Troubled youth

Published July 13, 2015
The writer is a journalist and founder of Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust.
The writer is a journalist and founder of Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust.

SINDH is home to a large youth population that is utterly frustrated, bitter and angry. They are also an incredible social, economic and psychological burden for their struggling families and impoverished communities.

The tale is similar all across rural Sindh. Farm workers who tend land owned by someone else aspire to educate their sons and daughters so that they may lead more comfortable lives. They put them in government primary schools — usually the only option in a village — and hope for the best. These days many girls are put through middle and high school if they are nearby. After that, only a very small percentage may go on to study while the rest are kept home to contribute to the household income through embroidery. The boys are usually pushed all the way through matriculation and intermediate exams. Parents strive to ensure uniforms and stationery are paid for.

Despite their best efforts, the results are poor given the state of government schools. Teachers rarely attend or seldom hold regular classes. If they do teach punctually, their method is normally so dull that students lose interest. If students are motivated enough on their own or are monitored by their parents, they pick up a thing or two through self study. Otherwise, most end up with a certificate and without any knowledge or practical skills.

By the intermediate level, the student is too jaded and the family too exhausted to go further. So education stops there. Now, both student and parents expect to reap the benefit of this long trial. They aspire to a government job or a visa to Dubai, Saudi Arabia or Iran where earnings are high.

For the ordinary farmer, both are difficult propositions. Government jobs are not available without substantial bribes they can’t afford or political reach they don’t have. Likewise, going abroad is a debt-creating, back-breaking affair that only very few choose. Jobs at private companies are hard to come by anywhere except Karachi where some factory work is available. But then, many families fear Karachi’s violent streets and in any case the earnings wouldn’t be sufficient to send money home after paying for living costs in the city.

The youth must recognise dignity in all forms of labour.

The result is the young man won’t work on the fields since he now views himself as above that form of work, having acquired an education for the very purpose of avoiding that profession. He also won’t be willing to sell kulfis or vegetables on a pushcart; again viewed as below his level. So he does nothing productive. He wakes up late, wears clean clothes that announce his educational standard and spends his day at the tea shop watching movies, playing cricket and whiling away time in gambling dens.

Parents are miserable. Their hard work led nowhere and on top of that they have yet another adult mouth to feed now.

How can this troubled class of youth be helped? First they need to be motivated to recognise the dignity of all forms of labour. They should be shown that in the absence of any appealing options, they can use their education to improve farming methods and produce a better yield. Likewise, small trade is a good way to keep occupied and earn at least a little living to reduce the household burden on aging parents. Then, they need to be provided with basic skills at the community level. Facilitators or local non-profit organisations can inexpensively provide short courses in simple things such as technology literacy, office filing, maintenance and presentation skills. Even a couple of educated and experienced villagers can offer this service. This very elementary training will help these young men whenever they do get an opportunity for a job interview.

Additionally, techn­ical skills that are always in demand in villages and cities alike should be made more widespread. Large-scale, expensive vocational training centres are not imperative. There are several of these in major cities but these are out of reach to most of the rural poor who can neither find their way through the system nor afford the travel or residential costs it takes to live away from home. Instead, like India’s Barefoot University, local skilled technicians can be encouraged and paid minor fees to train groups of youth in technical skills such as mobile phone repair, generator repair, electrical and plumbing work in their villages. This sharing of skills doesn’t require major infrastructure or costs and will fill a major social gap.

Lastly, the youth need to be motivated to become community leaders who identify communal problems and help tackle them. All this will give this otherwise lackadaisical youth the confidence and skills that will not only help them generate an income but to become productive members of their communities.

The writer is a journalist and founder of Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust.

Published in Dawn ,July 13th, 2015

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