Quake spurs youth cyber relief work

The Bangkok Post

The recent 7.3-magnitude aftershock which followed the earlier 7.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated Nepal has again drawn global attention. The death toll has already surpassed 8,100. Still, it is hard to imagine the scale of devastation had the earthquakes occurred 15 years ago. Several thousand more people would have died, and much of the world would still be unaware of the catastrophe.

But, cellular technology towers withstood the quake while the buildings around them crumbled. Before the mainstream media reports came out, news from individual sources had quickly penetrated social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Despite limited technological capacity, what is outstanding is how constructively it has been used during the present disaster, despite only a quarter of the population having access to the internet and 90% of them using only a 2G connection.

The media organisations which rushed to Kathmandu and its vicinity in the aftermath of the disaster are sharing the stories that they should be covering — the grim reality on the ground. However, the international media is also portraying Nepal as if everything has ended. This is doom mongering, as the quake has in fact triggered many positive instances of social behaviour.

Social media has been greatly instrumental in the relief operations taking place in the country. In particular, Nepalese youth are showing an unprecedented level of commitment. The international media to some extent has failed to share these stories of initiatives led by the younger generation.

In fact, this strata of the population was one of the first to take part in rescue efforts. Nepalese youth are making optimum use of internet technology to aid the relief work. Their Facebook walls demonstrate the amazing work that they are doing despite limited resources and skills.

In the aftermath of the disaster, technology giants such as Skype facilitated youth endeavours by announcing free calls to and from Nepal. Fortunately, those young people with a smartphone or laptop connected to the internet, reached out to temporary refugee camps, and began to help families to connect to their relatives.

In the face of calamity, people have teamed up and initiated online help desks to connect those who are far away with their family members at home. It is usually arduous to negotiate congested international communications networks in such a distressing situation. However, all you now need to do to reach your friends is to send these teams a message on Facebook or via Twitter. They then often find your family within a few minutes.

Furthermore, within hours of each of the two big tremors, Facebook introduced the safety check feature, where people could mark friends on as “Safe”. People hurried to mark their friends safe in order to reassure acquaintances at home and abroad.

In another instance, young people teamed up to use Google’s Person Finder tool to fill in the information of missing people, and those with information about someone started feeding their information into the system.

Hundreds of young people have gathered and are using their social media skills to discover where the relief is needed most, and then they pledge donations like tarpaulins, rice, or medicine. The relief material is then transported to the most hard-hit areas by volunteers, who also establish local communications and identify local youths who can serve as channels for the relief work.

The creative uses of social media have also led young people to report data regarding physical and human losses as well as to assess the availability of temporary camps and relief supplies. Youth-driven teams are crowdsourcing the information. Now, anyone with a basic cell phone can report physical damage or loss of life as well as seek help.

As the nation receives more aid from abroad, both in terms of resources and personnel, there are admittedly increased chances of financial misconduct, and the effectiveness of some of the aid work may be questioned. To address these concerns and facilitate effective aid delivery, youth groups and relief organisations are implementing a social audit of the rescue, relief and reconstruction efforts in order to make the post-disaster efforts more reliable, accountable and effective.

There is much to be learned from these independent voluntary initiatives in terms of disaster preparedness. There is a need for social immunisation by introducing strict guidelines for construction companies, as well as earthquake-preparedness classes, based on the experience of nations like Thailand.

Governments in areas of the globe vulnerable to earthquakes should have strong post-disaster relief mechanisms ready, and the youth should be equipped with basic first-aid training. Furthermore, the technology to act transparently, and democratically should be embedded in each and every step that we as societies decide to take. This use of technology and the mobilisation of youth have the potential to create resilience and keep hope alive even in adverse circumstances.

The article originally appeared in the Opinion section of The Bangkok Post on May 19, 2015.

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In the recent Constituent Assembly (CA) election, eight percent youth were elected as CA members under the First Past the Post (FPTP) System.
The percentage of youth candidates in this election was even more impressive: 41 percent of total candidates were below the age of 40. 
There were many new parties which fielded new candidates. However, the number of young candidates nominated by major political parties was not so exciting. If we are to refer to the National Youth Policy, it defines “youth” as those aged 16-40.
Zakaria Zainal
This age group accounts for 42 percent of the population, but constitutes only eight percent of FPTP winners in the CA. The figures are not going to get better anytime soon, if recent activities of political parties are anything to go by. This means that the agendas and voices of young people are likely to go unheard in the new CA.
The unhealthy tussle in the major parties to finalize their PR candidates does not indicate their seriousness about youth representation. The PR list CPN-UML submitted to Election Commission, for example, sidelined prominent young faces like Ramkumari Jhankri who was at the forefront of second Jana Andolan and has since been consistently advocating for youth friendly policies. 
Other parties don’t seem very different. This practice will continue as long as our parties continue to be ruled by a few dictatorial heads. 
Most of our political parties are undemocratic and hierarchical. 
Lack of intraparty democracy is one of the major reasons. Be it student union, trade union or any other sister organization of mainstream political parties, they all lack intra-organizational democracy. These unions are as fragmented as their mother parties. As a result, they are not strong enough to challenge malpractices in the mother party.
Tokenism trumps meritocracy in most parties, while making political appointments or selecting candidates for CA election. Political leaders look for the people who buy into their school of thought and who belong to their faction. Unfortunately, the youth fall behind when they fail to follow these unwritten rules.
The youth are in no way free of blame. When they are at the forefront of political movements, they dare to challenge their leaders. But when the movements end, they forget their power and surrender before the same leaders. They have enough courage to challenge the autocratic system of the country, but are afraid to challenge a similar situation within their parties. They can come together to bargain when fuel price is hiked, but not to ask for respect for their opinion in their parties.
One of the reasons youth are being sidelined is because the interest groups working on youth are not active. When it comes to the representation of female and marginalized communities, several interest groups working for the benefit of these sections put pressure on the parties for meaningful representation. This is not the case with our youth. Representation of female and marginalized groups is mandated by law. This has forced political parties to make sure they are well represented, which, again, is not the case for the youth.
The time has come for the youth to be considered partners of today, not only of the future. It doesn’t look like the representation of youth will increase in this CA. Despite the lack of numerical strength, the aspirations and issues of youth shouldn’t be ignored in this CA. For this, present CA members should be sensitized about the issues, challenges and aspirations of youth. This in turn will call for youth wings of political parties and non-political youth organizations teaming up to serve as watchdogs.
Time will test both political and non-political youth organizations. The need of the hour is the implementation of the dormant National Youth Policy (NYP). One of the first tasks of youth organizations is to build pressure on elected representatives to do so. 
Representation of youth in CA is necessary to ensure that the aspirations of younger generation are addressed. The youth are the best persons to raise their own issues. Furthermore, the future of the nation belongs to the youth, and this is a moment when the future of the nation is being written. To ensure youth ownership of these changes, it is necessary to make them a part of the system.
Creating a special working group on youth within the CA can be a viable way to compensate for their poor numerical representation in CA. The working group should be assigned with bringing up the agendas concerning youth which shouldn’t be missed in the constitution. Furthermore, both political and non-political youth organizations should assist the committee.
(This article was published on Republica op-ed on December 31, 2013)

Age of Candidates of CA Election, 2070 (FPTP)

The age of Youth in Nepal is heavily contested issue. The national Youth policy of the country defines “Youth” as the people who are in the age bracket of 15-40 whereas several NGOs and INGOs operating in the country have their own version of definition. YUWA defines the age youth as 15-29. United Nations defines the age bracket for youth as 15-24.
The Constitutional Assembly Election of Nepal which is all set to happen November this year will see 40.75% youth candidates competing. A recent analysis done jointly by me and one of my colleague, Sumit portrays an interesting picture of the trend of age of the candidates of the political parties.
The lowest age of the candidates is 25 and this extends till 85. 249 candidates are aged 42. The top 5 weight of candidates is in between 35-43. The national average age of the candidates is 53.

The graph below should be self-explanatory.


Ringing in change

The recent amendment in the 1980 TU regulation on Organization and Educational Administration regarding the age of candidacy on Free Student Union (FSU) election has initiated a fresh discussion on the age of youth politicians. The Supreme Court (SC) order has further provided legitimacy to the amendment made by TU. At the aftermath of the amendment, the 2015 FSU elections will see only candidates aged below 28 competing for the elections. The recent amendments have been widely acclaimed by students, academia, society, and some student unions.

The age bar levied thus will end the deeply rooted culture of old leaders competing in FSU elections. The average fresher at a college is 18, while the leaders of FSUs are generally a couple decades older than these freshers. The huge age gap not only creates frustration among students, but to some extent contributes to the failure of the leaders to address students’ issues properly. The age bar will hopefully end the culture of student leaders looking for political shortcuts through FSUs. 

It is not only the FSU that requires an age bar. Age bar is also much needed in the youth social sector. The count of umbrella organizations of non-political Youth organizations has reached three. The Association of Youth organization of Nepal (AYON) has listed more than 90 registered member youth organizations in its website, while the website of Youth NGO Federation Nepal claims that it has united more than 2,000 youth-led organizations of Nepal. Apart from that, several other unaffiliated youth-led organizations and youth clubs exist in Nepal. The promising number of youth led organizations becomes a matter of concern when it comes to the age of the leaders of these organizations.

Over the last couple of years, youth-led organizations have criticized the leaders of political youth organizations, calling them undemocratic and age-insensitive. To some extent, the blame for the situation goes to the country’s National Youth Policy, which is almost nonfunctional. The national youth policy defines 16-40 as the age of youth. This naïvely paves the way for the presence of older leadership at political as well as social youth organizations. The guiding document itself is not free from controversy, and lacks serious workout towards its implementation.

irnustian.com

Youth-led social organizations should also practice intra-organizational democracy, and create enough space and mechanism for the younger generation to lead. There are youth organizations which are led by individuals rather than by a team of young people. The faces of the leaderships have not changed for several years. Rather than creating space and opportunity for young people, several youth-led organizations have been heavily dominated by a handful of older people.

Until and unless the leadership is handed over from a handful people to fresh talents, youth-led social organizations will not be able to make remarkable or sustainable impacts on society, and do not hold the moral authority to condemn political parties. The change should start from within. Furthermore, youth-led social organizations are heavily dependent on donor agencies, and leadership tends not to change due to heavy budgeted projects and long project durations. 

A change in the leadership at youth-led NGOs is required for them to be able to raise burning social issues related to youth. Issues faced by a 25-year-old female can be better raised by a 25-year-old female than a 35-year-old male. Besides, the issues that were relevant ten years ago may not be of concern now, and this change in priorities can only be mainstreamed when youth organizations are led by fresh leaders.

There are models of youth-led social organizations like Rotary Club and Leo Club where the leadership transfers every year, providing leadership practice to several young people. However, the trend is not carried over in other youth-led NGOs of Nepal. Asking all the youth led NGOs to follow the same model will again be impractical, considering the nature of activities that they carry out. However, youth led NGOs can certainly practice a model where the leadership changes every 2-3 years.

Both bottom-up and top-to-bottom approaches must be adopted to address the issue of leadership stagnancy in youth-led social organizations. These organizations need to adopt a clear democratic process in practice rather than in paper to promote leadership transformation. To aid that, the national youth policy must be updated to meet the changed expectations of young people, and the age bar for a person to be considered “youth” must be reduced to 30. 

Republica