The ongoing pandemic is creating lasting consequences, mostly negative, for the vast majority of persons but youths, especially those from a background characterized by vulnerability and precariousness, are the ones most at risk.
Girls from families with poor economic status, for example, might pay a heavy price if their breadwinners, both mother and father will lose their jobs.
Many years of advancement in girls’ education will be undone with the most immediate consequence stemming out of it being a rapid backsliding in the overall fight for gender equality.
Imagine girls and boys not only from economically vulnerable communities but also from families stigmatized as second class citizens by now-illegal but hard-to-defeat labels inflicted by a society that has been discriminatory for centuries.
The gap between them and more privileged peers will further expand, enlarging a gulf of discrimination that will erode their self-confidence and optimism toward achieving a better future.
Imagine a post-COVID scenario for youths living with physical and mental disabilities: their existence was already hard enough before the pandemic, a life characterized by the precariousness of attending low-quality public schools and the uncertainty of finding a job.
Despite Nepal counting on a comprehensive youth strategy, the lack of its implementation is staggering and worrisome at the same time.
With a government hardly coping with the increasing numbers of infected citizens, it is hard to imagine a bright future for millions of youths in the country.
The return of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, mostly under 40, will further compound the problems facing the younger population.
Some positive developments recently happened with Minister of Women, Children and Senior Citizens Parbat Gurung announcing the creation of a Social Entrepreneurship Fund under the Social Welfare Council.
Effectively implementing such a new fund could be a game-changer but everybody knows that the challenge in Nepal is not coming up with great initiatives but properly implementing them.
For example back in 2016, the government had established a ‘Youth Remittance and Social Security Fund’, an undertaking also aimed at "nurturing entrepreneurship among youths."
This was a great idea but it did not get enough visibility and it is hard to tell on how effective it was.
Even if we solve the implementation problem at the foundations of many positive initiatives that in reality we all know affects the entire governance system in the country, we still need a comprehensive approach to promote opportunities for youth development in the country.
Reimagining the national educational system could be the foundation to start with where a new batch of educators could offer not only quality education but also the passion that comes with imparting classes aimed at forging the future of the country.
More volunteering opportunities available, including to youths from disadvantaged groups could also offer platforms for self-development.
The recent changes toward establishing a viable and effective vocational and training education in Nepal are also promising but the efforts must be sustained and scaled so that thousands of apprenticeship can be really available as a doable option for those youths who feel that their future will be better off pursuing a more technical and practical learning that would introduce them with ready-made skills for the job market.
Scholarships and personal youth development grants should be made widely available to all youths from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds.
Imagine how the life outlook for a vulnerable girl from a Dalit community and her family would change if she had the opportunity to receive a monthly installment for her education and personal development.
There would not be more stress and pressure on her and she would have the freedom to pursue her dream, step by step, mistake after mistake, a luxury so far entitled only to her more privileged peers.
Better collaborations and partnerships would also make a huge difference if business executives were to set up mentoring programs that would allow their junior employees to forge developmental relationships with junior peers from vulnerable background.
Local and International NGOs could be more inclined to offer internship opportunities to youths living with disabilities and peers from other disadvantaged groups.
Ideally the government could step in, paying for a monthly allowance that would make possible for a not-for-profits to offer internships or initial temporary contracts for the same group of youths.
Finding the resources for all these programs might sound like a fantasy but we all know that huge amount of money have been wasted through ineffective programs or even worse, through mismanagement and corruption.
Moreover more governments all over the world are embarking on a journey of “build back better” that would set aside the traditional concerns for fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction.
If we really want to take the tragedy of COVID and turn into a chance for a better Nepal, we will need expansive fiscal policies even if this requires more debts and more institutional support from external development partners.
Becoming a more resilient country does not mean necessarily getting rid of international help when it is most needed as shown by several southern European countries that need to be bailed out by the European Union in order to survive the crisis.
More importantly what is required to ensure a better future for all the youths of the nation, not just the luckiest ones, is a political wisdom and farsightedness that unfortunately is yet to be seen in the political class of the country.
(Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE. He can be reached at [email protected])