hospital built in my area. Health-wise, it was struggle for all the people in remote areas. When I was four, for instance, I fell from a roof and broke an arm. I had to depend on local traditional treatment. I couldn’t get modern medical attention.
Traditionally, Nepalese education utilizes the old-fashion rote method. It is not a good system. When I was studying in class 1 or 2, our teacher carried a long stick to frighten students into learning things by heart. I was scared of that stick and I used to skip classes because of my fear. In fact, when I was in class 3, I ran away from home because I wanted to be free of all that – not only the primitive education but the hard work that I was required to do when I wasn’t in school. My grandfather made me herd and care for the buffalos in the shed and I was punished if I didn’t do as I was told. I was scared of him too. So I ran away from home. But after several months, my parents found me in a bazaar and brought me back home.
But I was still scared of going back to school. But after one year, our school organized an open poem competition. I wrote and read my poem and received first prize. That inspired me to change my opinion about going to school.
There was no freedom in my school, particularly in the younger years: the senior classes got all the positions in sports, for instance. We had to wait our turn. But once I got to play sports and I was able to score a couple of goals, I got the opportunity to play with the older students.
I’m still in college -- a student at Kathmandu University. It’s a school where political activities are prohibited. I’m informed about politics, but not a part of it. I do admire BP Koirala, who was the first elected Prime Minister of Nepal in 1950. He was also a poet and writer. I have read all of his books, which inform me about politics.
ASHISH LUITEL: I’m also a student at Kathmandu University and, politically, an independent. I’m studying electric and electronics engineering. I was born in Okhaldhunga; it’s the district next to Khotang, in the eastern hilly region of Nepal. I completed my secondary schooling in a government school. My parents were government jobholders.
I have a keen interest in politics. However, I have never been actively involved in it for two reasons: First, I fail to see how it will benefit my future career. Second, politicians repel me because they have a bad reputation. To become too involved in student politics is a distraction from my personal ambitions. For example, if NSU organizes a protest program, it will not be for the welfare of students, but because it is on their mother party’s agenda. If this trend continues, I doubt that I will ever become actively involved in politics. I would love to share my ideas with the parties, but the fact is the parties have never listened to the youth. A certain leader rules them and it is like an autocratic system. Once the leaders attain power, they cease listening to the common people.
Talking about freedom to chose: I secured the maximum marks in high school. Because of my high marks, I was pressured by everyone – family, teachers and friends -- to do nothing but study; not participate in sports or politics or other social activities. I would love to have participated but I was always discouraged to do so. Also, the students who had attended boarding schools regarded me as inferior; I was always reminded that I had only attended a government school.
MADHAV DHUNGEL: I am the General Secretary of ANNFSU, the youth wing that is -- theoretically and morally attached to the UML [Unified Marxist-Leninist] party.
I come from Pakarbash, in the Ramechhap district [hilly region two districts east of the Kathmandu Valley].
I completed my SLT in my home village. My parents were farmers. My village had a lot of political activity as I was growing up -- lots of panchayat leaders came from my village. That trend of political activism in my district has continued even after the 1990 democratic movement.
I’ll tell you a little about the unfairness that I experienced in school.
I studied with the daughter of the chairman of the school management committee. Even though I was the smartest guy in the class and had secured the highest marks, I was never recognized as such. Instead, the daughter of the chairman got the recognition. This was when I was in grades 4 and 5. The unfairness of that incident made me dig in my heels and intensified my ambitious to be recognized in the future. It also created a distance between the school administration and me. I regarded the school negatively. Eventually, it transformed me and inspired me to enter into politics.
In 1990, with the advent of the popular uprising, and when I was in grade 7, the police was hunting a senior from our school. He came to our house and asked for refuge. We hid him. He was carrying pamphlets in his bag that protested the panchayat system. It was I who swayed my parents to hide him. The police didn’t find him. That evening, he gave me some of the pamphlets and told me to distribute them in every class of the school the next day. I did just that. He also asked me to report back to him and recount how the people reacted to his pamphlets.
The teachers’ reaction was of utter fear and panic. They collected the pamphlets and burned them.
I passed on the information to the guy hiding in our house. He was in the same student party that I am in today. It is that simple and small event that brought me into politics. From that time on, I became the leader of most of the student activities – debate competitions, speeches, and essays, that sort of thing – and I won many district level awards. I was the founding secretary of this student wing in that school.
I studied at Mohendra Morang Campus, and then transferred to RR campus in Kathmandu. I also returned to my village and taught for a year. The school was a stronghold for the NC during that time, but I helped convert NC sympathizers into members of the UML party.
Eventually, I decided to quit my teaching job and join politics full time – something my parents didn’t want. But as I climbed up the political ladder, my parents gradually accepted my career change. That’s where I am today.
DUNHAM: My second question entails the problem of brain drain in Nepal. So many young men, if given the opportunity will leave Nepal, often permanently. As young leaders, what your ideas on reversing this trend and who have the political parties either addressed the problem or ignored it?
DAMAN: Brain drain begins with the inferior educational system offered in Nepal. The youth would stay in Nepal if they were offered competitive opportunities here. To make matters worse, we are doubly hobbled by the insensitivity of the main parties and the instability of the government. When the government is instable, their policies are not stable. That directly hampers the attempt to improve the quality of education.
Recently, the Finance Ministry introduced a program to provide 200,000 rupees per person -- designed for people who want to create a small business but lack the capital. It’s a good idea. A program like this, which is in a test phase right now, could be expanded in the other youth fields as well. For instance, students could and should be given loans without collateral. These kinds of programs can generate enthusiasm among young people to remain in the country instead of what we have right now, which is an atmosphere in which young people are determined to leave Nepal. If the government doesn’t implement such youth-oriented programs, the youth will continue to leave. Maybe 10% will return but most will try to stay away from Nepal.
BALRAM: There are two kinds of youth who are migrating: the educated and the uneducated. To keep the educated youth from leaving Nepal, we definitely need to improve both education and research. The government lacks a significant youth policy. The government should create a powerful youth commission, inclusive in nature – inviting young people from different ethnic, linguistic, political and geographical backgrounds – which could then shape future youth-empowering policies to be implemented by the government. Including different geographical backgrounds is crucial. There is the Kathmandu Valley and there is the rest of Nepal. Our government has a long tradition of identifying the problems of rural areas from a boardroom in Kathmandu.
The proposed commission should include young political leaders as well as youths who represent various regions and organizations dedicated to empowering youth. Also independent, not-party-affiliated youths should be included.
BIKKI: A government is ruled by politics and the youth should be able to trust their political leaders. But the youth of Nepal regard politics as a dirty game. All the same old politicians, who continue to lead this country and who have failed for many years to earn the trust of the youth, create this attitude.
There have been many movements that have taken place, dedicated to achieving true democracy in Nepal. They occurred in the 1950s, 60s, 80s, 90s and 2006. But the youth aren’t convinced that enough has been accomplished. We are now wondering if another movement isn’t necessary in order to achieve a secure democracy.
Until the youth have confidence in the country’s leaders, and until the leaders rise above shouting empty slogans and promises – until they get down to the tough work of creating job opportunities and creating an environment in which investors will want to open factories which will, in return create jobs – jobs that will directly benefit even the youth who aren’t affiliated with any particular political party – the brain drain in Nepal will continue. The youth need real change, not talk.
Just take a look at India. India used to have the brain drain phenomenon. But once good jobs were created and became available, the youth began to return to India in large numbers.
The youth must organized and join forces in order to create pressure on the government -- like the situation in 2006, when we forced the king to step down.
JAGRIT: In the past, all political struggles were based on four sequential goals. None of the goals were achieved, regardless of which political system happened to be in power.
The first goal of the Nepali people was to abolish the elitist establishment, represented by the monarchy.
The second was to end the conflict [the Maoist-led ten-year insurgency] – a conflict that existed before the Maoist conflict and which continues to exist up to present time.
The third goal was to change Nepal’s social, economic, and cultural structures.
The fourth goal was to create a government in which the people of Nepal could make their own decisions without the influence of outside powers. In the past, the successive governments have danced to the music of foreign governments.
It’s important to mention that the student political movement in Nepal is very strong. No significant political changes have been made in Nepal without the participation of the student political movements – not since the 1950s. And the student movement in Nepal is unique in the world. The people rely on the students to support their grievances such as price hikes and other social difficulties.
But so far, despite the success of the youth movement, we have not been able to effect change in the education system. We have failed to address youth issues. This is very unfortunate for the youth and the country as a whole.
If we categorize the problems surrounding the youth and students, the first is poverty. 2.25 million children are still unable to attend school because they must go to the jungle to herd their families’ cattle.
Lack of education – the second problem -- is therefore directly connected to poverty. Within this category, there are several root causes.
The first involves those youth who are unable to attend school; we must create an environment that includes them.
The second involves our elitist system, which is completely impractical. For example, our educational system still teaches the youth that a person from the Brahman caste is a person of virtue, which may or may not be true. In school, our history lessons dwelled on people of high caste. We had to study about kings and ranas and how many wives they had. This was the history we had to study. We have to remove such elitist excesses in the educational system.
The third involves a disconnect between our present educational system and the realities of the workplace, once we get out of school. The truth is that our schools have become factories to produce unemployed children. Each year, about 300,000 children pass their SLC, but only 30-40 governmental positions are available.
The fourth involves the dual nature of our educational system – boarding schools versus government schools. Boarding schools seem to be producing better-educated children, but the students in boarding schools care only about themselves, not society.
The fifth involves the cultural anomaly in which the youth simply aren’t required to consider the society-as-a-whole. Instead, we are encouraged to think about our future careers. We are living in a culture in which we are groomed to think about ourselves, not the wellbeing of others. This is because we have been influenced by the poisonous values of Western culture.
In addition to these major problems are secondary issues involving sports, HIV/AIDS, disabled youth and drug abuse – none of which have been adequately addressed.
In coming up with solutions, we must first deal with the youths’ hopelessness in regard to procuring jobs. I’ve visited many parts of the country to study this phenomenon. Other than in the urban areas, I have found that – with the exception of Ilam district [in the far east] -- youth are not living in the rural regions in significant numbers because there are no jobs. Why have the youth in Ilam not left? Because of the tea plantations -- there is plenty of work for the youth there.
Creating hope among the youth, through initiatives such as the recently announced self-employment project, can work. Some 700,000 youths have applied for those loans. I think the government should focus on programs like this, which will definitely instill hope in the youth.
In short, Nepal cannot afford to overlook the problems of the youth and students when addressing the political problems of our country.
BISHNU: In my view, the brain drain problem is a problem created by globalization. But globalization can also be regarded as an opportunity for Nepal. Our colleges, universities and other schools are producing quality manpower, employed all around the world. The question is: why are these same young people not being employed here, in Nepal, in our own society? This is a problem arising from shortcomings in our governmental policies. As mentioned before by other panel members, the government must create an environment that not only produces educated youth but also provides them with jobs and positions within Nepal, to encourage them to remain here instead of looking elsewhere.
Natural resources, which include human resources, should be regarded as a powerful source for national development. Instead, our problem is that when Nepali youth gain skills that could help their country, they leave the country in search of more lucrative employment.
There is also a problem of national and regional security in Nepal. Without security, investment in this country will not happen. Political instability, governmental instability, and lack of policy to keep skilled people in the country are our nation’s biggest problems.
It’s ironic: this country is so poor. The government always begs foreign powers for money for various programs. But the government never asks foreign countries for aid in producing young skillful workers. The youth leave the country because of jobs. The youth would return to this country if jobs were available.
Another problem is that we gain knowledge through our education, but it is not placed in a social or value-based context. We educate the children in the classroom only. The process does not bring them closer to our society. Clearly, the educational system we are now using will not solve the problem of brain drain.
If the government concentrated on tourism development, agricultural industrialization, hydropower, and other programs that encouraged skilled workers to remain in Nepal, the brain drain problem would be solved. This cannot happen without peace, security, and rule of law, political stability. This also cannot happen if, when a business becomes successful, political powers insist on donations from the successful business, which discourages investment in commerce.
MANISH: First of all I would like to say that our country is poor but we have the capacity to generate 83,000 megawatts of electricity. But unfortunately, we are facing 16 hours of load-shedding every 24 hours, every day. In another context, what good is it if every Nepalese family has a motorbike or a vehicle, but there is no road drive on? These are the things that are making Nepali youth frustrated.
As an alternative, the youth are spending 6-700,000 rupees per person to move to European countries to work, and 1-200,000 rupees to go to the countries in the Middle East.
If these people had opportunities and salaries here comparable to the Gulf countries, they would stay here. Like one of our colleagues mentioned, the youth in Ilam are not leaving because they have opportunities there to work and to earn. We have plenty of rocks to smash in Nepal. If we could duplicate Gulf salaries given to smash rock, we would smash our own rocks, not theirs.
The main reason why youth go abroad is economics. Those who go to Europeans countries think only of dollars as a means to develop and improve their futures.
To stop the brain drain, the government can play a major role by creating a country that has adequate security and implementing programs similar to the self-employment program. Such programs will create jobs among the educated youth.
Another problem for Nepali youth: Everyone is migrating to Kathmandu. But Nepal is not only Kathmandu. It is also the hilly, Himalayan and Terai regions. These are big, productive areas. And the workforce is empty of youth. If the youth had a reason to return to their home areas – like the self-employment program—they would not only develop Nepal in general, but they would specifically develop themselves—even those highly educated youths with diplomas in their hands.
Another key is to reach the 83,000 megawatts of electricity, sell it to India and China, which would in turn give us the money to fully develop Nepal – instead of having only 8 hours per day of electricity which is where we find ourselves today.
Youths going to Europe and America: Their first goal is to study and their second goal is to earn money. They may get a green card or a PR [Permanent Resident status], and only 10 or 20% of them will return to Nepal. If they do decide to return to Nepal, they will buy a car, a house and property, but very quickly they will get frustrated because the country itself is not progressing at the same pace as their personal progress.
One last thing: I remember Prachanda saying before the 2008 elections that he would turn Nepal into an Asian Switzerland in 50 years. I would like to say that Nepal is already more beautiful than Switzerland. They only thing we don’t have is money. If we had money, Nepal would be twice as beautiful as Switzerland.
ASHISH: Perhaps we should first define the word “opportunity”: Opportunity for youth in this country is compromised by four obstacles: the brain drain, the traditional society, the ineffective politics and the fashion trend. Leaving Nepal is not only a practical trend among youth –it has become socially fashionable as well.
About politics affecting youth in Nepal: If politics is stable, society is stable. The trend of brain drain is totally reduced if politics is stable. But as it stands now, leaving is preferable because the political situation here is anything but stable. I personally am going to go to America in two years. So I am part of the trend. I would not follow this trend if Nepal had political stability. Cause-effect: Political instability creates frustration, which creates brain drain. Frustration must be replaced by hope in this country. If we had hope, we would remain in Nepal instead of going abroad.
The idol of Nepali youth is Mahabir Pun. [Pun won the Myagasese Award, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel for introducing Internet technology into schools located in remote areas where there was no electricity or telephones.] We need more leaders and innovators like Pun.
In terms of information technology, Nepal is surrounded by India and China. India is rich in software and China is rich in hardware. Nepali youth go to China because they know they can get jobs in factories that manufacture computer hardware. But we buy that same hardware in Nepal as a Chinese product! With our cheap labor, we should be manufacturing those same products here in Nepal. As for India: I have a friend who works in India, creating software. So if I want to buy my Nepali friend’s software, I must buy it as Indian software.
Our political leaders have a tendency to blame away problems, always blaming someone else. Everyone here who is with a political party is blaming their political foes for the brain drain problem. Blaming is just an easy way of scoring political points, but it doesn’t help the youth of Nepal, not at all.
Instead of blaming others, we should be looking at who we are and what our own shortcomings are. We have examples of youth who are working in Nepal but are gaining a name for themselves internationally…like Pun. You youth political leaders sitting here at this panel discussion have done nothing nearly as important as Pun. All you do is talk and blame.
In fact, looking around at this table, I am depressed by politics because of you youth political leaders. If I protest in front of a college and burn tires, it’s not so that my science lab will be improved. It’s because I want to help strengthen the power of the party I’m attached to. Your demonstrations never really help the youth in Nepal.
We need to join hands instead of blaming each other. Opportunity is not here in Nepal because we are too busy blaming each other to have time to create opportunity. We youth only think about being employed, but we never think about being the employers o f a new Nepal. That’s the problem. We need solutions, not blame.
MADHAV: Thank you Mikel Dunham, a citizen of America.
America is still ruled by a constitution that was written by a 52-members constituent assembly that represented the original 13 states, back in 1786. Today, 225 years later, Nepal is exercising the same process, with a 601-member assembly.
A long-term struggle for political changes and the establishment of fundamental rights have waylaid us, so we haven’t yet been able to properly focus on development issues that impact Nepali youth. Political stability, development and opportunity are related to each other.
A successful person embodies five qualities: happiness, health, humanity, hopefulness and creativity. All of these qualities are developed if a person has a good education. Skills are created by a good education. Opportunity and self-confidence arise if the country can employ the skills picked up by the youth. Opportunity creates the environment crucial to retaining the youths of a country – to stop the process of brain drain.
Nepal is now in a transitional phase of political stability. Let’s take a moment to look at the history of other countries in the world. Britain, for example, became a great world power with the help of an oceanic network and steam engines. America became a world power in part because of its geographical location. To the east and west, two oceans protect it. To the north and south, two non-hostile neighbors, Mexico and Canada, protect it. America has never had to deal with the fear of direct foreign invasion from neighboring powers, and thus development has never suffered.
My party believes it is time to tap into Nepal’s natural resources. Water resources, tourism based on the beauty of our natural resources, mines, herbs and agriculture are the five main natural resources and natural capital that Nepal has available to it. If we refocus our educational system so that it concentrates on these five elements, we believe that the manpower and skills produced by that system will provide enough opportunity to keep youth from leaving the country for better jobs elsewhere. To achieve this we need to form a common understanding on what is needed in educational development – that, along with political stability within the government.
There are a lot of issues that need to be included in the constitution-making process. Various Nepali youth and student organizations need to be included in the process. A strong youth commission, represented by youth, should be implemented so that their visions and ideas and insight can be employed in the decision-making process. This commission should be given real authority, not just token authority.
Nepal needs to formulate a 20-year education plan, supplemented by foreign aid. Such an educational plan, with proper funding, can definitely work here in Nepal.
Unfortunately, India, our neighbor to the south compromises all of Nepal’s hopes and plans. We are landlocked. India denies us the right to access to the sea. In addition, India has encroached upon our southern border in 62 places. We have had to spend far too much time opposing India’s encroachment. India dominates Nepal and attacks our national interests and we do not have the power to declare war on India. This has been one reason why our country has not developed the way it should have. If we can improve our relations with China, however, it will benefit Nepal by providing a counterbalance against India’s domination.
If we carefully implement the ideas I have discussed, we can create the environment to accommodate the youths in Nepal with opportunity and prosperity.
My thanks goes out to Youth Initiative, a non-party youth organization that, over the last few years, has made great strides in encouraging Nepal’s young people to organize themselves into a real force to be reckoned with. Many of the best and brightest young women and men belong to the organization. It’s been my privilege to be associated with them. Youth Initiative assembled the eight young leaders who talked to me.
To find out more about YOUTH INITIATIVE, go to its website:
telephone: (977-1) 204-1674